Sounds Of Stars Fall In A Bavarian Forest

There's a free concert taking place at a forest in Germany, and the headline acts have come from far, far away. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks to New York-based artist Jeff Talman about his German sound installation, Nature of the Night Sky. Working with astrophysicist Daniel Huber, he used radiation and seismic data from stars and shaped it into music, played back after sundown each night in a Bavarian forest.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: And there's a free concert taking place at a forest in Germany, and the headline acts have come from far, far away - over 11 light years away, in fact.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROCYON SOUNDS)

LYDEN: That's radiation and seismic data from the star Procyon in the constellation Canis Minor, transposed into sounds our ears can hear. With the help of astrophysicist Daniel Huber, artist Jeff Talman has filtered and shaped this sound so we can now hear the music of the stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAR MUSIC)

LYDEN: Visitors to a Bavarian forest on the Czech border can experience this celestial concert thanks to Jeff Talman's sound installation, "Nature of the Night Sky."

(SOUNDBITE OF STAR MUSIC)

LYDEN: Jeff Talman, it's so haunting, when you look at the galaxy, when you look at the sky, if you could think about how stars should sound. I think they should sound just like this.

JEFF TALMAN: Well, for the human ear, yes, they do sound like this. But originally, the sounds are much lower. They're extraordinarily low. A waveform might be five minutes long, as opposed to hundreds or thousands sounding in one second, which we're used to hearing. So we can't hear these sounds. They had to be scaled in some way so that we can. This is, essentially, a way of transposing them up high enough so that we can hear them.

LYDEN: Is that a math problem or a physics problem?

TALMAN: It's a very simple math problem. Basically, we multiplied all of the star sounds by a factor of 1 million, and that brings them into a range for human hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAR MUSIC)

LYDEN: The music of the stars that we hear in "Nature of the Night Sky" is only part of the experience. To get the full impact, you'll need to set out at dusk into the German countryside.

TALMAN: Ralph Wenzl, who is helping present the work, greets the people that are coming to see the installation. And they arrive right as the sun is going down. And he leads them down a mountain path with a flashlight, and it's about three-quarters of a kilometer to get to the site - not too far. But we don't have any signs up because we didn't want people just going over there. We really wanted to keep it kind of a little bit of a secret. It makes it a little more mysterious for people going in because they don't know exactly what they're going into. So they walk down the mountain - Ralph leads them; he gets them to this site; they cross over a small brook on a bridge that we built to get them into the area; and there are many tree stumps, logs, places for people to sit and look up at the sky. And we've cleared the forest there, so it's a natural forest amphitheater. It's on a slant on the side of the mountain and the forest is clear above, so your eye just naturally gravitates up.

When you first arrive, of course, there's no sound going. And Ralph introduces the piece. And he talks about the processes in creating the sounds so that we can hear them and where they come from a little bit - just some background information. And then he begins the piece, and the piece lasts for 50 minutes. And as people are watching it, the stars start to come out. So at the end of the 50 minutes, the sky is completely covered with stars. And meanwhile, this slow-moving piece has created a kind of ambience in the forest that brings you right up into the sky in a way which, I think, is quite wonderful.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAR MUSIC)

LYDEN: What are you hearing back from people lucky enough to be sitting in the forest, listening to this and looking at the stars?

TALMAN: Actually, I was kind of amazed. The first few nights that it ran, I was there, and people didn't say a word when the piece ended. They sat and they sat and they sat - for maybe five minutes. They didn't move their feet; they didn't cough; they didn't talk to each other. They just kept staring at the sky. And they had really, you know - this was no longer my work. I'd framed the stars for them, but they were really transported to the stars themselves just by their own sheer power. I think it's really wonderful that we can harness this in some way for human understanding - or for the art impulse, anyway. To me, that's what makes it so fascinating.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAR MUSIC)

LYDEN: Composer Jeff Talman. His Bavarian forest sound installation, "Nature of the Night Sky," can be experienced every evening at sundown through September 18th. You can learn more at his website, JeffTalman.com.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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