Music commissioned by NASA.  How cool is that?

The NASA Art Program contacted The Kronos Quartet in Spring of 2000 with an open invitation to take sounds of space and weave them into music. The sounds of space came from plasma wave receivers built by physicist Don Gurnett and flown on a variety of Earth orbiting and planetary spacecraft over a period of 40 years.

Listening for the first time to these eerie whistles, sirens and booms collected from hundreds of millions of miles away, Kronos Artistic Director David Harrington recalls they “sounded like part of nature, but not like any sounds I had ever heard before.”

Harrington knew right away that the composer to best bring these sounds into the work of Kronos would be longtime collaborator Terry Riley. When it came time for Riley to hear the sounds first-hand, Harrington says, “I wanted to see the expression on his face.” He soon realized they were about to embark upon a fascinating project, one unlike anything they had done before.

Among the sounds that Harrington and Riley listened to from Gurnett’s collection were those from the plasma wave receivers on the twin Voyager spacecraft which carried out the historic twelve-year exploration of the outer planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Many are familiar with the breathtaking pictures of Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings taken by Voyager; however, the plasma wave sounds, and even the existence of such sounds, are not widely known.

The Sun Rings work is not just one piece – it’s and entire suite of pieces each one a tonal and musical environment describing various orbits in our solar system. What you are about to hear is but one of the pieces, the overture.  The video you are about to see is not one piece, but exerpts from several within the Sun Rings work.


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Upcoming Concert

Kronos Quartet: Sun Rings Sat, Mar. 23, 2013 at 8pm…

The internationally-acclaimed Kronos Quartet will be performing at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, Californa on March 23, 2013.   Combining an evocative score with actual intergalactic sounds and multi-media display, Sun Rings blends art and the cosmos to stunning effect. The Quartet will be accompanied by the CSULB University Choir—Dr. Jonathan Talberg, conductor.

Carpenter Center 6200 Atherton Street, Long Beach, CA 90815


  • SpaceAudio.Org
  • The Kronos Quartet