Potentially the most interesting feature on the downloadable systemic console is the “sonify button”, which integrates the model planetary system specified by the state of the console sliders and produces a .wav format CD-quality audio file of the resulting radial velocity waveform. Not interested in planets? The console is a stand-alone non-linear digital synthesizer. It’s capable of producing strange, remarkable, musically useful sounds. They merely need to be located within the uncountable infinity of solutions to the gravitational N-body problem.
First, use the console to build an interesting multi-planet system (for this purpose, there’s no need to try to fit whatever data is in the window.) Then click the sonify button. This brings up a dialogue window which enables the user to make several specifications for the sound file that is produced.
The most important user-specified parameter is the frequency onto which the orbital period of the shortest-period planet on the console is mapped. If, for example, the innermost planet has a period of 365.25 days, then a 440 Hz map will play 440 years worth of evolution in one second. (440 Hz corresponds to the A below middle C.) Mapping the radial velocity curve onto a high-frequency note extends the total number of orbits that go into the sample, and thus increases the integration time required to produce the sample. You can also specify the length of the sample, and you can exert simple control over the attack and decay rate of the envelope for the overall waveform.
Once you’ve produced the soundfile, it appears in the “soundClips” subdirectory within the systemic parent directory. Both of these directories are automatically created when you download and expand the console — see the instruction set for the downloadable console for more details. With a Macintosh, you get the best results if you play the sample right from the folder. i-Tunes seems to want to convert the samples to .mp3 format in a manner that introduces audible noise, and we’re not yet sure how to resolve this issue.
To the extent that planets orbit independently of one another, the console behaves like a simple additive synthesizer, in which the individual Kepler waveforms add to form a composite sound. Much more interesting, is the situation when planets experience significant gravitational interaction, leading, for example, to resonance and to nonlinear instability (here are examples, 1, 2, from the resources page of both types of waveforms). Close encounters provide discontinuities between individual blocks of sound that resemble the results of granular synthesis.
The strongest 2-planet mean-motion resonances occur when the pair of planets share a common period and engage in a one-to-one resonant motion. There are a variety of different one-to-one resonances, including binary planet orbits (e.g. Earth and Moon), trojan configurations, and generalizations of retrograde satellite orbits. In this last catefgory, one can have two planets with the same semi-major axis, but with different eccentricities. If one starts the planets in the following configuration, then the motion is dynamically stable, and evolves in a complicated way over time.
The motion leads to an interesting audio wave-form, in which you can hear the system cycling between configurations in which both planets are modestly eccentric and configurations in which one orbit is nearly circular while the other one is highly eccentric. As a specific example, set the console to the following configuration: P1=P2=10 days, M1=M2=0.3 Mjup, MA1=180., MA2=190., e1=0.9, e2=0.1, long1=0.0, long2=0.0. If you increase MA2 to about 225 degrees while keeping the other parameters fixed, you’ll hear the system go unstable.
Evolving, high-eccentricity orbits tend to have an insect-like quality, which brings to mind the 1986 album, The Insect Musicians, by Greame Revell (formerly of SPK). From the album jacket:
For the two years 1984-85, Graeme Revell travelled from Australia to Europe, to Africa, Indonesia and North America recording and negotiating copyrights of insect sound recordings. It took another full year sampling and metamorphosing some fourty sounds thus gathered using the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, to produce this record. The only sounds used are those of insects, altered digitally and combined into a unique orchestra of instruments, an orchestra of strange and delicate timbres, music of natural rhythm and texture.