Institute of Astronomy


The Institute of Astronomy hosted a sound art installation created by Flow Motion artists Anna Piva and Edward George in 2007.

Invisible was held over the period of 26th - 30th September in three of the historical telescope domes at the Institute of Astronomy.

There was also a live performance at the Science Museum's Dana Centre on Thursday 1st November.

Listen to a short radio interview (mp3 format ; 3 min 40 sec) about the installation from the BBC World Service. Music can be experimental sometimes but you don't get much more experimental than the latest work of artists Anna Piva and Edward George. They've taken over three domed observatories at the University of Cambridge here in Britain and filled them with the sound of dark energy - the energy which scientists think fills the space between the galaxies of our universe. Our Science Reporter Neil Bowdler went along to meet them...

Listen to long audio clips on youtube from the live performance at the Dana Centre at the Science Museum:

The press release from the University of Cambridge



Extracts from the soundscape:

  • Extract 1 (2 mins 6 sec; 2.4 Mb) : sonification of data
  • Extract 2 (1 min 8 sec; 1.29 Mb) : response of musicians, and sonification of data
  • Extract 3 (1 min 29 sec; 1.69 Mb) : data, musicians and childrens voices
  • Extract 4 (2 min 48 sec; 3.19 Mb) : data, musicians and montage of childrens voices

There are many sounds contained within Invisible, all relating to ideas of darkness, invisibility, trace, absence, density and expansion. The starting point is the sonification of research data that was used by scientists at the Institute of Astronomy to confirm the presence of dark energy , the enigmatic force that inhabits empty space and that drives the accelerating expansion of the Universe. Dark energy accounts for around 75% of the mass-energy density of the univese, yet it cannot be directly observed, only inferred from its effects on the universe's visible matter.

With Invisible, Flow Motion bring cosmology's new emphasis on invisibility, darkness, absence, density and expansion, into dialogue with these themes as they inform the ancient and modern sound based cosmologies of Indian classical music, jazz and electronica. The research data became the basis for a process-based collaboration between Flow Motion and musicians Sukhdeep Singh (tabla), Raj Virdee (sitar), Jim Dvorak (trumpet), Harrison Smith (bass clarinet) and Mark D'Inverno (piano). The improvised response is woven into the sound of the installation, along with field recordings from the site.

The voices you can hear are those of secondary school pupils who attended three science-arts workshops run by Flow Motion and Dr Carolin Crawford at the Institute of Astronomy, and at Heston School in West London. The words are taken from their creative writing responding to cosmological ideas about dark energy. Participating students were from Bottisham, Linton, Melbourn and Swavesey Village Colleges, St Bede's School in Cambridge, and Heston Community School, Syon Park School and Brentford School for Girls in West London.

Using the interiors of the telescope domes as surfaces and spaces across which the soundscapes resonate, Flow Motion transformed the telescope domes into sound sculptures, each of which foreground a radically different use of space and instrumentation, density and emptiness, turning the architecture of space observation into sonic space, created from the evidence of the mysterious workings of our invisible universe.

Invisible was funded by the Arts Council England.

Page last updated: 21 June 2011 at 14:33