WELCOME TO THE MYSTERIUM
I began dreaming another dream just before the DEAD Tour of 2009. It set in motion a series of events that were the catalyst for Mysterium Tremendum. I had been looking deeper into the mystery of space and time and felt myself being pulled upward,toward the sky. I began playing with the cosmic sounds gathered by some friendly scientists looking for the songs of the universe. They are light waves generated from the planets, the stars, from the epic events that formed our world,the entire universe. What does the universe sound like? — this became a thought that would not go away. I had explored the sounds of the whole earth, sounds created by man-made instruments, and also the ecology of sound wherever it was to be found. For my entire life, the muse had been working its magic in my dreams. If there was a beginning to all of this "being human," there had to be a seed sound, a sound at the very beginning of creation, 13.8 billion years ago. The Hindus tell us that there is a seed sound at the heart of creation-the Nada, which a passage in the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes as "reverberating like a thousand distant thunders." Mysterium Tremendum refers to that awesome primeval explosion and its reverberations, still ongoing, are the source of cosmic rhythms-finding its own groove, gradually bringing about order.
My friend Stanley Krippner, of the Saybrook Institute, put it like this: "Mysterium Tremendum has several phases. First of all, why is there something instead of nothing? Wouldn't it be simpler for there just to be nothing? No, that's not the nature of things. There always has to be something. Nature abhors a vacuum, the physicists say. Second, after billions of years, at least on our planet, there was life. Why couldn't we just go along without life? Why did life have to go into the picture? The next mysterium tremendum is consciousness – life becoming aware of itself. Why did life become aware of itself? Why couldn't we all be zombies and do our thing without thinking about it or reflecting on it? I see three big mysteries and I don't think we have the final answer for them yet."
Ask yourself the big questions. What is life? Why is life? I believe the answer is in the rhythm in things. The way things move,sound and look together. We are constantly moving from chaos to order and back and forth. We pulse, we spin, we expand, and we contract.
"Sonification" refers to illustrating information with sound. It's the same principal as visualization, wherein information is mapped to symbols that have informative characteristics such as height, color, or shape. Sonification maps information to symbols that are akin to musical notes, and have informative characteristics such as pitch, stereophonic position, brightness, or tremolo rate.
Visualization has been with us for some time in books and print, and we're so used to it that some graphs are critical to the way we understand our world. (How many people start their day by glancing at charts of yesterday's stock prices?)
Sonification is newer and less established, but its importance is inevitable. After all, while we tend to be visually oriented, the ears play a critical role in our experience of the world. They tell us a great deal about sudden changes, and can pick up certain patterns that, when visualized, can be difficult for the eyes to detect.
Today's scientists increasingly rely on multi media to communicate advanced concepts to non-scientist audiences. We are accustomed to getting our eyes dazzled when we watch science programs. Why isn't sonification as essential a presentation and study tool as visualization?
Perhaps part of the familiarity problem is that no one has used it yet on a rock and roll album – until now. The universe, like music, consists of vibrations. Why shouldn't science get people tapping their feet, as well as bedazzle their eyes? That's what the musicians on this album are asking. Having spent the past few decades fusing the sensibilities of psychedelic rock with world drumming traditions, Mickey Hart now broadens his focus to "cosmic and universal rhythms as opposed to global rhythms."
So how does a dataset, a dry series of numbers, get transformed into music? One approach is literal: a digital audio file is also a series of numbers, so a data file can simply be saved as an audio file. The result tends to be rumbly, colored noise. It's evocative, but often indistinct. Reading through the data at the rate of CD audio blurs its features together, since the rhythms and changes go by faster than the ear can perceive them.
Another approach is symbolic, like the graphs seen daily in newspapers, except that instead of numbers becoming dots, lines or bars, they become a series of musical notes. The melody and arrangement reflect the ups and downs of the data effectively, since the dataset can be read through at any speed that serves the music well. A symbolic sonification uses a data file as a control (or modulation) source. A designer combines principles of music and auditory perception to create synthesized sound model. Its "gears" turn as the data values are successively read; as the sound evolves, its changes reflect the data's contours, often more informatively than does the literal approach.
Scientists don't confine themselves to looking at light and electromagnetic waves in their raw form. They typically put it through some type of prism, so that they can view the spectrum. Symbolic sonifications are a type of auditory prism.
Another approach is not so much data based, but is more of a diagram. For the orbits of our solar system, we revisit Pythagoras. In the sixth century BC, he derived our major scale from the Music of the Spheres, ratios that he believed to be the relative distances between the earth and the seven bodies orbiting it — the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Here, we use more recent measurements of the distances between the sun and the nine planets, and from these distances we derive ratios that yield nine different pitch classes.
All three approaches are used throughout the album. The sonifications are all filtered through Mickey's musical mind melds into the textures he creates. Like cosmic radiation, which is all around us, the sonifications form an ever-present undertow beneath the more apparent layers of activity.
For more technical descriptions of the sonifications, see the documents below. They were created along with the sonifications so that there would be a record of how the datasets had been rendered as sound.