STELLAR VIBES

A soundtrack to the solar eclipse that eclipses all other eclipse soundtracks

Are you ready for the solar eclipse? You’re not ready for the solar eclipse.

Not without the proper soundtrack, that is—the perfect compendium of surreal, crooning sounds to carry you off into the path of totality this Monday (Aug. 21), beginning at 10:15 am PDT, when the moon will completely block the sun’s face and reveal its corona. The rare celestial event, visible as a total eclipse across wide swaths of the US and the first to sweep from coast to coast in 99 years, is so hotly anticipated that it has caused vacation-booking upheaval, nationwide traffic jams, and a potential wildfire crisis.

Whether you’re watching alone in complete silence or trying to block out the audible sounds of awe from your fellow viewers, is there some music that could perhaps accompany you through the phenomenon?

Stick to the theme

You could go with some transcendent beats: Pink Floyd, Björk, Radiohead, and the like, as suggested (paywall) by the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham earlier this week. Music that was made to feel vast, interstellar. Then there are the very respectable sun-themed classics: George Michael and Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” could be a good pick, as would the U2 throwback “Staring at the Sun” (do not take it literally).

NASA interns have helpfully compiled a list of other options for you, ranging from modern radio tunes to older tracks, including Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars,” the song “Endless Night” from the soundtrack of The Lion King, and Celtic Woman’s “The Sky and the Dawn and the Sun.”

And Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler—in a perfect example of classic musicians cashing in on the value of nostalgia—will actually perform her 1983 smash hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during the eclipse, on a boat. So there’s always that.

Let nature carry you

If man-made music is too artificial, you can turn back toward the elements. A wealth of research promotes the tune of nature—specifically, sounds of the sea, mountain ranges, or wind—as the ultimate stress-reliever, and it’s no coincidence that yoga studios and meditation rooms are filled with natural noise.

Try appreciating the eclipse with the roar of the ocean in your ears, perhaps, and you might find yourself achieving a never-before-imagined type of deep, stunning peace. Or, maybe to deepen the alignment of the world’s various components within you, some whales.

Hear the official “sonification” of the eclipse

When the sun makes its sweep across the 70-mile-wide path of totality in the US, San Francisco’s Exploratorium—a renowned public learning laboratory and science museum—will be ready with the quintessential soundtrack for diehard music and science enthusiasts. It has pledged to “sonify” the eclipse, or “turn light into sound” with a live, semi-improvised composition by the Kronos String Quartet. Based off of the sun’s actual movements, the composition will use notes converted from geographic data values via an algorithm made by composer Wayne Grim. (Grim previously “sonified” the 2012 transit of Venus—but this is the first time a group of live musicians will play the score.)

Below is a video showing how the wild, glorious venture works. The quartet’s performance will be available in real-time via the Exploratorium’s website on Monday.

But the best choice: the sun itself

For several minutes on Monday, your eyes—hopefully from behind the right protective wear—will be fixed on a massive ball of gas hurling its way across the heavens. Wouldn’t you like to know what it sounds like?

You can actually listen to the sun, more or less. By gathering solar-wind velocity measurements across several years, scientists and researchers have managed to piece together the sounds that our favorite pulsing, spinning star makes. As explained by Oberlin College physics and astronomy professor Jilian Scudder:

For the Sun, not only do we have to speed up the oscillation, but we also have to choose which observed oscillation we want to convert into a sound. The most common choice that I found was to examine the roiling surface of the Sun, which resembles nothing more than a pot of water at high boil. You could imagine examining how high the bubbles rise above the surface, and how quickly they do so. If we convert this amplitude and rapidity into a volume and a tone, we can get a musical note out for every bubble that rises to the surface.

Look at it. Listen to it. Contemplate your diminutive, meager existence. And enjoy.


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