In this composing activity you will compose new music inspired by the signals of pulsars and by Ripples in Spacetime II by Chinese composer Jia Guoping. Jia Guoping uses the name of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, based in China, to generate notes for his music and you will use these to create melodic ostinatos.
The Chinese composer Jia Guoping was inspired by CHINA FAST, the largest filled aperture radio telescope in the world to compose Ripples in Spacetime II. It was performed by BCMG musicians (clarinet, violin, cello and piano) in February 2021.
The telescope is located in a natural basin in Pingtang County, Guizhou, China and is made from 4450 individual plates. Its full name is Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope and its nickname is Tianyan (天眼) which literally means Sky's or Heaven's Eye. It is the size of 20 blue whales end to end! You can hone into it on Google Earth HERE and to find out more about it click HERE.
One of the reasons FAST was built is to detect signals from pulsars and by 2018 it had detected 44. Pulsars are very dense, fast rotating, highly magnetized compact stars (usually neutron stars but also white dwarfs) that emit beams of electromagnetic radiation out of their magnetic poles. Their radiation can only be observed when the beam is pointing towards Earth (similar to the way a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed in the direction of an observer), which means that beam produces a regular pulsed emission.
Pulsars were first discovered by British astronomer Jocelyn Bell in 1967. Here she is talking about her discovery:
Here is what it sounds and looks like when a pulsar is detected. Watch out for the jump!
And below is an illustration of a pulsar:
In Ripples in Spacetime II, Jia Guoping takes two ideas from FAST. First of all, Jia Guoping uses the first letter from each word of its name Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope to generate a series of notes/pitches. This is called musical cryptogram.
And so Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FHMASRT) becomes the notes:
F B E A Eb F
These notes are used to make the melodies and harmonies in the piece. In particular, Jia Guoping uses them to make melodic ostinatos. A melodic ostinato is a repeating pattern that uses different pitches/notes. Even if you don't read music, you can see the repeating patterns in the music below:
Secondly, Jia Guoping creates pulsar signals in his music inspired by the actual signals FAST has found. Here is an excerpt of the piece performed by BCMG, As you listen, try to spot any ostinatos and the pulsar signal:
Another interesting aspect of the piece is that Jia Gupoing asks the musicians to use Chinese instrumental techniques on their traditional western classical instruments. these include:
Listen below to another piece by Jia Guoping, also called Ripples in Spacetime, composed for a Chinese music ensemble and try to notice some of the techniques described above.
In this composing activity you are going to create melodic ostinatos using the same series of notes as Jia Guoping uses in Ripples in Spacetime II. You will then organise them to make your own composition - and create ripples in spacetime!
Play the series of notes (note row) below from Ripples in Spacetime II on your instrument. You can change what octave you play any of the notes if you like i.e. play a high F instead of a low F.
Making Melodic Ostinatos:
An ostinato is a repeating pattern in music. A melodic ostinato is a repeating pattern of different pitches/notes. In this activity, imagine them to be like the repeating signals received by a radio telescope. Start creating your music by making an ostinato with one of the notes from the note row. You could:
And you can play around with:
Below and in the next column you will find some examples. You can also download lots of ideas HERE. If you want to, you can use traditional music notation to write your ideas down using the music paper HERE. There are also graphic score examples and a blank sheet HERE. Writing down your ideas will help you to remember them.
1 Note Ostinatos:
2 Note Ostinatos:
3 Note Ostinatos:
Creating a pulsar signal
Your ostinatos are the background signals being received all the time by the telescope. Now create a pulsar signal which stands out within your ostinatos. You could:
Remember that the pulsar signal should stand out and be heard for a while before disappearing again. Will you have one or more pulsar signals?
Composing your final piece:
You are now ready to compose your final piece. Organise your ostinatos into an order that you like. Decide how many repeats you will have for each ostinato - will they be the same each time you play them or will you change speed, rests, articulation, playing techniques, dynamics? You can revisit ostinatos as many times as you like. Decide how and when your pulsar signal will appear and disappear.
You could also record, sequence and layer your different ostinatos by using the software Audacity to create a piece with lots of different voices. CLICK HERE to learn how to use Audacity.
Please send any music you create to email@example.com
Musical examples by violinist Maya Pluta.