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New Music: “The Last Transit of Venus” for Glass Armonica & Orchestra

Here’s a new piece, celebrating our Last Transit of Venus in our lifetimes. (The next one will be in 2117). It’s for glass armonica and orchestra.

Interesting to note is that the Glass Armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761 which was also a year of a Transit of Venus.

Or you can find it here: Play Video (7:27)

Or it can be found on YouTube (including in HD) here: YouTube

There are two parts to this piece: the ‘A’ (first) part which is built on the ‘musical gematria‘ of ‘sun’ and ‘venus':

The 'Sun' motif

The 'Venus' motif

The ‘A’ section is 243 beats long–the period of Transits of Venus is 243 years.

The ‘B’ (second) part presents historical aspects and images of the Transit–the music for this section is basically a ‘film score’ that morphs from music more or less in the style and instrumentation of 1761/69 to modern day.

Then the ‘A’ section is repeated.

I participated in the Transit of Venus festivities at Mount Wilson Observatory–a big thank you to Mike Simmons, founder and president of Astronomers Without Borders for inviting me! Their coverage of the event is here. The event was also covered in the Los Angeles Times — a lovely article (and I’m mentioned in passing).

The Mount Wilson Observatory is located just north of the Los Angeles basin. It’s about a 30 minute, long steep winding drive from the ‘edge of civilization’ to the observatory.

It was a gorgeous day–being above the clouds provided a very beautiful view:

Above the clouds

The Mount Wilson Observatory itself is rather impressive. Its 100 inch (250 cm) telescope was the world’s largest for many decades, and it still arguably holds the record for the telescope with the most significant advances in astronomy. The pictures I’ve seen of it before don’t really give you any sense of its enormous size–that’s me standing at its base! (Thanks to Ryan Robinson for taking the picture for me!)

Mt. Wilson telescope

There were quite a few astronomers–amateur and professional, as well as  astronomy clubs from various schools in the area like CalTech–assembled in the parking lot.  A whole lot of bulging cerebrums and mental horsepower assembled in one place!

A 'tent city' of astronomers... without the tents!

(The observatory was situated at the highest point in that area of the mountains–which also makes it a favorite site for radio and communications towers.)

There were a number of antique telescopes that were old enough to have seen the Transit in 1882:

Here we are watching the transit…

Alas, it’s sunset. Venus has 2 more hours to complete her journey. In Hawaii they can see the entire transit. Here we only saw the first 5 hours or so.


It was rather amazing to take some time out from the craziness of life, and share a strange,  wonderful and rare astronomical phenomenon with a whole bunch of great folks who are truly passionate about something Beautiful like astronomy.

Plato said there were three primary virtues (something like the three primary colors, I suppose): Goodness (our dealings with each other), Truth (science & philosophy and all that) and Beauty. I’d say this event covered all three!

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