In space, nobody can hear you scream. That much is trivially true, but the flip side is that you can’t hear much of anything while in space. It therefore makes a certain amount of sense to depict space as an area of pure, unmolested silence. That, for instance, is what large stretches of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) sought to do.
It is not, however, obvious that this literalist approach is the best way to convey the majesty of space. Seeing as you will likely never experience space in this lifetime (look, someone had to break it to you) it seems fair to ask how best to convey the essence of space, if not its totality.
The Hubble Cantata, a mixed medium space-viewing project currently raising funds on Kickstarter, is one attempt to convey this essence. It uses 3D sound, the sort of thing normally experienced within a headset, to create a mass-viewing experience for thousands of people at once. The 6,000 members of the audience at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival at the Prospect Park Bandshell on August 6th, will be treated to a performance involving a symphony, a chorus of children, opera singers, and visualizations based on the work done by the Hubble telescope. The images have been interpreted into 3D space, which is to say that they are not entirely inaccurate but also that they are artistic products.
We still resort to metaphors when talking about space
This seems like an entirely appropriate way for imagining space. We now know incredible amounts about that which exists beyond our planet, but also incredibly little in a cosmic sense. A certain degree of artistic interpretation is called for. We still resort to metaphors when talking about space. When a series of dunes were found on Mars last month, their pattern of dots and lines was widely compared to Morse code because that was the nearest human equivalent. Mars is not actually communicating in Morse code—and if it were the result would be gibberish—but this kind of story speaks to our need to understand a very foreign place in human terms. That, too, is what the Hubble Cantata about.
This is not the first time a musical performance has sought to illuminate the furthest reaches of our galaxy. Each entry in Gustav Holt’s The Planets (1914-16), for instance, is meant to transmit a sentiment attached to that planet. Those sentiments have something to do with their character and our scientific knowledge thereof, but only loosely so. It is, in effect, about the cosmos as it relates to humans. We are comparatively small, but we still dominate how wide swathes of space are discussed. The Hubble Cantata is bridging the gap, but it is still a human undertaking.