Natural Radio Music

Musical Project that converts low frequency waves from the magnetosphere into sound.

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Natural Radio or the very low frequency band gives us insight into the geomagnetic events happening around the earth and beyond. This project converts those signals into sound. One known effect at these frequencies is the Dawn Chorus, where the changes in the temperature in the ionosphere cause sounds similar to birds singing in chorus.

I also made a cool vortex illuminated laser cut acrylic piece that's battery power so as to be low noise as possible and look good at night, when the VLF signals are most prominent.

This project uses a VLF Radio receiver, a buddipole 8ft antenna and a the most remote environment you can find yourself in(away from 60Hz buzz) to generate beautiful abstract music created by nature herself. Some sounds you can listen for include the following:

The Dawn Chorus (at Dawn): With the proper radio equipment, the electromagnetic dawn chorus sounds like birds' singing in unison. The electromagnetic dawn chorus is believed to be generated by a Doppler-shifted cyclotron interaction between anisotropic distributions of energetic electrons and ambient background Very Low Frequency (VLF) noise.

Shumann Resonance: The Earth's natural resonance, a set of spectrum peaks in the extremely low frequency (ELF) portion of the Earth's electromagnetic field spectrum. Schumann resonances are generated by lightning discharges in the cavity formed by the Earth's surface and the ionosphere. This lowest-frequency of the Schumann resonance occurs at a frequency of 4.11 Hz. This resonance can be see when away from cities only, and some hippies think this is why Nature is so relaxing. Does our brain respond to this frequency?

Sferics: Lightning 0-100kHz broadband. Lightning signals reflected off the ionosphere from thousands of km away, when received and amplified sound like a dry crackling sound like the popping of a campfire.

Tweeks: are longer sounds, resulting when Sferics are ducted in the earth-ionosphere waveguide from distances as great as halfway around the earth (20,000 kilometers).

Whistlers: Dispersion through the atmosphere creates longer whistling sounds indicating that the signal has traveled out away from the earth and looped back following a magnetic field line. This is the link between natural radio and space physics. Studying whistlers improves our understanding of the magnetosphere.

26.9kHz TACAMO: back up communications system to the US nuclear submarine fleet in case an attack on land based transmitters disables comms. Short pings are transmitted every few seconds. We are already communicating in a decentralized way using VLF.

11.91kHz Radioteknicheskaya Systema Dalyoloiy Navigatsii (RSDN-20): Russian Hyperbolic Radio Navigation System. Presumed to be used for Russian submarines and aircraft. These transmissions are likely the lowest man made frequencies in the world.


sound of tweeks made by vlf radio

mp3 - 245.71 kB - 09/05/2018 at 03:19



This is the schematic

Portable Network Graphics (PNG) - 279.44 kB - 08/27/2018 at 23:00



These are the assembly instructions

Adobe Portable Document Format - 3.82 MB - 08/27/2018 at 23:00


  • A note on noise!

    jean09/05/2018 at 03:58 0 comments

    VLF radio is very sensitive to noise, which is both interesting and terrible the same time. One example would be when I set up the VLF radio about 100 meters away from a railroad track and a train went past. Yes it's definitely noise, but it was pretty interesting lots of weird sounds coming out from around the VLF spectrum from the railroad! 

    60Hz noise is hard to avoid, so it's good to be far away from these noise sources and I do think a 60Hz filter could be a great addition to the circuit design. 

    The other factor with VLF radio is that there can be very large gaps between anything interesting happening which in itself is not so bad, it's just that this does not make for a great live music performance. It more something where you might go record sounds, then integrate them into your music later. 

  • Future Plans- magnetic loop antenna

    jean09/05/2018 at 03:53 0 comments

    Future plans include building a magnetic loop antenna as these should be more robust to noise. There are lots of online plans of home built magnetic loop antennas like this one:

    A magnetic loop antenna is basically a hand wound inductor with a matched capacitor so an LC circuit. I have some old variable capacitors ready for this that I bought from Thailand on Ebay. They probably came out of some old radios. 

  • VLF Radio Testing

    jean09/05/2018 at 03:46 0 comments

    After putting together the NASA Inspire VLF3, I realised I was just getting a 60Hz hum as I live in the middle of the city - or was I? I went away to a more remote cabin with friends for a weekend where I intended to go somewhere remote and we tested the radio by a very deserted beach. 

