Art and science are often seen as complete opposites: art is subjective, while science aims to discover objective facts about nature. But more and more, we are realising that there are commonalities between the two and this has lead to more and more collaborations between artists and scientists. However, the artworks’ inspiration from science isn’t always apparent to audiences – that’s why I’ve become an advocate for using actual data in these collaborative works, just like in the SSFX project.
I’ve written an article on this subject over on The Conversation, based on my experiences with this project.
The Space Sound Effects (SSFX) Short-Film Festival, presented by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), has challenged independent filmmakers from around the world to create short-films incorporating a series of strange sounds from space recorded by satellites. The result is a collection of films, spanning a wide array of topics and genres, connected only by these sounds.
The festival, on 2 September at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, will showcase these highly creative works, present awards for the best films and will hear from the filmmakers involved and festival judges in panel discussions featuring audience Q&A.
Dr Martin Archer, festival director and space physicist at QMUL’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “I have been blown away by how the filmmaking community have taken to incorporating these sounds – which form part of my research as a space physicist – into their work. All of the submissions have been so very different, it’s made the judging process very difficult indeed.”
Conventional wisdom usually states that space is a vacuum and therefore sound, which requires a medium to travel in, cannot exist. But space is not a true vacuum, it’s actually filled with very weak plasma, a different state of matter made of charged particles.
While this plasma can’t support audible sound waves, it can support very quiet ultralow frequency plasma-equivalents of sound waves – magnetosonic waves.
Dr Archer said: “These magnetosonic waves can bounce around within Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetic shield which protects us from many sources of space radiation, and often set up ‘resonances’, where the frequency is just right so that these waves grow and grow in energy rather than fizzling out quickly.
“This is exactly how musical instruments work, so in essence we are living inside a massive, magnetic musical instrument.”
Scientists study these waves inside the magnetosphere because of their potential effects on our technology. The waves are constantly being monitored using satellite and ground observations.
One of the NOAA GOES satellites
In the case of SSFX, eight years’ worth of measurements of these waves from the Geostationary Operational Environment Satellites (GOES) have been made audible.
These satellites, operated by the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are principally used for weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and meteorology research, but also monitor the space environment around the Earth through various instruments, including magnetometers (instruments which measure magnetic fields in space).
By amplifying the magnetometer data and severely squashing it in time (so much so that a whole year becomes just six minutes) these ultralow frequency waves can be heard by the human ear for the first time.
Dr Archer released this audio online, with filmmakers using it as inspiration in their works. A panel of judges, consisting of scientists and film industry figures, then reviewed all the films submitted to the competition and have selected the shorts to be screened at the festival.
Ali Jennings, who submitted the film ‘Noise’ to SSFX, said: “Once you heard the sounds they kind of wrote the story, they had to carry the narrative, creating a character in and of themselves. This kind of competition which has such a broad remit is an amazing and novel opportunity. It allows creativity in communicating science, conveying the feelings of science rather than just the facts.”
Nidhi Gupta, who submitted ‘Astroturf’, added: “We wanted to make a film that used the space sound effects in an interesting way, while telling a compelling short science-fiction story – and with no budget! The rustling, swirling space sounds reminded us of the noises that people make all the time when performing simple tasks – sounds that in film are often replaced or reproduced as foley.
“So we decided to build the entire soundtrack from the space sound effects, and created a simple narrative that involved a combination of actions that we felt would be convincing when dubbed.”
The SSFX competition has been supported by QMUL’s Centre for Public Engagement. Thanks to recent funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the European Geosciences Union, the project will soon be expanding with the shorts being packaged together into an anthology film which will tour the country at festivals and independent cinema venues, raising awareness of current space research with the public.
The team also plans to continue creating and releasing more of these waves recorded by other space missions.
Our judges have been working hard watching all of the films submitted to the SSFX Short-Film Competition and we now have a shortlist which will be showcased at our festival screening. Here’s a sneak peek!
