Hello, is anybody there?

I have many hats and one is of a musician. During my early 20’s I got obsessed with learning how to play every instrument that fell onto my hands. My initial idea was to understand one of the most precious things I know: music. I wanted to go beyond passive listening and venture myself into the fabric of music – a place of harmonies, melodies, colours and conversations. Eventually this became a solid obsession of mine and I started jamming in basements with friends and eventually composing my own pieces (successful music stories always start in basements, right?). In London I joined more experimental ensembles where I was performing Theremin, electronics and laptop. I participated in rather obscure noise and improvisation festivals for a couple of years. I started to appreciate sound in its most natural and raw form. I used to walk with a portable recorder, registering sounds from the London tube, my journey to Goldsmiths and things I prefer not to mention.

If an astronaut screams in space, does he make any sound at all? When I got immersed in space activities I didn’t think much about its sonic qualities. I was satisfied with Vangelis and his spacey synths in the Cosmos intro.

Of course there were interesting critiques to space expeditions like Mr. Bowie ‘s Major Tom. Also I knew that sound wasn’t possible in the void of space (as we know it needs a medium to travel). However I started to wonder about the way we cannot listen to radio waves without a radio. Basically radio waves are not sound waves, they are electromagnetic signals that can actually move freely everywhere, even in space. Then a radio de-codifies the signals to produce sound through the speakers. Astronomers work with radio telescopes to make visible what is invisible to our eyes. They have machines to receives space signals that could be heard. Therein, an entire world of possibilities to explore the universe through our ears.

Big Bang calling

I wondered what was the first possible sound of the universe. Most probable, this sound wasn’t big and wasn’t a bang. What’s true is that there was some sort of radiation that was first observed by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. These two detected for the very first time a radiation that uniformly covered every single corner of the universe and voilà: the first piece of evidence of the origins of the cosmos. What I love about this cosmic microwave background radiation is that, according to some scientists, it interacts with our vintage technologies. For example, it is said that a miniscule percentage of the noise on a TV is because of the interference of this radiation. In this way I worked with a group of telecommunication experts and engineers to build four antennas that could amplify this effect, bringing an intimate experience of the “first sound” of space. These antennas were placed in a large patio at La Fonoteca Nacional in Mexico City and during the opening something completely unexpected happen: a thunderstorm. What in the beginning was a prospect of a lightning rod hitting an antenna with hundreds of people freely walking around it, the event became a sublime experience that linked the present with the past.


Sound, order and space We all have heard about the harmony of the spheres. This concept has had a mystical approach where music was directly related to celestial bodies. Philosophers like Plato and Pythagoras explored these relationships in a highly speculative way. It was until Johannes Kepler took these ideas to the next level. Kepler, is the perfect example of mystical inspiration mixed with scientific rigour. He believed that one of his most profound duties was to prove that there was a ruling harmony in the universe. A harmony that could be explained in scientific and musical terms, but also that points to something greater. Kepler started fiddling around with the velocities of the planets orbits, and he found that harmony was present in the movements of planets. Actually, this work relates to his third law of planetary motions. We have to remember that Kepler’s data was not entirely accurate plus he took some freedom to fiddle the numbers.

However, for Kepler’s time this exercise worked and it even helped to find the velocity of other planets. Kepler also wrote down the corresponding scales to each planet and for the first time, music was revealing some real mysteries of the cosmos.


In theory, any orbiting body can be subject of Kepler’s method. Even the most disastrous celestial bodies can be converted into musical sounds, for example the dangerous objects near Earth.

I come from a land that saw an asteroid that made dinosaurs extinguish and that let humans become the ruling species. The crater of Chicxulub is in the South of Mexico it’s a reminder of a tragedy that can occur again without much warning. During a visit to the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California last year, I talked to Bruce Betts who coordinates a conference about Planetary Defence Programmes. I learned about how they are tackling future impacts of hundreds of extremely dangerous objects that could hit our home anytime.


I thought of the beauty of such catastrophic incident and wondered about a music score to accompany such an event. Consequently I worked in a project called Dangerous Space, which consists of a series of collaborations with scientists and musicians to show the dangers of space through music. This artwork will be exhibited this summer at the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico City.


The Space Jukebox

I believe there is still so much to discover about the sounds of the universe, even if in space there is not such thing as sound. It doesn’t matter if its through sonification or musicalisation – what I consider important is to engage with the universe through the possibilities of our senses. We are a product of space and we all are connected in more ways that we can imagine. I envision building soon a Space Jukebox where we could have radio stations from other planets. Even if it’s noise, I want to be walking around Mexico City listening to whatever is happening in Venus.



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