Magnetic Highway

Suite for digital sounds and scientific data from a space probe



Magnetic Highway is inspired and informed by the exiting story of the space probe Voyager 1 which after more than 35 years of traveling, is now reaching the very end of our solar system. In about 40.000 years it will pass by the star AC+79 3888 and in about 296.000 years it will pass Sirius.

Magnetic Highway consists of four pieces

  1. Voyager’s Mission
  2. Six Presidents
  3. Pale Blue Dot
  4. Termination Shock

1. Voyager’s Mission [33.16 min]

Voyager’s Mision is based on a generative arrangement of sound material so that this piece can get longer and longer according to the increasing time it takes the radio signals to go all the way from voyager to earth and back. The generative arranger is realized with PD. Every time this piece gets performed or installed its length adapts automatically. The piece is structured according to significant events in the timeline of the Voyager 1 mission.

2. Six Presidents [9.21 min]

Six presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama) have been governing the US since Voyager 1 started its endless journey. This piece uses recordings of important speeches from all this US-presidents and contrasts them with a romantic medieval song about a young man who is leaving his home and never returns. The noisegate like chopping up of these speeches has been realised with time-stretching features of Ableton live.

3. Pale Blue Dot [9.09 min]

A very touching photo is the last image that Voyager had made and sent back to earth. It is called the „pale blue dot“ and shows our planet from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometers distance – a tiny dot (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of. The image is the inspiration of this piece which uses the sounds that I created based on the diagrams and data from Voyager 1.

4. Termination Shock [12.57 min]

Looking at the images that NASA created to explain the approach of the border region of our solar system,  it looks a bit as if the probe would be riding like a surfer on this Termination Shock. That’s what inspired this last piece.

short remarks about the genesis of this project:

On Nov. 5th 2012 I came by chance across a live stream from CERN where some astro-scientist talked about Voyager 1 having reached the final border that separates our solar system from interstellar space.

He explained: „Scientists refer to this new region as a magnetic highway for charged particles because our sun’s magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines. This connection allows lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere — or the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself — to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outside to stream in. Before entering this region, the charged particles bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere.“

Imagining that this space probe has been traveling already for so many years in absolute solitude through the vast almost empty outer space, transmitting every collected data back home and just once in a while getting new instructions, I couldn’t avoid some romantic road movie like clichés coming into mind. (the radio signal from Voyager to earth and back takes meanwhile about 34 hours) Actually it travels with an enormous speed (61.380 km/h)  but than again considering the gigantic dimensions of our galaxy or even the whole universe it immediately reminds me about the book of Paul Virilio „rasender Stillstand“. A furious standstill, an elegant contradiction that i tried to formulate in the music of this project.

I was also very captured by the actual simplicity of Voyager’s instruments and measurements,  and the breathtaking scientific expertise it needs to make so much sense out of so less data. Meanwhile only 3 out of 11 instruments are still active and yet it is enough to deliver this interesting material about the very borders of our solar system.

So when I tried to understand something of the diagrams and data sheets that came along with the lecture, I decided to use them as direct material for the compositional structures of this piece. Here are some examples of how I used the data of Voyager 1 in the four pieces.

  • the duration of the pieces as well as their inner temporal structures of sound events throughout the piece are derived from significant events throughout the entire mission of the voyager 1 probe
  • sound characteristics ie waveforms, filtercurves, amplitude-envelopes are created from diagrams and datasheets
  • tonal and harmonically structures are taken from measurements of particle flow
  • the trajectory curves of Voyagers close flyby of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Titan have been imitated with Doppler Effect filters and panorama moves:

In particular I was focusing on the data since 2004 when Voyager 1 crossed a point in space called the termination shock, the spacecraft has been exploring the heliosphere’s outer layer, called the heliosheath.

Here are some diagrams I translated into parameters for the sound generation as well as the temporal and harmonically structures of the four pieces that make up the project Magnetic Highway

I like this one because for this measurements the whole Voyager probe is physically rolling along its axis to change the orientation of its instruments that are detecting the flow and intensity of particle streams. So it is a good model for organizing time, space and density of the macro structure of the pieces. The diagram in the upper right corner was used to model curves for FFT filter as well as for amplitude envelopes.

voyager fft curves 1 the orientation diagrams on the left side were translated  into parameters for filtered stereo delay lines of Ableton live. delay lines

The next diagram has been used as a model to organize clusters of note-on events (pitch, time, duration) for Midi sequencers, therefore organizing the micro structures of the pieces.

Comparison of radial and azimuthal components of heliosheath plasma flow velocity at Voyager[thinsp]2.

