Cosmic Octave

Exhibited in London Science Museum celebrating Britain’s first astronaut; Tim Peake’s launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 December 2015. Cosmic Octave (2015) is an interactive installation that uses Hans Cousto calculations on the cosmic octave to match frequencies produced by the different planets to that produced by people speaking into the microphone. So which planet do you sound like?

In 1978, Hans Cousto, a Swiss mathematician and musicologist discovered the natural law of the ‘Cosmic Octave’ – linking a variety of natural phenomena which occur periodically such as of the orbits and rotations of the planets, the weather, colours, musical rhythms and tones. He basically converted planetary cycles into music pitches. It is a slightly more mathematical and poetic approach to scientific. This is what he did:

1 day = 24 hrs x 60mins x 60sec = 86,400secs
Earth’s day frequency is 1/86400 = 0.00001157Hz

Now human ear does not perceive such low frequency, so he octave this frequency up until we can hear it (octave law dictates that it will stay in the same tone). So the 24th octave of the Earth rotation has a frequency of 194.18Hz which is close to a G! And he multiplied that to a year (because it takes a year to orbit the sun) and he got 136.1Hz! Which is a C#! What is fascinating to me is that instruments in India used by the sitar masters are all tuned to C# 136.1Hz! They call this being in tuned with the universe – to be attuned with the nature of reality.

From previous tests, the satellite dish picked up surrounding sounds and pushed it straight to the microphone just like how a parabolic microphone work. This made it difficult for users to get an accurate reading of their voice frequencies as the microphone picked up surrounding sounds. The microphone was then mounted facing away from the dish.

^ London, Nursery Gallery, Interim Show 2015. Filmed by Carlotta Solari.

^ Photo by Carlotta Solari.

^ BTS: Setting up! Photo by Carlotta Solari.


At an earlier phase of this project, I was testing out the interaction of getting users to receive their feedback from the back of the satellite dish. It didn’t work out too well. It felt counter-intuitive. Why would I go behind to hear what I sound like? Why can’t it just tell me as I speak into the microphone? After running it through a few people, it became clear that it was not only a hassle to go behind, to listen, it was also confusing. The decision was then made to remove the speakers. I replaced it with a mini projection of the planets for immediate feedback right on the dish.

Structure built, speakers and microphone mounted!

^ Prototype #1