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Deep FieldThe Impossible Magnitude of our Universe

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Deep Field: The Music

“Deep Field is inspired by one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time: the Deep Field images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Their discovery is a tale of human aspiration, endeavor, wonder and extraordinary scientific vision.

When NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 they soon realised that the images it returned were coming back blurred. This was due to a tiny aberration on Hubble’s primary mirror – NASA engineers and astronauts fixed the problem by basically putting the equivalent of a contact lens on the telescope. Following this, Hubble started returning breathtakingly clear images of deep space.

In 1995 Bob Williams, then Director of Space Telescope Science Institute, pointed Hubble at a completely empty area of sky, or at least blank to earthbound telescopes. Over a series of 10 days and 385 separate exposures Hubble collected as much light as possible and returned the Deep Field image. Every object you see in that image is a galaxy. To me this is the most important image produced in human history; we not only see the impossible magnitude of space – how truly large it is – but we can really feel for the first time how truly small we are. This image became for me the inspiration for the piece Deep Field, which is written for orchestra, choir and smartphone app.

So that was where my inspiration for Deep Field came from; the next stage was to think about how I could construct a piece based on this epic story.

I knew that I wanted to build and plateau – the idea being that, like Hubble itself, the music would be out of focus, flirt with being in focus, and then finally when we see the Deep Field image being returned in focus we get the climax. I illustrated the story of Hubble – and in particular the efforts made by NASA to repair the telescope during its early days – through four musical themes or “cells”. These represent the initial failure of the telescope, the aspiration and struggle to repair it and then finally the resolution as the telescope began functioning correctly. At the climax I wanted to convey an experience that is like reaching out and touching the face of God. My goal was to get the listener to feel the same sense of wonder I get when looking at the Deep Field image, almost like a religious experience.”

Eric Whitacre

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