    There is an app called SpectrumView on the app store that we used to check out whether or not we were getting a hum and what frequency it was at. It was quite useful in debugging problem. We noticed, that as we rotated the radio around the hum came and went. How strange! Anyway, it turned out to be a problem with how the radio was grounded, and the wire I was using to ground it had a coating on the outside despite appearing to look like copper. Once that was figured out, performance went up immediately! There are grounding rods you can get that a long and made of copper that you can plant in the ground - I highly recommend these to create a good ground. 

    The second area of improvement is the antenna. I started with a very short whip antenna just to see if I could get any signal, then moved to this Buddipole long telescopic whip antenna. 10ft sees like a reasonable length to be able to get the VLF signals yet still maintain a modicum of portability. This was the final design that works, though I have plans and dreams of magnetic loop antennas which should provide even better signal in noisy environments. 

    It should be noted the large body of water around Lake Tahoe also makes an excellent ground plane. 

  • Acrylic Vortex Light Effect

    jean09/05/2018 at 03:37 0 comments

    I got a question about the acrylic light vortex and thought I'd create a log about it's creation. I was originally inspired by the signs that are in the hackerspace Noisebridge in San Francisco. They have an LED strip at the top, and acrylic is etched so that letters and shapes are illuminated. It looks great at night. I wanted to combine that effect with an optical illusion and thought of a vortex mesh shape. 

    I created some code in python to create a vortex which you can see here.  Once I'd created the shape, and imported it into inkscape, I realised that the vortex shape had hidden surfaces which would make it not work with the laser cutter! Hidden Surface Removal turns out to be this classic problem when dealing with meshes in computational geometry. I happen to have two good friends who work professionally in the field of computational geometry, and they helped me with the code to remove the hidden surfaces. That's the story of the shape and how it came to be. 

    File types. Python goes to svg, open in inkscape to save as an .EPS format, then use the plugin pstoedit to finally convert to a dxf ready for the laser cutter. Phew! Wow. Anyway, it all works and is all using open source. 

    I then went to Tap Plastics, got a big sheet of acrylic and walked back to laser cut the design on the Kaitian CM1309. The LED light strip I used is really awesome and pretty cheap - Here is a link.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out and would consider doing this process of doing any shape with python, then converting to a dxf for the laser cutter again. 

View all 4 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Stephen Tranovich wrote 09/04/2018 at 23:25 point

Do you have any sound clips? I'd love to hear it! Also, don't forget to add 4 project logs so that your project is able to win the Prize!

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jean wrote 09/05/2018 at 16:06 point

yep just added a sound clip and 4 project logs! 

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Sean Murphy wrote 09/04/2018 at 17:18 point

While I think the low frequency stuff is cool, I'm actually more interested in the vortex shape that you made! Can you go into more details about how that was created and illuminated?

It looks like the illumination is achieved by just a strip of LEDs around the outer rim, but I'd love to know how the shape was made so precisely. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

jean wrote 09/04/2018 at 21:42 point

oh sure. Well the light vortex was actually quite a project starting with some python code to generate the vector image, then some hidden surface removal code a friend helped me with. After I had everything ready for the laser cutter, I got 10mm thick clear acrylic. The effect is created by cutting lines only half way through so as to provide a reflective surface and the led strip is located around the edge of the acrylic shining in. Here is the code:

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Sean Murphy wrote 09/05/2018 at 14:00 point

So after cutting, the acrylic is still flat (2D), but just appears to be a 3D shape in the pictures?

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jean wrote 09/05/2018 at 16:07 point

yep - it's an optical illusion based on creating a vortex mesh. So it's just a flat piece of acrylic, but the lighting makes it look 3D. Idea was that it would be set up somewhere remote, and people would see this infinite black hole like vortex with sounds of the magnetosphere emanating from afar. 

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Martin wrote 08/30/2018 at 06:51 point

"These transmissions are likely the lowest man made frequencies in the world."

At least as large scale/global RF transmission. The wireless heart rate monitors and probably the bike computers transmit around 5kHz and my old remote control for the garden gate had something like 10,2 and 10,5kHz.

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bdsmith wrote 08/30/2018 at 00:59 point

VLF radios all seem to be limited to the wide open spaces, away from 60hz noise.  Has anyone created a VLF radio with a agressize 60hz filter that can be used at home ?  A receiver with a "urban / rural" switch to swich the filter in and out ?

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jean wrote 08/30/2018 at 23:05 point

I think this would be great. There are lots of magnetic loop antennas that claim to get better reception in high noise environments as well. 

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