Discovery Scanner - The Sounds of Space

Will Flanagan

Community Manager
Frontier
Hello Commanders,

At the start of the month, we were joined by Space Weather Research Scientist, Nigel Meredith, and Principal Audio Designer, Joe Hogan, for another episode of our Discovery Scanner series. In this episode, we explored... the sounds of space and how these were incorporated into Elite Dangerous in Beyond - Chapter Four.

If you weren't able to catch the stream, watch the VOD below:


Throughout the stream, we noted down your questions and Nigel from the British Antarctic Survey has kindly provided us with answers to some of your questions:

What is the maximum range of the detectors (for detecting sound in space?) Within a few hundred or thousand LYs?

The range depends on the technique used to measure the signal. The VLF receiver at Halley detects radio signals from lightning activity from up to half the way around the globe and from chorus from near Earth space up to 5 or 6 Earth radii away. Instruments that detect VLF sounds in planetary magnetospheres record waves that have been generated within their magnetospheres and not from other sources. Radio telescopes detect signals from pulsars, typically within our own galaxy, so, typically 100s to 1000s of light years away. The LIGO interferometers detect gravitational waves from violent events such as colliding neutron stars and merging black holes. The two gravitational wave ‘sounds’ that I shared came from the merging black holes and the colliding neutron stars, from distances of 1.3 billion and 130 million light years away respectively. So the range of the different instruments used ranges typically from a few Earth radii to a billion light years or more. Fascinating stuff!

Is chorus in space created by electromagnetics being deflected by stars?

Chorus is generated by interactions between energetic electrons and planetary magnetic fields. This explains why we can observe them on Earth and on the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, all of which have magnetic fields.

What was the original Hz range of the Saturn emissions?

The original Hz range of the Saturn recordings was 30,000-80,000 Hz. The original recording was also compressed so that 27 minutes was played back in 73 seconds. I just chose a small section to share with the audience on the day.

Is the recorded audio stored raw or losslessly compressed?

The data are stored as uncompressed, lossless audio (.wav files).

What's the oddest or strangest "out of context" sound found while in the polar region?

The oddest VLF ‘sounds’ are the triggered emissions. You kind of know what to expect from the spherics, whistlers and chorus but the triggered emissions are very unpredictable and weird.

What does Sagittarius A* sounds like?

I am not sure it has a ‘sound’. It would need to collide with another black hole to generate gravitational waves.

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Click here to learn more about the British Antarctic Survey and the work they do.

A huge thanks to Nigel and Joe for coming along to the livestream and to all those who tuned in! Additionally, a special thanks to Stephen McGreevy and Jodrell Bank, the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Iowa and the Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab.



* * *
Additionally, Principal Audio Designer, Joe Hogan, was able to answer some more questions that were focused on the sounds in Elite Dangerous:


Can Joe tell us where the planet sounds that you hear in the System Map came from?

These were made by Principal-Audio-Designer Matt Florianz, using synthesis techniques. In his words: “It's a lot of korg synthesiser. I looked for textures that reminded me of the planet’s composition. For example, gas planets are made up of wind like textures, whereas planets rich in metals have loads of resonant textures”.

Most of the sounds sound like relatively simple wave forms - how feasible would it be to synthesize and reconstruct these live in game, taking parameters from the in game environment?


Theoretically, it might be possible to recreate some of the sounds, such as the ones which are quite mathematical and consistent, and we do have a fair bit of data from the game we could use to drive the audio. Whistlers, for example, are almost pure tones with minimal harmonics, and the spherics are loud clicks that contain all the frequencies. However, some other crucial sounds are slightly more unpredictable and organic, so they would be much harder to recreate. Definitely a lot more work than cleaning up the BAS recordings, which we would probably have to have done anyway in order to fully understand how to synthesise them. But, there is something very satisfying and cool about being able to use the real authentic sounds from space in the game!

What do you use for clipping detection - that doesn't remove the desired pops?

