MaxMSP, Sound
comments 2

Kabbalistic Synthesizer – Waveforms by macrocosmic phenomena

Created by Sam Conran at the RCA/Design Interactions, the Kabbalistic Synthesizer is a is a musical synthesizer that uses the combination of electric signals to build and create sound bottom up using its raw basic elements. It replaces all usual functions of a regular synthesizer, signal, noise, ADSR, gate and keyboard with alternatives that are generated by live macrocosmic phenomena. The result is a synth that operates itself with waveforms generated by the Earths magnetic field, noise via magnetic storms of Jupiter and keyboard via cosmic rays.

When the recent ESA comet landing took place, a sound recording of abstract tones was disseminated and went viral with 5,000,000 (+) plays (the equivalent of going 10 times platinum). This recording captured the imagination of the world as it provided a tactile and experiential connection to the extremely complex science of physics as well as interplanetary exploration. The process used to make the recording is called ‘sonification’, a data driven sound design that relies on speculation by the designer and synthesis to create sounds that don’t exist. The resulting sounds are semi-real and are used as tools in aid of scientific outreach.

For this project Sam made it his goal to develop the process in a scientifically rigorous way and true to the science of sound. For the magnetic field he used a method from John Chowning’s PHD in artificial intelligence. ‘The Synthesis of Complex Audio Spectra by Means of Frequency Modulation.’ in which he states; “Of interest in both acoustical research and electronic music is the synthesis of natural sound. For the researcher, it is the ultimate test of acoustical theory, while for the composer of electronic music it is an extraordinarily rich point of departure in the domain of timbre, or tone quality.” With FM synthesis you can recreate any natural sound but Sam is using it here to speculate on a sound that doesn’t exist. He feels this approach is important as otherwise the possibilities would be endless.

The device is comprised of Helmholtz Coil and Magnetometer (Earth’s magnetic field), 18 tube drift Hodoscope  (Cosmic Ray Detector and Clock), Jovian Receiver 21.1mhz and Fractal Loop Antennae (Jupiter Noise Storms) and finally a Case and a Control Panel.

Earth’s Magnetic Field (Helmholtz Coil and Magnetometer)

This is a Helmholtz coil and mission grade magnetometer. This has been made by Sam with help of the Mag Lab at Imperial College Blackett. The coil creates a uniform magnetic field which cancels out all interference from lateral fields, the magnetometer on its Z axis reads the Earths magnetic field at the local area and outputs the measurement in micro Tesla. The goal of its function is to use live readings in micro Tesla as the seed variable for all the parameters in an FM synthesis system.

Cosmic Ray Detector and Clock. (18 tube drift Hodoscope)

This is a cosmic ray detector. It uses Geiger tubes that scintillate when gamma particles pass through them. These particles are said to be of unknown origin. The possibility that they have traveled through many galaxies to arrive at this point is not disputed in science. The goal of the device is to detect cosmic rays and use the scintillation voltages from the gm tubes to trigger clocks and functions in the synthesizer like a keyboard.

Jupiter Noise Storms. Jovian Receiver 21.1mhz and Fractal Loop Antennae.

This is a fractal reflector and loop antennae, the noise made by this device is coming from magnetic storms coming from Jupiter or the Sun depending on where you aim it. The frequency used to detect this sound is 21.1 mega hertz. This is then shifted into audible range using a crystal oscillator in the receiver circuit. The goal of the device is to use raw noise emissions from Jupiter in the synthesizer. The device has a robotic base that always tracks Jupiter or the Sun.

The Kabbalistic Synthesizer is an alchemists approach to sound making and ultimately a project that seeks to un- derstand and debate the psycho-social implications that could occur when science is experienced/accessed through a commercial medium and how ‘sonification’ can be combined with the synthesizer to access and objectify the unknown. The project has ultimately been a quest to understand sounds utility in society and speculate that artificial intelligence and machine listening could be present in the way we might start to interact and value our environments. 


The project was made with support from Dr. Simon Foster (Imperial College, Head of Outreach), Dr. Adam Masters (Space Plasma Physicist), Dr. Baptiste Cecconi (Fr. Radio Astronomer), Dr. Patrick Brown (Head of Maglab – Voyager,Cassini,ESA), Barry Whiteside (Maglab), Leigh (3rd Year technitian, Imperial), Tim Olden (Sound Artist & Design Interactions Wizard), Luke Sturgeon (Gimbel Programmer for Telescope) and Thomas Grogan (design assistant/collaborator for magnetometer).

For more information about the project, see the links below.

Also on Sam’s website: The Enometer used by hobbyists to detect real nature in a future of synthetic biology and The Meme Ray, a modified hypersonic directional speaker that is used to transmit earworms.

Sam ConranProject Sounds

  • Travis Lawrence

    My cat really enjoys these.

  • adam h

    Ha my dog did not!