Inspired By Space Exploration:
Inspired By Pioneers Of Electronic Music:
Track One - Prelude
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
“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
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.
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
Track Nine – Enceladus
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 main theme for Enceladus was one of my very 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 provided 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
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.
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
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 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
Notable sounds from the Arturia Matrix 12, Pigments 2, and Native Instruments Massive X
Track Thirteen – Pale Blue Dot (Aka Carl’s Theme)
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 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
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 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
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 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!