The Tribute

To the Cassini-Huygens team,

What you achieved with the Cassini-Huygens mission is beyond comparison. This album is a love letter to the spirit of your relentless curiosity. You have not only inspired me but generations of dreamers by your actions.

As I started researching the Cassini mission milestones through books, articles, lectures, and films, I was in a state of awe by all that was discovered in 20 years.

Thank you for this amazing journey. This three-time international award-winning album is wholeheartedly dedicated to the mission your team brought to life and the people that made it all possible.

You are the essence of all great explorers!  

Your biggest fan,

-  Jesse James Allen


Inspired By Space Exploration

I have been a lifelong fan of space exploration and no other mission has inspired my imagination more than the 1997 Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons.  The mission manifested from the minds of over 260 scientists from 27 nations.

Cassini traveled more than 4.9 billion miles across 20 years to and around Saturn and its many moons.  It captured 453,048 images along with 635GB of scientific data. It made 294 orbits of Saturn and 162 flybys of Saturn’s moons.

          Discoveries made by Cassini and Huygens are more awe-inspiring than any science fiction story.  It is that sense of awe and mystery that inspired me to compose this album as a tribute to one of mankind’s greatest moments of exploration.  I highly recommend you view the images from that mission online as you listen to this musical tribute, many are available on the Nasa, JPL, ASI, and ESA websites.

This project is not endorsed or affiliated with any of the space agencies involved with the Cassini-Huygens mission in any way.

This album is very much an independent passion project and a tribute to this historic journey of discovery.

The text, music, and images were formally submitted and reviewed to ensure adherence to all legal guidelines.


Inspired By Pioneers Of Electronic Music: 

       Jean-Michel Jarre, Wendy Carlos, Vangelis, Michael Stearns, and Rick Wakeman were my heroes from age 12 onward. They inspired much of my career as a sound designer and video game composer. I spent hours listening to their music and imagining the worlds they brought to life with the synthesizer. I also spent pretty much all my free time and spare cash on used synthesizers as a kid trying to paint a picture so vividly.  This went on until 2010 when I helped score one of my last video game music projects with Electronic Arts.

         In August of 2019, I attended the “America in Space” concert at the Hollywood Bowl. This was the 20th anniversary of the moon landing that composer Penka Kouneva brought to life with the LA Philharmonic. The music and the inspiring feeling in that amphitheater that night brought me back to those original dreams and aspirations I had as a young composer exploring distant worlds through the sounds of a synthesizer. After a decade-long musical hiatus, I wanted to try to compose a big project again. What better subject than space? The first image that popped into my head was that of Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens mission was unquestionably my favorite story. 

         As the pandemic locked us in our homes in 2020, I decided to deeply explore many of the vintage synthesizers I once dreamed of owning, but could never afford, such as the Oberheim Matrix 12, The Fairlight CMI, Moog Modular, and many others.  These classics are now available and affordable as virtual instruments from companies such as Arturia. After months of relearning, reminiscing, and programming, I finally had a way to make the album I always dreamed of.   By late summer, I was well on my way to Saturn through the sounds, motifs, and melodies you are about to experience.

Thanks for listening, - Jesse



Track One - Prelude 

The Mission:

1610: Galileo Galilei peered through a crude telescope at a planet far away. This would be Saturn but why was its shape different than the other planets, was it actually three?

1655: Christiaan Huygens crafts a special lens that helped him discover a new moon called Titan. Soon after he discovers that Saturn had a mysterious ring around it.

1671:  Giovanni Cassini began his study of the moons of Saturn, its rings, and the division within them.

Centuries later, over 260 scientists from 17 countries would also turn their eyes to Saturn, but this time, we would find a way to go there and learn its secrets. The Cassini-Huygens mission was born. 

October 1997: a Titan rocket stood ready to launch, at complex 40. Our 20 year, 4.9 billion mile journey was about to begin.

The Music:

I wanted to create a sound palette of moving time with a narrative to set the stage.

Notable sounds from Native Instruments Kinetic Metal

Narrated by Lori Ellis


Track Two -  The Journey Begins 

The Mission:

         October 15th, 1997: Cassini is launched riding on top of a Titan IVB rocket from Cape Canaveral Florida at 4:30 am eastern time. Lighting up the sea and sky on its billion-mile trip to Saturn.

The Music:

         Though the mission is one carried out by machines; they were built with the human spirit of curiosity. The sounds of the choir represent the human element, the hopes, and dreams of the massive multi-cultural and multi-national team.

         Notable sounds from The Oberheim Matrix 6 (original hardware), The Arturia CZ & CMI, Air Music Vacuum Pro, Native Instruments Massive X, and East-West Symphonic Choirs.

