The Workings of our Solar System Creates Beautiful Musical Palindrome

Article written: 17 Jan , 2012
Updated: 11 Jan , 2016
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If you like math, music and space (separately or in any combination) you’re gonna love this. Musician Daniel Starr-Tambor has created a song by assigning each planet a note and speeding up the orbital periods of the planets where 2 seconds represents one Earth year, with a note playing for each orbit. But this isn’t just any typical song; it ends up being a musical palindrome, which means it can be played the same both forwards and backwards … that is, if you lived long enough to play to the end of the song. At the accelerated speeds of the Solar System, Starr-Tambor estimates it would continue without repetition for over 532.25 septendecillion years (5.3225 X 10 56). And with more than 62 vigintillion (6.2 X 10 64) individual notes, this composition, called “Mandala,” is the longest musical palindrome in existence.

Back in the 17th century composers like J.S. Bach created musical palindromes (mostly to show off!) and Starr-Tambor pays homage to Bach by choosing the precise position of the Solar System at the moment of Bach’s birth, viewed from the perspective of the Sun as it faces the constellation Libra, “so that each note chronicles his birthday on every planet.”

That’s just cool.

Hat tip: Brain Pickings

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13 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    Johann S Bach lived from 1685 to 1750. The 15th century had composers such as Dupres and at the end Gabrielli.

    This is fun though. I am curious as to how he predicted the recurrence cycle for the Mandala.

    LC

    • William Sparrow says

      Yes, and Bach composed his symphonies in the 16th century, when he would have been older than 15.

      • Anonymous says

        JS Bach was primarily an 18th century composer of baroque music. He published a total of zero symphonies, that musical form had not been developed. The closest thing to symphonies he wrote was the 6 Brandenburg concertos. The fourth B-concerto maybe listened to and the performers watched (abbado et al — the best) here

        Bach wrote over 200 cantatas, he wrote a large number of Preludes and Fugues for organ, I think his crowning achievement in this genre is his Passacaglia and Fugue, he wrote the Orgelbrucklein, the 2nd and 3rd part Inventions, the Well Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B-minor, the Goldberg Variations (Glen Gould worked these masterpieces), his great Chacon, the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and towards the end of his life the Art of the Fugue, mentioned in this article.

        I not only just listen to recordings of Bach, but I play Bach. I am one of those rare creatures who owns a piano. Of course I also love to play Beethoven’s Sonatas, Debussy and Keith Jarrett.

        There are modern day analogues of Bach, including the Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich and in the field of rock music there is Edgar Froese, who in the following you might notice in the second half a rather Bach-like quality to this

        The same artist(s) have a nice UT oriented piece that is a bit spacier than the above

        LC

      • William Sparrow says

        Thanks Lawrence, my bad, meant to write 18th century. Thank you for the links, and good on you for keeping the art of the piano alive and well.

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        China’s love affair with the piano: “[…] 30 million Chinese children are learning the instrument […]”.

        Whereas American and British children play Grand Theft Auto! *Sigh*

  2. Anonymous says

    Don’t want to spoil this beautiful and educational music but it treats Pluto as a planet 😉

    But who cares, it’s really awesome!

  3. Paul Boldra says

    I wonder what it would sound like with the doppler effects included?

  4. HeadAroundU says

    It’s anti-musical for my tastes, but it’s interesting that our solar system works like a palindrome and somehow it’s not very surprising…but yeah, kick Pluto and it will sound better. 😀

  5. Anonymous says

    this would be so cool to see and hear. Maybe someone can come up with some form of graphic showing the period of the planets (maybe bouncing back and forth between brick walls like pong) each a different color and each lighting up when it completes a cycle. That way we could anticipate the notes because we could see the balls coming in to hit the wall….

  6. Micha Kilburn says

    I think it would be more interesting if the life of the sun were taken into account. The sun will only live for about another 5 billion years, so at 1 earth year per 2 seconds, the song would be much shorter than advertised. Plus, the sun is constantly losing mass, which means the orbits of the planets are increasing slightly. This would remove the palindrome aspect.
    That said, I love the combination of music and astronomy!

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