"When you love the world," says the poet Louise Gluck, "you hear celestial music;" but if you want to cheat, just click on this startling little music box. It shows the orbits of the eight planets plus Pluto and the asteroid called Ceres; that's ten heavenly bodies circling the sun. As each hits an imaginary music bar, it gives off a chime, very soft for Mercury, stunningly rich for Pluto and you can vary the pace, turning the planets into an up-tempo heavenly chorus or a sleepy lullaby. Give it a whirl.
The folks who designed this confection (they call it "Solar Beat") work at a design house called "Whitevinyl" in Britain. I looked them up, found a reference to Luke Twyman as the chief designer, but the real inspiration for this box goes back 2600 years to the ancient philosopher Pythagoras.
Pythagoras thought that the Earth was the center of the universe and we are surrounded by seven planets. Each planet, he said, gives off a particular musical note depending on its distance from the center. His followers called this "Musica Mundana," which we usually translate as Music of the Spheres.
Pythagoras and his students believed that the chorus of sounds produced by the planets was so exquisite; we with our ordinary ears can't hear it. Extraordinary people, however, get passes. According to Philo of Alexandria, Moses heard these chords when God gave him the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. St. Augustine believed we all hear them when we're about to die. These are the "mystic chords" that reveal the deep truth of the cosmos, that govern the seasons, life spans, the patterns of nature.
Or, if you aren't a Pythagorean — and there are fewer and fewer of them these days — it's just a bunch of nice noises coming from a music box. I don't want to oversell this thing.
Credits: Robert Krulwich, NPR