Countdown by Paul Austin Sanders


Track Three - Rendezvous With Venus 

The Mission:

         April 1998: Despite being placed on one of the most powerful Titan rockets, Cassini needed a serious gravity boost to make its way to Jupiter. Two orbits around Venus provide the exit speed of 141,000 kilometers per hour needed to make the leap. Cassini came as close as 400 Kilometers from the surface of Venus to gain the velocity needed.

The Music:

          A dramatic ascension into the wonder of the first leg of such an ambitious journey.  The lead lines represent the spirit of Cassini against the fury of fiery Venus then leaping into the vastness of space.

Notable sounds from The Arturia Modular V, Matrix 12, CS80, Native Instruments Mosaic Tape, and Reaktor.


Track Four - Into The Asteroid Belt 

The Mission:

          April 2000: Crossing the vastest of space, Cassini ventures into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Powered by its plutonium heart, Cassini fires up the cameras for a shot of asteroid 2685 Masursky, named after the influential geologist Harold Masursky. Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer discovers that the debris in the area was not native but rather interstellar dust passing through our solar system.

The Music:

         This track is intentionally ambient to represent the vastness of space. The small voices singing represent Cassini traveling alone in the dark with the team’s ambitions of arriving at Jupiter.

Notable sounds from Native Instruments Kontakt,  8-Dio’s Supercluster (featuring sounds synthesized from true recordings of deep space), Heavyocity Vocalise 2


Track Five – Winter At Jupiter 

The Mission:

          December 2000: Cassini takes part in the Jupiter Millennium mission with the Galileo spacecraft before receiving the much-needed boost to the Saturn system.

         The two spacecraft studied the solar winds, magnetosphere, atmosphere, and moons around Jupiter. It was the first time two spacecraft were synchronized for such an effort and introduced new methods for planetary exploration.

The Music:

          It is difficult to represent Jupiter’s awesome sense of scale and power with sound. I decided to make heavy use of pitch undulations to represent the power of Jupiter’s gravity on the small spacecraft. The brass sound was the NI Absynth 5 at its best, creating a familiar but unsettling texture.

           The menacing tones and gothic choir represent the danger and mystery of this mighty world. 

         The dual synth solo at the end represents the Cassini and Galileo spacecraft on their journey of discovery. The lead is intentionally over the top in 80’s synth soundtrack fashion. The sounds were created with a Korg Wavestation.

Notable sounds from Native Instruments Absynth 5, Korg Wavestation, UVI Falcon, and Sound Iron Olympus Choir.


Track Six – Phoebe 

The Mission:

         June 2004: Phoebe is the first moon Cassini passes by on its way into Saturn’s orbit. At just 1200 miles away, Cassini provides the most detailed images ever taken of this crater-filled moon.

The Music:

         The simple sequence originating from the Arturia DX7 is intended to give the listener the feeling of drifting.  Phoebe is the first of the music cues to use Native Instruments Una Corda for its piano part. Since this was primarily an electronic music album, I originally stayed away from using the piano at all, but I decided that the piano does have a human element to it and the Una Corda has these beautiful nuances of mechanical sounds. The piano represents human curiosity.

Lyrics:

“Hello out there,

Can anyone hear me?

I have traveled so far

So far away

The moon so bright

Phoebe is above me Tonight

Hope all is well In Pasadena”

         JPL mission control for Cassini was in Pasadena California. The thought here was since this was one of the first Saturn encounters it is reasonable to believe the team wondered what it felt like to see the first landmark of the extraordinary Saturn system in person.

Notable sounds from Arturia DX7 & Prophet, Native Instruments Una Corda, and Razor Vocoder


Track Seven - The Arrival

The Mission:

         June 30th, 2004: After 7 long years, Cassini arrives at Saturn. The main thruster fires to slow the craft down to lock into orbit around the planet.  During this maneuver, Cassini crossed between the F and G rings of the massive planet. 

         Firing a thruster on a craft such as this after such a long sleep was risky as some spacecraft have exploded during such situations. The Saturn Orbit Insertion was a huge milestone in the mission.

The Music:

         To convey the wonder of Saturn in a theme proved to be a challenge, so much so I rewrote “The Arrival” 8 times to finally get the feel I was originally after.  Ultimately, I pursued something more classical in nature than the other tracks.

The operatic choir was key to sell the magnitude and beauty of this glorious world.

         The sound of the thruster firing is heard briefly as the piano solo plays. This is there to represent the Saturn Orbit Insertion.  Cassini is setting the stage for its main performance, the piano ascension felt like the best way to represent that, like the start of a concert.

