Sat.
May 8
2021
yandex sonic playlist
Image: Yandex

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched the world into the space age with the first manned orbit around the earth. Sixty years on to the day, Russian tech giant Yandex is keeping things trippy by unveiling a musical mix of technology and creativity called “The Sound of Stars.”

Yandex Music has released ten tracks that use algorithms to convert the physical properties of stars, pulsars and galaxies into music. The sonic tribute ranges from the sun in our galaxy to a supermassive black hole 53.5 million light years away from the Earth. 

“When we watch sci-fi films, the sounds of space are either menacing and disturbing, or ambient abstract music, but this is just someone’s fantasy,” said Andrey Gevak, head of Yandex Music. “No one really knows what the background music would be if sound could travel through space, so we thought, why not try and apply technology to create our own fantasy?”

Gagarin’s flight marked a huge leap forward for science and technology. It also gave an impetus for other countries to invest in their own space programmes, marking the start of the space race. The conquering of space continues to this day and has included moon landings, Mars probes, international space stations, reusable rockets and satellites which support technology and communications.

And it appears there is a parallel space race in cosmic electronic music. In addition to Yandex, scientists in the U.S. have converted data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory into sounds and mesmerizing music. Yet this musical space race appears to be more collaborative than the one during the Cold War era.

The Yandex Music team worked with professional astrophysicists using astronomical data from the RadioAstron Project of the Astro Space Center at the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), the Space Weather Forecasting Center (SWPC) Roscosmos, and NASA.

The use of algorithms to make music shows the seemingly limitless future of tech applications, as they expand deeper into artificial intelligence. And it’s not Yandex’s first experiment with music of this kind. Earlier the company released a different experiment, Nonhuman music, composed by human musicians in combination with a neural network.

Sixty years ago today, the first human went into space. Now we can listen to musicians and computers generate the sounds of the universe. That is far out – and it sounds that way, too.

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