Syzygy: Music for the 2017 Solar Eclipse
I've been in love with astronomy ever since I was a kid. I grew up during the Space Shuttle era in a time where science was everywhere you looked. I had so many fantastic teachers throughout elementary and high school that focused on science and astronomy. They helped to fuel my interest along with all of the amazing science fiction movies and TV shows of the late 70s through the 80s.
That's why this new album is so important to me. Over the past few years I have become friends with several people in the astronomical community. Two of these people are Dr. Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain, the co-hosts of "Astronomy Cast" - which, by the way is a fantastic podcast. If you are not listening, you should be. Stop what you're doing and go subscribe right now. Wait, finish reading this blog post… Then go subscribe. During a live episode, Pamela and Fraser were talking about the upcoming eclipse. Fraser had mentioned that he thought it would be amazing if somebody wrote music for the eclipse. To my surprise, Pamela immediately recommended that I do it. Which is something that I am still very honored and flattered by.
And now, here we are. This album was incredibly rewarding for me to make. I am already looking forward to doing more like it.
I still have my original Casio SK-1!
For "Syzygy", I decided to go fully electronic. My parents bought me my first synthesizer, the Casio SK-1, for Christmas in 1985. And I have been hopelessly obsessed with creating electronic music ever since. This is just one example of the incredible and endless love and support from my parents and it is just one of about 1000 reasons that I am dedicating this album to them.
Gary and Becky Wesley, this one is for you!
Speaking of synthesizers, a few months ago I picked up the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 6. What an incredible instrument! When I brought it home and plugged it in I was instantly transported back to my first moments with that awesome little Casio. I felt like a whole new universe of musical possibilities were in front of me. Even after spending several months of playing the Prophet every day, I feel like I have barely dipped my toe in that universe. Its versatility and capabilities seem almost boundless. This gave me an idea. Why not create an entire album using only the Prophet 6? What better way to see what this baby can do? Also, I would get to spend hours every single day playing the Prophet. Pretty hard to find anything wrong with that.
My Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 6. Pictured here with my collaborators Gizmo, E.T., He-Man and Sludge.
The only sounds you will hear on "Syzygy" came from the Prophet 6. That's it! I did absolutely no post production on this album. I used only The Prophet and its built in effects.
I also want to spend a moment here talking about the inspiration for the music on this album.
"Syzygy" is my musical expression of the beauty, wonder and emotion that comes from the awe-inspiring spectacle of a total solar eclipse. I composed this work in the hopes that it will inspire those who listen to it and bring them a bit of that wonder.
"Syzygy I: Shadow Waves" is inspired by two main things. One, shadow waves are a rare phenomenon that is observed during a total solar eclipse. They are wavelike shadows or ripples that can be seen on the Earth's surface as well as clouds as the Moon's shadow closes in. Two, this particular solar eclipse starts over the Pacific Ocean. As I was writing this piece, I was picturing the shadow of the Moon as it races across the surface of the ocean at thousands of miles per hour. I was imagining what the sea life under the surface would be experiencing as the eclipse passed over head. I pictured shadows moving under the waves, filtering the light and manipulating the Sun's rays underwater in beautiful ways. How would the sea creatures react?
"Syzygy II: Baily's Beads" is based on the beautiful phenomena first described by English astronomer Francis Baily in 1836 where the Sun's rays shine through the topographical features of the Moon during an eclipse. The sunlight is able to pass through the steeper canyons and craters on the Moon's surface. We see this on Earth as tiny points of light surrounding the Moon's diameter. I wrote this piece while picturing those little points of light encircling the Moon. I also imagine what it would look like from the surface of the Moon standing at the edge of daylight and darkness and watching sunlight through the deep valleys between lunar mountains.
"Syzygy III: Totality" is about the experience of a total solar eclipse as viewed from different points along the path of totality for this 2017 eclipse. It could easily be about any total solar eclipse, though. I imagine the Moon's shadow first darkening the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest, affecting and changing the sunlight as it streams through the pines. How will the birds and other forest creatures be reacting to the sudden onset of nightfall? What will the forest sound like? Then I imagined the shadow crossing over the western deserts and into the Prairie. Wide open skies where the eclipse dominates the view. Onward into the deciduous forest of the Midwest and South East. And then out to sea again as the shadow passes over the Atlantic.
When you listen to this album, what sort of images come to you?
I sincerely treasure having the opportunity to create this album for the 2017 total solar eclipse with the help of NASA and the American Astronomical Society. I can't thank them enugh. Extra special thanks to Dr. Pamela Gay and Dr. Angela Speck. I couldn't have done this without you.
I hope that you get the same inspiration when you listen to "Syzygy" as I had while creating it. Now, get out there and be a part of history. Step outside on August 21 and experience one of nature's greatest spectacles.
Note: If you want to listen to "Syzygy" during the eclipse, which I highly recommend, I suggest that you enjoy totality in silence. Nature reacts strongly to night time showing up in the middle of the day. Listen to the reactions from nearby wildlife. Listen - is there a change in the wind? Is there a drop in the temperature? Just be with nature and soak it in. After all, at the very most, you will get two minutes and 40 seconds of totality.