         The pitch bend and key change represent the gravity pull of Saturn as Cassini dives through the rings. The undulating sound effects represent the massive amounts of data the craft sends as it starts its core journey around this mysterious world.

Notable sounds from the Sound Iron Olympus Choir, Native Instruments Absynth 5, Arturia Solina, UVI Falcon.


Track Eight - Huygens Lands On Titan 

The Mission:

         The Huygens probe that was attached to Cassini had broken away on December 25th, 2004, and descended to Titan on January 14th, 2005. The world watched in awe as the European Space Agency made this historic landing.

       During Huygens descent to Titan, mission control had little control over the probe as communication times were extreme at that distance.  The probe was fully programmed to automatically run the mission. It wasn’t fully known what was happening until rumor got around that The Green Bank Radio Telescope was picking up the Huygens carrier tone.  The radio silence as the parachutes opened kept the Huygens mission team on edge with anticipation until they noticed a monitor slowly filling up with data. Huygens survives the two-hour and 27-minute entry and successfully lands on the alien moon.  The ESA made history that day, this was a huge milestone in space exploration. 

         Titan had been the source of much intrigue in the scientific community since the Voyager missions detected that it had a thick atmosphere and could possibly have water on the surface. Huygens would reveal a stunning landscape with seas of liquid methane.

The Music:

          This track has 3 movements. The first movement runs for about two minutes. This Motif is intended to represent the moon of Titan from the exterior perspective. After that, we hear Huygens entering the upper atmosphere on fire. Next, we hear the parachute opening as Huygens falls from the sky along with the power-up sound of the carrier tone.  There is tension in the second movement as stated in the mission because there was no indication if the probe was capturing data. At 3:27 we hear telemetry, the voice of Huygens to its creators across a billion-mile sea. The victorious theme in the third movement is of course the moment the team realized the mission was successful and history was made.

         The opening of this track was primarily done with the Arturia Moog Modular that offered up such a wonderful sound with its pattern arpeggiator. Some of the airier ambient effects were created with the Oberheim Matrix 12.  The main motif for Titan was scored with the crisp digital sounds of the 90’s Korg Wavestation. I kept coming back to the Wavestation because of the unique textures this synth can produce so easily with its vector mix engine. I also loved the chime sounds from this synth that gave the track a very retro feel, a bit like 80’s fantasy films. I am very fond of the overmodulation of the Moog Modular lines toward the end of this opening part.

The choir that follows represents the hopes of mission control who had vested so many years for this moment.

          The descent was built primarily with two synths: NI Absynth and Prism. For the keen ear, you may notice the sound here from Prism is a close derivative of the sound used for the Enceladus track, which was intentional to tie the two moons together in feel. The percussive foundation was built with Heavyocity Mosaic Tape.

         The final motif is primarily the Korg Wavestation again, but this time joined with a gliding Mini Moog lead and an over-modulated NI Prism synth to add a visceral horn-like texture.

         This track was one of the first scores for the project obviously because this was a major milestone for the Cassini mission. It really defined the style and tone for the whole album.

 

 Notable sounds from the Arturia Moog Modular, Pigments 2, UVI Falcon, and Korg Wavestation


Track Nine – Enceladus 

The Mission:

    August 2008: A stunning discovery on Saturn's moon Enceladus as Cassini witnessed geysers spraying saltwater, miles into the heavens. The Cassini team has good reason to believe this area near Damascus Sulcus (sometimes called the tiger stripes) may in fact have a large water reserve or ocean trapped under the miles of ice. This, of course, leads the space community to believe there is a chance that life may exist on Enceladus.

The Music:

         The main theme for Enceladus was one of my favorites from this project. The core sound is from NI Prism. This synthesizer provided this beautiful airy sound.

         The drums here are called “water-filled Taikos” from Sonic Ocean, they provide the intensity of what will be a stunning discovery.

         If you listen carefully there are sounds of glaciers cracking, highlighted by the sound of water rushing up through a geyser.

         The choir again represents the spirit of the human soul, in awe that we may not be alone in the universe. There is a collage of voices from various cultures that follow that echo this feeling.

Notable sounds from Native Instruments Prism, UVI Falcon Voklm, Impact Soundworks Sonic Ocean, Arturia Pigments 2, CS80 & DX7


Track Ten – Moons In The Saturn Sky 

The Mission:

           Saturn has around 82 moons, many of which have some extraordinary features. During the Cassini mission, the spacecraft was able to discover new moons such as Aegaeon, Pallene, and Methone. As well as a fascinating insight into moons we knew little about such as Mimas, a moon that was nearly shattered by an asteroid that now resembles the Death Star from Star Wars or the thinly oxygen vailed moon of Rhea. There was also a massive ridge on Iapetus towering 8 miles above the surface.

