Our eight planets, pulled together under one sun, hang blackly in the solar system. As our Sun casts its light onto each planet with wildly changeable degrees of intensity, a wondrous fascination of the space in which we live becomes ever more brighter, and what we see as we look closer at the speck of the Milky Way’s spiral arm we inhabit can bring about immense, earth-shattering revelations. Earth’s place amongst the stars is only one of the eight planets brought sharply into focus through the clearest telescopic sights on Sound of the Spheres. Through this scope, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all become crystal clear and visibly seen through the mind’s eye, and each are captured and given a life of their own through experimental and darkly lit ambient soundscapes. Sferi has created a cooly scientific and detailed understanding of each planet and its personality through a use of experimental signals, deep ambient synths and the blackest of drones, staring into the unimaginable void of our Galaxy and beyond; the starting point for reaching out into the furthest depths of the Universe. Although the solar system that Sferi concentrates on may be the tiniest of stardust by comparison, it is, still, an astronomical size, and the music reflects this. The planets and their multitude of moons contain distinct, alien atmospheres of which cannot be found elsewhere; elements of carbon dioxide and oxygen, the presence of gravitational force and their atmospheres all fluctuate on each planetery sphere.
Whereas Gustav Holst’s The Planetswere encased in the dramatic imagery of the Gods, the realism of the NASA voyager recordings reflected a seismic shift towards the more scientific aspects, possibly losing some of Holst’s romanticism in their up-to-date and accurate readings. The recordings carried the vibrations of each planet’s magnetic field as the space probe passed, converting them into soundwaves, while never losing their mystique (in fact, the recordings may have added an extra level of mystique). In what emerged, the sound of the spheres seemed to play their own, airless music. Sound of the Spheres somewhat falls in between the two; it is at times dramatic, like Holst’s orchestral suites, while also emitting the cold, yet inquisitive eye of scientific discovery; a surgical precision through experimentation. The enormous distance between each planet is reflected in the relatively lengthy tracks, and this distance in both space, and music, supports the brilliance of the void, a voyage that would take us years to cross.
Sferi propels the listener into the unceasing pull of each planet’s gravity, and we are allowed a detailed look at the surface as we eventually become ensnared in the never-ending circle of orbit. The atmospherics feel slightly dated too, like the way the universe slowly reveals its secrets the more we as a species advance, shedding continuous new lights on our origins. The dated feeling in the synths and electronics could represent the very first radio signals emitted out to the depths of space with excitement and hope, or perhaps the first grainy, monochrome photographs taken with a robotic eye, staring at the infinite depths surrounding us. The cosmos awaits.
The solar flares burn this planet with an uncaring, relentless force as we enter the atmosphere. Signals are emitted, constantly revolving and circling around in orbit. Phasers radiate an intensity of heat, yet the music feels strangely cool, like the space we hang in. Similar in appearance to our Moon, it is a lifeless sphere, and despite Mercury’s incredible degrees of temperature, it isn’t the hottest planet. Away from the sun, it can quickly freeze. The amazing changes in temperature rival the music, from the searing, scorching heat of the phasers, to a frozen planet bleeping lonely signals in the darkness.
Venus has a creeping air of mysticism. Synths jet outwards with a wonder. It’s quite an ominous mood. Is this the same solar system we are aware of? Or is it one of another dimension?
The blue planet, Mother Earth. Resplendent in the radiance of the sun, the melody of Earth becomes active and alive, yet it is a darkly lit melody unfamiliar to the planet we inhabit in the twenty first century. It is a planet darkest before the Jurassic dawn, or one that precedes time periods to the very birth of our planet. It could be one of a primeval period where the thin light shone through lush, dense rainforests. Lights shine in on the synths, representing the abundance of life, or of life to come. Yet, these are the earliest of lifeforms, our beginnings, unrecognisable to our eyes. A tribal percussion enters rhythmically, like a heartbeat of life, and it beats like a vague precursor of the planet we now share.
Shifting sands dawn on the red planet. Light percussion drives the track forward into the sand dunes prevalent all over the land. Maybe there is a presence here after all, not just imaginary faces in the sand, for the mood is hypnotic, and the surface is warped in its melody. It’s an ancient melody which slightly chills, and mirrors the once deep rivers and valleys which have since dehydrated, eerily so.
Reaching ever further outwards, Jupiter the giant reveals a further mystery. As we circle the moons, ghostly shimmering and wavering synths propel us closer to its gravitational force. Static pulls us into the atmosphere, which breaks up on entry into the thick, inhospitable clouds. The gigantic planet also acts as a protective shield, vastly daunting but ultimately caring.
Colder and colder, the signals beamed back to Earth become fainter. The majesty of Saturn’s rings glow in a heavenly, emerging drone. Glitching due to an ever-increasing distance, the signals begin pulsing out a consistent rhythm without any reply. Engines boost with fiery blasts, trying to add power and intensity to take us out beyond.
Uranus emits lonely blue signals, long lost in the cold depths of space. It also acts as the calmest track, which can come as quite a shock. It may be more peaceful here, further away from Earth and our constant radio wave assaults. Echoing out from the heavens, the signals fade as they edge closer to Neptune. As we float away from the sun’s solar flares and turbulence, we drift closer to deep space.
Icy chimes ring out as we speed past Neptune. This is as dark as the drones get, representing deepest space, and a place furthest from our Sun, now only a glimmer, where the rays reach faintly on solar winds. The freezing, controlled drone could be directed from a command center back on Earth. The ambience darkly soothes as the signal starts to crackle and break up, and we leave the solar system.
The recent passing of Voyager 1 out of the heliosphere – launched in 1977 – highlights only a fraction of the immensity our galaxy boasts. After thirty-five years, Voyager 1 is only now on the brink of interstellar space. The sheer sense of distance and the chasms of unexplored space engulfs the entire project. The concept and blackest backdrop demands a very visual listen. The immensity of the blackened, permanent night above and below us remains largely undiscovered, yet gazing up at the stars while listening will surely send the listener towards a new discovery. No matter how small the step, it is a highly important one. The possibilities are limitless, and Sound of the Spheres captures the fascinating depths surrounding space, and our presence amongst the stars. (James Catchpole)