COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 16:
LISTENING TO SPACE (Sound Designing)
A great film once taught us that out there, in the cold vastness of space – no one can hear you scream… Why?
Sound waves (as we perceive them) need a medium like air to travel through, and in the vacuum of space there is no such medium. So to the human ear at least – space is silent.
However, this is not the whole truth.
On August 16th 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a steady source of radio waves that became known as the “Wow!” signal…
There is much speculation as to the origin of the “Wow!” signal and perhaps we will never know for sure if it was of extra-terrestrial design. But it certainly makes you wonder.
The field of Radio Astronomy observes astronomical objects by studying their radio wave emissions. These astronomical objects, such as stars and galaxies, naturally emit radio waves which travel across the vast ocean of space at the speed of light – an astounding 186,282 MILES PER SECOND! (The equivalent of flying around planet Earth 4.6 times in a single second!)
The human ear cannot hear these radio waves but with sophisticated instrumentation, we can detect these electromagnetic disturbances coming from space and translate them into a sound that we can hear and interpret – just as your car radio captures radio waves and converts those signals into music.
All around our planet, hundreds if not thousands of Radio Telescopes constantly point towards the heavens to listen in on a symphony of space sound.
So what does space sound like then?
As you can hear, man’s final frontier isn’t the sea of silence most people believe it to be.
In COSMOS our three main characters are all astronomers, of sorts. And Mike Webster in particular, is a Radio Astronomer – which as you now know, means he studies space objects by observing their unique radio signatures – clever bloke!
And as you will remember from PRODUCTION BLOG 3: STORY – COSMOS is a Sci-fi film telling the story of the three men who make first contact with extra-terrestrial life.
“When a group of amateur astronomers accidentally intercept a faint signal from outer space, they doubt its authenticity and flippantly transmit a response. But when they receive a reply only a few hours later, not only do they believe they’ve made the greatest discovery in the history of mankind; but found proof of life much closer to Earth.”
With this in mind, we of course need to make a faint signal that they can intercept. And once again, we want this signal designed and ready so that we can play it through speakers during filming, allowing the actors to react to it there and then.
Now although this Production Blog has promised to give you an access-all-areas pass, there are some things we think are best left unknown for now. So, we are not going to share what our faint signal sounds like or how we created it. Instead here’s a video revealing some of the secrets of our Sound Design process from one of our previous short films.
There is actually nothing quite like wrapping up warm, going outside and staring up into a clear night sky full of stars. Human beings have been doing it since our time on Earth began, and we will do it until our time on Earth ends.
We urge you to close your computer and forget your phone. Go into your garden tonight and look up. The light from those stars has travelled for millennia, across a sea of space to miraculously rain down into your eyes – marvel at their magnificence, their might and their mystery.
And you never know who may be looking back.
Zand & Ell
Thanks for stopping by.
Elliot Weaver, Director @CosmosMovie