           Much of the focus however was on Titan since Cassini could see through its atmosphere, we discovered lakes, valleys, and a subsurface ocean. Enceladus was a close second with its active geysers and interesting surface features.

The Music:

          Built upon arpeggiated patterns and minimal rhythms using NI Reaktor, Moons in the Saturn Sky has a catchy and lighthearted feel.  The track then transforms into a more cinematic style that is reflecting the journey and evolution of discovery, both in the terms of the Cassini mission across many years studying Saturn’s moons, and personally, in my journey going from electronic music fan to composer.

Notable sounds from NI Reaktor Kontor, Equinox Deluxe, UVI Falcon Divinity, Arturia CS-80


Track Eleven – The Great Storm 

The Mission:

         Starting around December of 2010 and lasting about a year, a truly awe-inspiring mega-storm formed in the northern hemisphere of Saturn. It grew to 9,000 miles wide and eventually circled the entire planet. Since Saturn is a gas planet, there is no surface interference to diffuse such a storm, they just gain more and more momentum.

           In December 2013, a massive hurricane became visible as well, it covered the entire north pole and resulted in an eerily beautiful hexagon shape.

The Music:

           “The Great Storm” starts as an underscored mysterious theme using sounds from the Arturia CS-80 wrapped around Hindustani vocalizations.  It might seem odd to blend exotic vocals with sci-fi style electronic music especially with the variances of pitch and tuning, but I absolutely love the result. These two sounds paint a beautifully wild image like the storm it represents in colors, movements, textures, and patterns, unlike anything we typically experience. People have told me I seem to have synesthesia as I often explain composing like this.  In this case, the Cassini image of the great storm on Saturn was like sheet music to me.

          The ending of course is dramatically different, featuring a lead line from the Arturia Matrix 12, based on the legendary Oberheim Matrix12, my all-time favorite synthesizer.

          The percussion is an interesting Reaktor patch called Newscool that is a bizarre electronic drum tool that works by drawing images into the GUI to produce a pattern.

Notable sounds from TheArturia CS-80 & Matrix 12, Native Instruments Reaktor, and Absynth. 


Track Twelve – Ring Dancer 

The Mission:

         During the Cassini mission, the spacecraft spent a tremendous amount of time studying the rings of Saturn.  Starting in 2012, Cassini surveys both sides of the equatorial plane. In later years of the mission, Cassini dropped between the rings 22 times to gather data.  We learned the rings were not as old as we originally thought. The massive rings are mostly ice and rock in orbit around Saturn.  They stretch 170,000 miles but are only about as thick as a three-story building, with some exceptions near the ends, beautiful ice particle mountains rising here and there.  Certainly, Saturn’s Rings are one of the most wondrous objects in our solar system.

The Music:

          There is real joy in imagining seeing firsthand the rings of Saturn. Massive shimmering fields of ice glisten across a black void like a billion diamonds in the distant sun.  At a distance so uniformly, elegant they look as if they had been painted by an artist but as we fall toward, we see so much in motion.  Around 1:36 in the music, you hear a dip into silence as we fall between a gap in the rings. A chaotic sound element represents the sight of the rocks and ice that pass by that could have easily ripped Cassini apart and then a magnificent finale as we see the sun backlight the rings of Saturn as no one has before. 

 

Notable sounds from the Arturia Matrix 12, Pigments 2, and Native Instruments Massive X


Track Thirteen – Pale Blue Dot (Aka Carl’s Theme) 

The Mission:

       During the Voyager 1 mission, astronomer Carl Sagan persuaded the imaging team to capture a photo of Earth from the fringe of our solar system in 1990. This image was meant to be a humbling reminder of mankind’s place in the universe.   The image is known as “Pale Blue Dot”. There is a poem that goes with Pale Blue Dot that Carl so brilliantly wrote in tribute, it can easily be found online.

          Sagan was of course one of my heroes growing up and greatly inspired my love for space exploration. This track is dedicated to his educational efforts, his humanitarianism, and endless curiosity.

On July 19th, 2013: The Cassini team decides to recreate the Pale Blue Dot image and encourage people to wave at Saturn during that moment in time. The image is known as The Day the Earth Smiled.

The Music:

          The poem and the two versions of the Pale Blue Dot image were of course the main influence for this piece and also why it is primarily written as a piano style track (NI Una Corda). As mentioned before, I felt the piano sound across this entire album represents human curiosity. 

          The second part is a reprise of Carl’s theme in a more modern sound pallet representing the Cassini team's acknowledgment that we as people stand on the shoulders of giants. Carl, of course, one of those giants that inspired us to look further and dream bigger.

