Stargazers turn rock stars

Music of the ESO-Spheres gives peek into life at ESO

22 February 2019
What you’ll discover in this blog post:
  • That ESO has its very own pop song
  • The story behind the ESO Song
  • Why music and astronomy are inextricably linked
Did you know that ESO has its own pop song? With our awe-inspiring observatories and images of the cosmos almost begging to be used in a music video, in 2013 a group of ESO students rewrote Kaiser Chiefs’ "Ruby" to give the outside world insight into what goes on behind the scenes here.
Laura Hiscott
Tags:

At the time of the ancient Greeks, music and astronomy became inextricably bound, thanks to the then-prevalent belief in the Music of the Spheres. This concept considered that the ordered movements of the celestial bodies created heavenly “music”, a concept that appealed up until the 17th century, and was even evoked by Shakespeare.

Ideas about both disciplines have evolved in leaps and bounds since then, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be found together. Queen’s Brian May might be the most famous example of someone who has combined the two, but the staff at ESO have also found a way to fuse these seemingly contrasting passions.

In a creative endeavour outside their normal field of work, ESO staff embarked upon creating a song and music video to express their enthusiasm for astronomy in a less-than-conventional fashion. The song offers a sneak-peek behind the scenes of this large intergovernmental astronomy organisation and at the time of writing, has been viewed by over 18 000 people on YouTube.

The ESO Song, adapting the lyrics from Kaiser Chiefs’ “Ruby”. Some members of the band even appear in the video.
Credit: ESO

The original idea for the project came from engineer Françoise Delplancke-Ströbele, then Group Head of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), who envisaged that such a song would be a great way of showing off ESO in a fun and engaging manner. In particular, she wanted to inspire a love for astronomy in young people who perhaps hadn’t heard of ESO.

Françoise took the idea to Simon Lowery, communications specialist at ESO, whose involvement in music as a hobby was key to getting the project off the ground. Simon’s connections in the music industry enabled access to a recording studio, and permission from British indie rock band Kaiser Chiefs to use their famous song “Ruby” as the base music. The lyrics were enthusiastically adapted by four ESO students, who appear with musical instruments in many scenes in the music video. Noe Kains, an ESO fellow, provided some impressive vocals.

The producers of the video made sure to capitalise on ESO’s awe-inspiring locations, featuring three different astronomical observatories: Paranal, La Silla and ALMA. The giant 12-metre-wide ALMA dishes and the incredible Very Large Telescope (VLT) certainly make for some epic backdrops. Also included is the swanky Hotel Residencia (the astronomers’ accommodation at Paranal), whose glamorous design got it chosen as a filming location for the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”.

A central aim was to involve as many ESO staff as possible from all levels of the organisation, and the footage from offices in Chile and Garching headquarters convey the friendly relationship between ESO colleagues across the two hemispheres. This is interspersed with spectacular nightscapes and footage of astronomical objects taken using ESO instruments, as well as computer generated visuals depicting astrophysical events.

This wasn’t the first time ESO’s locations have inspired music production; in 2012, Simon Lowery collaborated with British synthpop band Erasure on Fill Us With Fire, an exclusive song and music video to celebrate ESO’s 50th anniversary. The VLT telescopes were employed as a breathtaking background there too.

Erasure’s “Fill Us With Fire (ESO 50th Anniversary Exclusive)” with Andy Bell, the lead singer of the British synthpop band, recorded at ESO’s Paranal Observatory.
Credit: Erasure/ESO/S. Lowery/J. F. Salgado (josefrancisco.org)/S. Guisard (www.eso.org/~sguisard)

Besides giving the public a glimpse into life at ESO, recording the ESO Song was a lot of fun for everyone involved — even if some of them took more than a little encouragement to wave their arms in the air! It may not be the astronomical music that the ancient Greeks knew, but the ESO song is an invitation to see the human side of astronomy, and the passion that the observatory employees have for progressing our understanding of the Universe we live in.

Numbers in this article

12 Diameter (in metres) of the largest ALMA dishes
2012 Year that Erasure’s Fill Us With Fire was released
2013 Year that the ESO Song was released
18 000 Number of views that the ESO Song currently has on YouTube

Biography Laura Hiscott

As a science communication intern, Laura assists ESO’s education and public outreach department with their communication of astronomy and all things ESO. Laura discovered at school that she very much enjoyed finding out how things work, which led her to study for a degree in physics. During her time at university however, she found that what she enjoyed even more than getting to grips with a new concept, was then going and telling someone else about it. She explored this interest while writing about scientific phenomena and the relationship of science with society for her student science magazine, Broadsheet.