When the Morning Stars Sang Together (Job 38​.​7)

by John Harvey



The composition was conceived as a trial sound work made on behalf of one of the School of Art, Aberystwyth University’s MA Fine Art students, following a brief discussion that we had had a day earlier. The student wanted to generate a sonic accompaniment to a sci/art project about astronomy, which they were finalising for exhibition.

The student had already some idea of what would be appropriate and, to illustrate, played me a YouTube video of the sounds of planets recorded by NASA space probes. Every star and planet emits radio signals or electromagnetic vibrations and interactions that cannot be heard in the vacuum of space. Scientists have translated these frequencies into the audible spectrum. Copyright issues prevented the student from using the on-line files. In any case, they were not sufficiently and imaginatively processed, in the manner of the visual artwork that the sound work would accompany.

Rather than mimic the source sounds, I turned to the most well-known and much-loved sonification of the celestial spheres: Gustav Holst's suite, 'The Planets' (1914–16). My soundtrack (for want of a better word) derives from a recording of the music made in 1926. The suite’s movements, one for every planet (bar the Earth) in the, then, known solar system, were stacked (superimposed) and mixed-down together. I extracted a small sample from the aggregate, which was, then, cleaned up, re-equalised, converted into a stereo signal and, finally, stretched by 200%.


released May 18, 2018
Personnel: London Symphony Orchestra and Womens' Chorus, and John Harvey.

Instrumentation: Adobe Audition CS6 and Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch software.

Context: Composed and recorded in Aberystwyth, UK, 18 May 2018.

Source: Gustav Holst, 'The Planets', Petty France Studios, Columbia, 1926.

Track cover: John Harvey. The image comprises a series of transparent superimpositions of photographs (courtesy of WikiCommons) taken of the planets referred to in the suite.


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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

Harvey is a historian of art, visual culture, and sound art, and also a sound- and visual-art practitioner. His research field is the visual and sonic culture of religion, principally. He explores non-iconic attitudes to visualization and sonic articulations of religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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