Notable sounds from Native Instruments Una Corda, Analogue Dreams, Heavyocity Vocalise 2


Track Fourteen – The Grand Finale 

The Mission:

         September 15, 2017: Cassini is assigned a command that will ultimately destroy it. In effort to avoid polluting any of the moons around Saturn and to gather the most amount of data possible on Saturn, Cassini starts a descent into the heart of Saturn. Cassini is ultimately ripped apart by the pressures and heat of the atmosphere and disintegrates in the Saturn Sky. It was a triumphant and heartbreaking moment in the mission.

         After 20 years, across 4.9 Billion miles we as people were given a glimpse of the wonders of Saturn and its moons. We learned so much but are also intrigued by new questions based on discoveries from the Cassini-Huygens mission.

The Music:

          The opening is very subtle as if Cassini is daydreaming and suddenly awakes to a profound command represented by the bass sound.   The voice and choir sounds represent the voices of the people controlling Cassini both fascinated and in fear of what is about to happen.  The Taiko drums represent the flight descent and goal of the mission.

          At 2 minutes the telemetry sound of Cassini is heard as it crosses the point of no return.  The arpeggiated part that follows is the determination of the craft to continue sending data as the pressure of the atmosphere starts to rip it apart. The choir represents the eyes of the team at home observing all they can before the signal goes silent.

          The ending is the same as when Cassini entered space after the launch.  The sounds of the choir represent the human element, the hopes, and dreams of the massive multi-cultural and multi-national team, in this case now validated.

Notable sounds from the Arturia Prophet V, CZ, and SEM, SoundIron Olympus Choir


Track Fifteen – A Reason To Return 

The Mission:

         Just as Titan gave rise to the Huygens project after Voyager discovered an atmosphere, no doubt at some point we will return to Enceladus in search of that ocean. What lies beneath the miles of ice near Damascus Sulcus? Let us go with our imaginations and swim in that alien sea.

The Music:

          The theme for Enceladus was one of my favorites on this album. This was a great chance to go back and create an alternate version.  I had a great time playing with the sounds of the arctic world and the journey downward into the vast ocean. I debated tremendously about a sound that would indicate life. The more realistic would-be small sounds like snapping shrimp but when I asked my daughter what sound she would associate with the ocean she said without hesitation, a whale. Now the scientific community would probably roll their eyes at this thought, but I decided to go that route as it was the more musical choice.  Besides, as a kid, I loved a National Geographic book called “Our Universe” that had pictures of plausible aliens in our solar system such as huge air-filled whale creatures in the clouds of Jupiter. So, this is a nod to that. Considering that book started me on my space journey, perhaps this album will inspire a young mind to start their own journey to space.  Feel free to send me a postcard from the outpost on Enceladus when you arrive!

-      Jesse


Credits: 


Cassini – A Musical Tribute

Composed, arranged, and produced by Jesse James Allen

Mastered by Maged Khalil Ragab

Album cover illustration and design by Adam Frank

Web Story Art by Jesse James Allen with supporting stock elements and AI used under license/subscription.

Narrator Lori Ellis

Announcer Paul Austin Sanders

Special Thanks to:

My wife, daughter, and father forever encouraging me to chase a dream.

Penka Kouneva

Ryan See

Bob Kodzis

Cockos - Reaper

Arturia

Native Instruments

UVI

Oberheim

Soundiron

Impact Soundworks

8dio

Ghosthack

Audio Damage

Future Loops

Korg

HG Fortune, fellow synth wizard, and space enthusiast. You are missed, my friend.

My electronic music mentors: Ron Jolly, Chris Hewitt, and Victor Richardson

Cassini: A Musical Tribute

Music Copyright 2021 

BMI

This project is not endorsed or affiliated with any of the space agencies involved with the Cassini-Huygens mission in any way.

This album is very much an independent passion project and a tribute to this historic journey of discovery.

The text, music, and images were formally submitted and reviewed to ensure adherence to all legal guidelines.


  Jesse James Allen is an award-winning multi-media creator.  He is a former AAA video game composer and sound designer on 53 well-known games.  His other contributions include work for museums and theme parks.

       His passion for classically inspired and choral music came from his early years recording for the prestigious Denver Center for the Performing arts and National Theater Conservatory.

   Jesse fell in love with synthesizers at the age of 14 and feels his latest work has brought him back to the joys he had as a teenager exploring fantastical sounds and space.

      His latest album “Cassini” pays tribute to the 20-year Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn as well as an homage to many of the pioneers of electronic musicians that inspired his journey into sound.