Alien may have told you “In space no one can hear you scream” but it was wrong!
The SSFX Short-Film Festival has challenged independent filmmakers from around the world to create short-films incorporating a series of strange sounds from space recorded by satellites. The results are a collection of films, spanning a wide array of topics and genres, connected only by these sounds.
The festival will showcase these highly creative works, and will hear from the filmmakers involved and festival judges in panel discussions featuring audience Q&A. Awards will be presented to the best films and a drinks reception will follow.
‘Astroturf’ James Uren & Nidhi Gupta (UK) A meticulous young man tends to his fake garden to the sounds of deep space.
‘Dark Matter(s)’ Jesseca Ynes Simmons (USA) This experimental and meditative imagining attempts to capture the activities of a fish tank in a way that takes the inhabitants out of their enclosed world, to a place unknown, to feel both their death and their life.
‘Murmurs of a Macrocosm’ Adam Azmy (UK) A journey through a microscopic world. We are led via the descriptive recordings of those who travelled it.
‘Names and Numbers’ Simon Rattigan (UK) Space sounds and Morse code. How to get from A to B and from 1 to 3? This is a sound and voice collage shaped by the sounds of space and Morse code, addressing the external, physical and material experiences of sound and movement contrasted with interior reflections, explored through language, inner voices and symbols.
‘Noise’ Ali Jennings (UK) A secretive woman opens herself up to her unruly housemate, after they are stuck together in her room. This film was created for the Queen Mary’s space sounds competition and features the sounds recorded in space within the film. Although they are not the direct subject of the film they are key to the characters’ interactions.
‘Saturation’ Victor Galvão (Brazil) There’s no answer when time is the question. ‘Saturation’ is sci-fi story about unknown phenomena that made all organic processes to be as fast as to make life impossible. The film combines images taken from 35mm slides found in a medical archive with a soundtrack made from space sound recordings.
‘The Rebound Effect’ Aaron Howell (UK) ‘The Rebound Effect’ brings together contemporary movement and digital media to capture dance in a way which pushes past the tangible dimensions of live performance. The illusion created directs the viewer to move with the dancer whilst shifting the sense of space, direction and bounds.
The SSFX Short-Film Festival is being hosted at Rich Mix, East London’s independent arts centre, in “Screen 1” (a beautifully-designed boutique cinema) with a drinks reception following in the Indigo Café and Lower Café Gallery.
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London, UK
The nearest stations are Shoreditch High Street (London Overground), Old Street, and Liverpool Street.
Thanks to all of you who filled out our survey on your progress creating a short film featuring our sounds recorded from space. We have decided to extend the deadline by 2 weeks to Sunday 16 July 2017.
Don’t forget to keep track of which snippets of the space sounds you use and, more importantly, write a description of how you incorporated them into your film. This is a mandatory field in our Withoutabox listing and a key judging criterion. We have also decided to accept partially complete films. Please do finish your films as much as possible and include any rough or incomplete footage along with a note in the cover letter detailing what changes or finishing touches will be made to your film. This will aid the judging. However, your final film must be complete by our Saturday 2 September Festival screening.
Thanks again for your interest in SSFX, we look forward to seeing your films soon!
SSFX isn’t the first project to use “sound from space” though it is one of the very few to use genuine analogues of sound in the medium of space, plasma. So what have all this other space audio been then? Check our latest video to find out.
Don’t forget the submission deadline to enter your short film featuring our sounds recorded from space is 3 July 2017. You can create a film especially for the competition or edit an existing film to incorporate the sounds.
We hope you’re on track to make the deadline! Either way, we’d like to hear about your progress and would really appreciate if you could spare 2 minutes to fill out this quick survey to let us know.
Wondering exactly how the space spounds from SSFX were made? Or what people think they sound like? Dr Martin Archer delves into all the comments you’ve had about these weird sounds, which may help inspire their use in your films.
You can see the infographic of all the comments here.