Johannes Kepler Theorized That Each Planet Sings a Song, Each in a Different Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mercury, a Soprano; and Earth, an Alto

Johannes Kepler deter­mined just how the plan­ets of our solar sys­tem make their way around the sun. He pub­lished his inno­v­a­tive work on the sub­ject from 1609 to 1619, and in the final year of that decade he also came up with a the­o­ry that each plan­et sings a song, and each in a dif­fer­ent voice at that. Mars is a tenor, Mer­cury is a sopra­no, and Earth, as the BBC show QI (or Quite Inter­est­ing) recent­ly tweet­ed, “is an alto that sings two notes Mi and Fa, which Kepler read as ‘Mis­e­ri­am & Famem’, ‘mis­ery and famine’ ” — two phe­nom­e­na not unknown on Earth in Kepler’s time, even though the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion had already start­ed to change the way peo­ple lived.

Not all of the best minds of the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion thought pure­ly in terms of cal­cu­la­tion. The blog Thats­Maths describes Kepler’s mis­sion as explain­ing the solar sys­tem “in terms of divine har­mo­ny,” find­ing “a sys­tem of the world that was math­e­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect and har­mon­i­cal­ly pleas­ing.” Tru­ly divine har­mo­ny could pre­sum­ably find its expres­sion in music, an idea that led Kepler to explain “plan­e­tary motions in terms of har­mon­ic rela­tion­ships, a scheme that he called the ‘song of the Earth.’ ”

Accord­ing to this scheme, “each plan­et emits a tone that varies in pitch as its dis­tance from the Sun varies from per­i­he­lion to aphe­lion and back” — that is, from the near­est they get to the sun to the far­thest they get from the sun and back — “pro­duc­ing a con­tin­u­ous glis­san­do of inter­me­di­ate tones, a ‘whistling pro­duced by fric­tion with the heav­en­ly light.’ ”

Kepler named the com­bined result “the music of the spheres,” but what does it sound like? Switzer­land-based cor­net­tist Bruce Dick­ey wants to give us a sense of it with Nature’s Whis­per­ing Secret, “a project for a CD record­ing explor­ing the ideas about music and cos­mol­o­gy of Johannes Kepler.” Demand­ing the musi­cian­ship of not just Dick­ey but com­pos­er Cal­liope Tsoupa­ki, singer Hana Blažíková, and a group of singers and instru­men­tal­ists from across Europe and Amer­i­ca as well, all “among the most dis­tin­guished musi­cians per­form­ing 16th-cen­tu­ry poly­phon­ic music today.” The Indiegogo cam­paign for this ambi­tious trib­ute to Kepler’s ideas at the inter­sec­tion of sci­ence and aes­thet­ics, which involves an album as well as a series of live per­for­mances into the year 2020, is on its very last day, so if you’d like to hear the music of the spheres for your­self, con­sid­er mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion.

via Quite Inter­est­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Declas­si­fied, Eerie “Space Music” Heard Dur­ing the Apol­lo 10 Mis­sion (1969)

NASA Puts Online a Big Col­lec­tion of Space Sounds, and They’re Free to Down­load and Use

Relax with 8 Hours of Clas­si­cal Space Music: From Richard Strauss & Haydn, to Bri­an Eno, Philip Glass & Beyond

The Sound­track of the Uni­verse

Kepler, Galileo & Nos­tradamus in Col­or, on Google

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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