Out of this world inspiration for Australian National University's Kim Cunio's Sounds of Space Project, which creates music with space sounds

Australian National University head of school of music Kim Cunio. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Australian National University head of school of music Kim Cunio. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

What does space sound like? And if you were to create music using those sounds, what genre would it be?

Kim Cunio may just be the man to answer those questions. The head of music at Australian National University worked alongside the British Antarctic Survey's space weather research scientist Nigel Meredith and artistic engineer Diana Scarborough for the past three years on the Sounds of Space Project.

The result is two albums - the second of which, Celestial Incantations, was released late last month - filled with tracks featuring a range of space sounds from the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond, combined with voice, western and non-western instruments.

"It started very low key, with one piece," Cunio says.

"They sent me some ideas, I sent them some music, and it went quite well and I thought nothing of it. And then a couple of months later, they said, look, the piece has gone well. We think you should come over and we should go into a lab space and think about this as a serious project.

"I was just blown away by, particularly, what the scientists are like at the British Antarctic Survey.

"This project in particular saw science convert electromagnetic and gravitational waves to sound. I knew a little bit about it, because I've read up on them on NASA websites, but it was just a real eye-opener for me."

The trick was to then combine those sounds with traditional instruments to create a cohesive piece of music.

And while Cunio says it was tempting to create electronic pieces, he wanted to stick to acoustic instruments.

"Some pieces required quite a few goes to get something that supported those sounds, because the hard thing for me was to bring them to life a bit more without overwhelming them," he says.

By sticking to the course of using a range of acoustic instruments, the music developed a heavenly feel, or a sense of "something bigger than us", which is essentially what the simplest definition of space is.


"We need to find something to give us this sense of wonderment, don't we?" Cunio says.

"And this is something incredible to think about. The sum total of our human civilisation is so small even just compared to the time it takes for these waves to reach us here on Earth."

While the project is one of the first to use space sounds in such a way, the sounds themselves have been captured over decades. Data collected during the Voyager mission to Jupiter in 1979, for example, was used in the project.

"When I heard the Jovian Bow Shock - which is essentially where solar particles enter the giant atmosphere of Jupiter - it's just incredible thing to think that this is happening there all the time," Cunio says.

"It is something that I knew a little bit about that but I just love the fact that looking at outer space makes us think about inner space as well. And what our relationship to this universe is."

The Sounds of Space Project's albums are available for free download on Bandcamp.

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This story Out of this world: The album made up of space sounds first appeared on The Canberra Times.