The spherics are extremely loud relative to the other sounds, and they tend to overload the recording a bit. Izotope RX, the audio editor I showed, has a 'de-clip' feature which reduces the volume of the whole sound and then, where there is clipping, it attempts to add back a suitable peak. It kind of allows the wave to overshoot, essentially. So, it will never be exactly the same as the original peak that was lost, but it greatly helps reduce that clipping crunch that occurs. I didn’t specifically call this out in the livestream for time reasons, and not wanting to make things overly confusing, but this is a thing I did on the source files before doing any other processing.


Fly safe, Commanders!
 
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Thoroughly enjoyed the stream, and great to see this follow up too.

Thanks to Will, Joe and Nigel for such an interesting and enlightening hour or so.
 
Great stream, as are all the Discovery Scanner features. Thanks to all involved and thanks for this follow-up post, fascinating stuff and an inspired decision to incorporate these sounds into the FSS rather than just creating brand new sounds.
 
if sol had a tune I imagine it would sound like the synth in summer madness by kool and the gang
Wikipedia describes Light of Worlds as Kool’s “most spiritual and sophisticated work” choosing “nine songs for the album to represent the nine planets in the solar system”,
but we all know sol is all along the watchtower and if you listen carefully lol
no sounds in space don't make me laugh your hull is pressurized with air, sound travels through that as the lazer hits your hull it rapidly expands and contracts as it heats and then cools this vibration transposes to sound you can hear and I imagine would be truly terrifying at the rupture point

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SFt7JHwJeg
 
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This stream and made a big impact on how I feel about and use FSS in the game, which I appreciate way more now. I think it would be worth including descriptions of what spherics, chorus etc are in the codex, giving more insight into why the FSS works as it does and why you need it. Calibrating, to filter out stellar radiation, is great stuff for space geeks imho. Bwaaaap.
 
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This was a wonderful stream, thanks to all involved for putting it together.

Question: Is there any chance of the BAS-informed FSS audio being used in the in-cockpit ambient mix? There is a planetary component in the current mix, as heard in this 2015 video from Matthew Florianz, but as I understand it, the FSS audio is more detailed and more dependent on the planet's characteristics:


:) As for Saturn... being a synthesizer lover myself since decades.... I quickly put a saturn drone together using the original NASA sound at the beginning and the end, together with the mighty Omnisphere Synth...

Great work, I really enjoyed listening to that.
 

Stephen Benedetti

Community Manager
Frontier
In addition to the first set of questions, Principal Audio Designer, Joe Hogan, was able to answer some more questions that were focused on the sounds in Elite Dangerous:


Can Joe tell us where the planet sounds that you hear in the System Map came from?

These were made by Principal-Audio-Designer Matt Florianz, using synthesis techniques. In his words: “It's a lot of korg synthesiser. I looked for textures that reminded me of the planet’s composition. For example, gas planets are made up of wind like textures, whereas planets rich in metals have loads of resonant textures”.

Most of the sounds sound like relatively simple wave forms - how feasible would it be to synthesize and reconstruct these live in game, taking parameters from the in game environment?


Theoretically, it might be possible to recreate some of the sounds, such as the ones which are quite mathematical and consistent, and we do have a fair bit of data from the game we could use to drive the audio. Whistlers, for example, are almost pure tones with minimal harmonics, and the spherics are loud clicks that contain all the frequencies. However, some other crucial sounds are slightly more unpredictable and organic, so they would be much harder to recreate. Definitely a lot more work than cleaning up the BAS recordings, which we would probably have to have done anyway in order to fully understand how to synthesise them. But, there is something very satisfying and cool about being able to use the real authentic sounds from space in the game!

What do you use for clipping detection - that doesn't remove the desired pops?

The spherics are extremely loud relative to the other sounds, and they tend to overload the recording a bit. Izotope RX, the audio editor I showed, has a 'de-clip' feature which reduces the volume of the whole sound and then, where there is clipping, it attempts to add back a suitable peak. It kind of allows the wave to overshoot, essentially. So, it will never be exactly the same as the original peak that was lost, but it greatly helps reduce that clipping crunch that occurs. I didn’t specifically call this out in the livestream for time reasons, and not wanting to make things overly confusing, but this is a thing I did on the source files before doing any other processing.
 
Thank goodness someone asked about the system map sounds - they are gorgeous. I once reached out to Erasmus Talbot to ask about those who mentioned they were created internally. Great work!
 
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