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The Sun, The Moon And A String Quartet: Kronos Plays Live To The Solar Eclipse

Preparation for Monday's solar eclipse has focused on safe viewing techniques: Don't forget to don those special "eclipse glasses." But you also may want to insert earbuds, because the ever-intrepid Kronos Quartet will be making music with the sun in real time as the eclipse unfolds. You can stream it live on this page on Monday, Aug. 21, beginning at 12:15 p.m. EDT. Participation by Kronos will begin at 1:29 p.m. EDT and last for about 30 minutes.

Wayne Grim, a composer based at the Exploratorium, San Francisco's science museum, has devised a way to turn what is essentially a silent viewing event into a musical one as well. He calls it the "sonification" of the eclipse.

At the sun's core, subatomic particles smash into each other. Grim plans to soak up the resulting nuclear fusion and turn it into notes. Photons from the fusion, captured by telescopes in Casper, Wyo., are converted to pixels. Those are sent back into space and relayed via satellite to the Exploratorium, where Kronos is on stage. Grim's special software recasts each pixel's digital fingerprint into unique tones. Kronos will perform with the sounds of the sun, adapting as the eclipse comes and goes.

Score for composer Wayne Grim's "sonification" of Monday's solar eclipse.
Wayne Grim / Wayne Grim
Wayne Grim
Score for composer Wayne Grim's "sonification" of Monday's solar eclipse.

Grim has pre-baked part of the music, organizing samples from the quartet into a colorful score with 23 cells that looks more like a collage than your standard staff notation. There aren't any specific instructions; it's a kind of road map to follow as the eclipse proceeds.

This is Grim's initial collaboration with Kronos, but it isn't his first time with "sonification." He created musical evocations of the 2012 transit of Venus and last year's total solar eclipse in Micronesia.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.