Trajectories and flight path are imitated with Doppler- and panorama effects

8doppler bahnen

Here are some more dates and numbers that I used to organize various aspects of the pieces like:

  • 05.09.1977 – launch date
  • 05.03.1979 – closest approach to Jupiter
  • 22.08.1980 – start of Saturn observation phase
  • 14.02.1990 – last Voyager Images – Portrait of the Solar System
  • 17.02.1998 – Voyager 1 passes Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space
  • 15.12.2004 – Voyager 1 crosses Termination Shock
  • 722 kg – weight of the probe 
  • – distance to earth (constantly increasing)
  • 17050 km/s – speed in relation to sun 

Objets Sonore

music for expanded acusmatic perception

2011 – 2013

The Objets Sonore are intended to be installed on framed screens which can hang on a wall like a picture frame or be integrated in a stand that has also the loudspeakers build in. In case of hanging on a wall the screen transmits the sound wireless to loudspeakers that are dedicated or to an already existing Hi-Fi system.

Objet Sonore #4 – I am Number 4 – TR-606

The soundtrack is created out of an algorithmic process that triggers and shapes sounds. In this piece the algo is based on a rhythm pattern from an old TR-606. Additional sound elements have been originally created live with a MIDI guitar. These sounds are than exposed to the data coming from the algorithmic permutations.

The photos used for this visualization are old stereo photos from the online archive of the US Library of Congress. They show scenes from Istanbul, Hong Kong and Washington and have been shot around 1900.

Software used: PD, vvvv

Jan 2013

Objet Sonore #3 – Paranthese for Flute

found an old flute, pretty damaged but still good enough to produce all the basic sound material for this piece.
the visuals are based on two circles (of course since it’s all about a flute) and all the color, position and movement is determined by the frequencies of the audio signal.

Software used: PD, vvvv

Jan 2013

Objet Sonore #2 – Sturdy Automata

Sturdy Automata is an endless generative process that creates music and graphical patterns. It is intended to be shown as situative installation. The video represents just an excerpt to document the project.

Ten random and eight wave generators and are delivering the raw data material that is used to trigger the sound as well as generate and to manipulate the graphic patterns.

The only sound source I used is program number 0 of the standard midi synth on my PC and the system beep. The graphic patterns are generated out of letters with the help of all the nice things one can do with vvvv.

Dez 2011

Objet Sonore #1 – Servas de Buam

Heinz Conrads was a legend in Austrian TV and his larmoyand viennese style of speaking is a strong remembrance of my childhood.
„Servas de Buam“ (Servus die Buben) was his probably most famous welcome address at each of his weekly TV programs. This is an ambiguous tribute to him and the „good old days“

1. The Music of the Objets Sonore
The idea for the objets sonore is related to Pierre Schaeffers notion of the sound object and tries to extend it from a single acoustic element nad thus moment to a situation. This means that sounds and music are not limited by a structure that has a clear beginning and ending (like a score). Therefore the music of the Objets Sonore is generated out of algorithms that are creating the temporal, tonal and harmonically structures in real-time, not as an endless loop but and continuous permutation. These structures are than applied onto all parameters for shaping the sounds like pitch transpose, time-strecht, filters, loudness contour etc. but also to trigger the classical sound objects, meaning single elements of sound which can be samples but also synthesized sounds.

2. The Visuals of the Objets Sonore
Different elements are used for the visualization of the Objets Sonore. This can be for example old photographs, as well as basic geometric shapes or elements of text and letters. The data from the algorithms that are used to shape the sounds are not directly applied to the visuals. All the visual transformations are only derived from a realtime FFT-analsys of the sound. So the sound becomes the medium and catalyst between the original algorithms and the visualization. It remains the master of the full perception.

Sorry, but the videos that I posted here are just some low res demos of the actual real-time rendered graphics that have HD resolution.

The Four Elements



The Four Elements is a series of generative graphics created for a four screen installation. The parts are: Move, Stasis, The Looking Glass

The Four Elements – Move

The Four Elements – Stasis

The Four Elements – The Looking Glass

Four Letters I

part of the work series „Code Machines“


This whole piece – sound and visuals – is created just out of the letter I. Using vvvv to manipulate the display of a single letter in as many as possible ways. Crawling through all the data on my harddisk and whenever the ascii code of the letter I is found, a midi note is beeing triggered with note number and prg number taken from the byte before and after. Four of this patches are running the same time on different midi channels. The sounds are generated by the standard midi synth on my PC, with no further mixing or editing of the sound, because I wanted to use just the given material.

The crawler doesn’t look for „real letters“ but for every byte that has the same value as the ascii code of I (49 Hex), representing a potential I on my harddisk. So one can imagine that there is a hell lot of trigger events generated, thus the patches are often overwhelmed, resulting in unexpected outcome in sound and visuals … but that is what I like.

It is intended to be shown as a situative installation with four audio channels and four screens/projections.
The video here is put together from different parts to document the project.

Red and Yellow #3

part of the work series „Code Machines“


Algorithmic sound and graphics piece that can play forever. Harmonies and graphic patterns are generated in realtime.

It is actually conceived as a multiscreen situative installation and the video here is just a low-res excerpt to document it.

Realised with vvvv and the standard internal Midi-Synth of my PC.

8 random generators produce constant streams of note numbers, filters look for those that are part of a predefined harmonical cluster. Each note number is displayed and the values of the note numbers controll the different paramaters of the visual transformation and rendering.

(so the yellow dots and lines as well as the red layers are actually the note numbers that you are listening to)