JOY de ROSE on 'AURORA Pt. 1 : The Untold Story'

InterviewsWritten by Geoffrey Carter on

It was with absolute pleasure that I was able to listen to Joy de Rose speak about her project 'AURORA Pt 1 : The Untold Story'. The music element, which came out recently, can be heard on all major streaming platforms. However, this project goes far beyond your traditional EP. It’s also a VR music video and multimedia experience of epic proportion which I had the privilege of attending live several years ago. In this interview, we take a closer look at her creative process and conceptual inspiration.

Tell me about the concept for this project. What inspired you to create it and where do the ideas come from?

This EP, 'AURORA Pt. 1 : The Untold Story' is a sonic exploration (storytelling) of the behind story about Aurora Borealis. Aurora is also known as the Roman goddess of the dawn who brings early light every morning. Back in Korea, once I went to a museum, where I saw a display of Aurora Borealis on a giant screen. It was one of breathtaking beauty. Since then, I started doing research about it from various angles including scientific background and mythologies. The more I learned about it, the more I was fascinated by this mysterious light which has so many meanings and interesting stories behind it. Eventually, as an artist, I had the desire to express my sense of wonder and awe about this spectacular natural phenomenon as an art form (as music and media art).

Project AURORA as a whole, it consists of four different stories about Aurora Borealis, this EP includes the first half of the project, which mainly focuses on the scientific background about what causes the Aurora phenomenon. The other half of the project focuses on the mythology and folklore aspect of Aurora.

Aurora is a sign that the Sun and Earth are connected. The Sun’s energy is carried toward the Earth in the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles flowing out from the Sun. As these particles approach Earth, they interact with our planet’s magnetic field. When this influx of energy is large, the magnetosphere loses its equilibrium or balance. It causes electrons to transfer their energy to the oxygen and nitrogen molecules, making them excited, and excited molecules emit photons in the form of light.

What is your process like musically? For such long and evolving pieces, I can imagine it must be quite the undertaking.

Aurora is a sign that Sun and Earth are connected, and solar storms provide the energy for the aurora. Particles from the solar winds interact with the earth's magnetosphere, and this interaction creates the Aurora phenomenon. To express this massive energetic interaction, I thought the music needed a long breath with a gradual but unpredictable evolution and I focused more on textural aspects than melodies to portray the invisible movement of the particles from the sun. I mainly used a modular synthesizer to compose the track 'Solar Storm: The Beginning'. I usually start with experimenting with my complex oscillator with granular processing to create rich and dynamic drone textures. When I capture the sounds that I like, then I add other sounds, like percussion, bells, etc. But for this type of ambient music, capturing an interesting texture, which tells the story, is the most important part of the process. As I am a vocalist, I use my voice often in my production process. With some processing, this can create an interesting atmosphere and could be used as my unique sound fingerprint.

The 3rd track 'Ephemeris' is a data sonification composition. Data sonification, in its simplest sense, refers to the act of turning data into sound. It is like data storytelling or sound journalism. Ephemeris is a sonic journal of Aurora probability from Jan 1991 to Jan 2020, since it was composed of data from NOAA space weather prediction centre. It expresses the interaction between solar activity and earth magnetic field change using the data set that has been used for the Aurora forecast. I used Csound audio programming software for this algorithmic composition. 

In astronomy and celestial navigation, an ephemeris gives the trajectory of naturally occurring astronomical objects as well as artificial satellites in the sky, i.e., the position (and possibly velocity) over time. The etymology is from Latin ephemeris, meaning 'diary' and from Greek ἐφημερίς (ephemeris), meaning 'diary, journal'.
~ Ephemeris Meaning

Through this data sonification, I wanted to express the invisible interaction between the Sun and earth, which is the main cause of the Aurora, in the form of a soundscape.

I was curious about what would happen in the perspective of sounds and musicality when I use data as a creative source and a main controlling factor for the probability-based composition (algorithmic composition), and I decided to see if I could create music that is explaining the dynamic interaction between the sun and earth, which determines Aurora probability, and I also wanted to see if the consequential sounds would be musically satisfying.

I’ve got nine data sets related to Aurora probability from 1991 to 2020, used Csound software and programmed several instruments which can read data files, and mapped each data to control musical parameters like frequency, granular density, grain duration, oscillator detune amount, and onset timing of certain instruments. For example, percussive noise is generated when the geomagnetic value is higher than 35. Which means storm.

It was my first trial of this way of composition and the resulting sound was a total surprise. I am in love with the sounds that those data created, it feels mysterious, sacred and immersive. To me, it feels like they are telling the story about the invisible but constant energy exchange and about the history of outer space. I was fascinated.

As well as the musical aspect, I also would like to know more about the entire work. What other forms of creative medium does the project take?

I love stories: mythology, folklore, mystery and I love to do intensive research into what is fascinating to me. And since I was captivated by the spectacular beauty of Aurora when I first saw it on a giant screen at a museum, I started to conceive the idea of creating an immersive multimedia experience about Aurora, based on my research, to share my love, wonder and my passion about the Aurora phenomenon combining art, data science, and immersive technology.

When sharing an art experience, visual media and immersive technology such as virtual reality environments and surround sound systems can be very powerful tools.

This project consists of four storytelling audiovisual compositions, and I created a virtual reality environment, called 'AURORA MUSEUM' where the audience can be immersed in each audiovisual experience.

Four stories:

  • Solar Storm : The Beginning
  • Ephemeris : Aurora Data Sonification
  • Aurora : Goddess Of Dawn, a live interactive performance
  • Dawn : Outro
  • Originally, I had an idea of creating a multi-channel AV installation and live performance. But the Covid situation made it difficult to perform in the physical venues. So, I changed it to create a virtual reality museum, so that the audience can experience these AV compositions without any physical limitations or location and time, and it can be more immersive with virtual reality tools in some aspects. I created a virtual AURORA museum with a game engine, created four exhibition spaces and displayed each work. It ended up giving me more creativity with limitless possibilities, for example, I could create as many screens and speakers as I wanted, and there was no limit to designing and curating those. I really enjoyed working on this project with this new creative freedom.

    The 3rd exhibition 'AURORA : Goddess of Dawn' is a VR music video, which captures my interactive live performance using mi.mu glove, a wireless midi controller and visual programming software Touch Designer, recently got awarded 'International Music Video Award' and 'International Sound Future Award' and selected at several film festivals in 'Best Music Video' category.

    That is so exciting and congrats on your achievement! Is there anything else you would like to let the people know before signing off?

    Aurora is known as the Roman goddess of dawn who brings early light every morning and as the burning archway by which the gods travel from heaven to earth. In fact, Aurora is visible somewhere on Earth nearly all the time. But they are either too dim to see with the naked eye or they are outside the visible spectrum and near midnight, that is when the Aurora is the brightest. This story inspired me, and I wanted to share a story about the most beautiful light and the hope it brings to us even in the darkest night. It is very easy to disconnect from this invisible realm that feels far away from us, but it has always been there, constantly vibrant and mysteriously beautiful.

    Rendah Mag is a creative UK-based outlet, primarily focused on exploring the intersection of experimental music, art, and technology.

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