It’s easy to forget that our bodies are constantly being breached by extraterrestrial particles. Luckily for us, these particles are tiny and have the same kind of effect as raspberries being thrown at Jupiter. Our invisible invaders result from high-energy cosmic rays, created by stars (including our Sun) and other lesser-understood sources outside the Solar System. On meeting the Earth’s atmosphere, these cosmic rays collide with atmospheric molecules to generate showers of particles (‘secondary cosmic rays’) that can travel to the Earth’s surface. If we happen to be standing in their way, the particles zip through us before continuing on their immense journey across the universe.
Over the past few years, Charlie Hooker, a professor of sculpture at the University of Brighton, has been using cosmic rays as an unlikely source of inspiration for his installations. The video below describes his ‘Timeline’ exhibit, an audio-visual installation featuring two drums being ‘played’ when hit by cosmic rays. Inside each drum, a Geiger counter triggers a sound sample every time a radioactive particle is detected.
More recently, Charlie Hooker has adapted this idea to other instruments. His ‘Audio Accompaniment’ installation, part of an upcoming John Cage exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion (see the flyer below), uses a MIDI-controlled piano. The keys of the piano move in a ghostly way to produce sound each time a cosmic ray is detected, creating unpredictable flurries of random notes and harmonies.
In theory, any electronic instrument could be triggered using a similar method. The possibilities are endless…maybe it won’t be long before we see an entire orchestra conducted by cosmic rays.