aroundNorth: Launch of Award-Winning Sonic-Art Installation at Armagh Observatory



Armagh Observatory and award-winning composer Robert Jarvis are launching a new sonic-art installation in the Observatory Grounds and Astropark on Saturday 22nd March. The new exhibit, called aroundNorth, is a multi-speaker sound composition that will provide listeners with a novel aural experience demonstrating the apparent motion of stars in the near Universe around the North Celestial Pole. It was made possible with funding through Beyond Borders from the PRS for Music Foundation, Creative Scotland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Wales. This is the first significant addition to the Observatory’s Astropark for nearly a decade. Inspired by discussions with astronomers at Armagh, the stars of aroundNorth produce their own unique sound depending on their brightness, temperature, distance, size and other properties. As the Earth turns, the stars rotate around the North Celestial Pole and cross imaginary lines drawn on the sky that cause them to produce sound. The stars behave rather like the pins of a celestial musical box, producing an emotive and constantly changing canvas of sound.

The music of aroundNorth reflects the motion of the Earth with respect to the stars. It is a chorus, rather like birdsong in Spring, specific to the exact time of day, season and place in which it is played. It is designed to help us become more familiar with the slow, constantly moving pattern of stars, visible and invisible, above our heads. The 'stars' of aroundNorth are quite literally the stars themselves. They are ever-present, even when hidden behind clouds or made invisible by our bright, light-polluted city skies, or during daylight. aroundNorth is designed to bring the stars to life, and to provide an answer to the question "If the stars were an instrument, how might they sound?"

Mark Bailey, Director of the Observatory said,

"aroundNorth, when it returns to Armagh in a year’s time as a permanent installation, will be a unique addition to the Observatory Grounds and Astropark. It provides an evocative aural experience, which is linked directly to the stars that happen to be above our horizon at any given time, whether lying to the North or South of the Observatory, or towards one of the other imaginary lines in the sky that cause each stellar voice to be heard. Our human brains have a remarkable capacity to interpret music and its associated patterns of rhythm, tone and pitch, and the music of aroundNorth gives us a totally new tool to obtain insight into the stars’ properties themselves. The symphony of which aroundNorth is part represents the whole Galaxy of stars around us: the Milky Way and the wider Universe of which we are all part. It has huge education and development potential in addition to being an award winning creation in its own right, and will be of special interest to people with visual impairments who might otherwise find it hard or impossible to see and interpret the stars."

aroundNorth Image 2

Robert Jarvis

Robert Jarvis, the composer, and Alistair Will, director of Outdoor Culture, with whom the project has been developed, explained that their motivation has in part also been to link our enjoyment of the landscape, and of outdoor activities that we can all share, with the constantly changing celestial star-scape above our heads, and which too forms part of our shared heritage.

Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said,

"We are delighted by the continued success of the Beyond Borders programme. This programme offers wonderful opportunities for collaboration between musicians and a variety of organizations, creating new music and expanding beyond traditional platforms. Music, like many art forms, can engage and inspire. We look forward to experiencing this year’s projects."

In aroundNorth each star is a unique instrument with an instantly recognizable signature, for example the crackly sound of a hot star, the cold breathy sound of a cool one; the long, loud sound of a luminous nearby star or the short 'chirp' of a faint distant one, and so on. With a simple key to translate the sounds we hear, aroundNorth transcends music and becomes a tool for education and learning. It provides teachers and educators with a completely new way to explain Earth’s place in space and our place in the near Universe beyond the solar system.

aroundNorth will be an innovative outdoor educational facility for the City of Armagh. It will be open to all, providing added value to the Astropark’s principal theme of bringing 'the sky' down to Earth for the thousands of visitors every year who come to the city to enjoy the Observatory Grounds and Human Orrery for education and leisure. The new exhibit will be of special interest to those with visual impairments, people who might otherwise be unable to connect with the stars above us, whether visible or invisible, and with the constantly changing pattern of the constellations as they rotate around the North Celestial Pole.

The project is a product of the Beyond Borders programme, a co-commissioning and touring programme run in partnership with PRS for Music Foundation, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales and Colwinston Trust. Beyond Borders stimulates collaboration between organisations in England, Northern lreland, Scotland and Wales and enables music creators to produce exceptional new material to be performed in at least two UK countries. By providing new links between art and science, music and outdoor culture, aroundNorth makes a tangible contribution to the Northern Ireland Executive’s Innovation Strategy, supporting creativity across science and the arts and strengthening the traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) agenda by including Art.

The official launch of aroundNorth takes place at the Observatory on Saturday 22nd March 2014, with an explanation by the composer and tours of the exhibit and of the Observatory Grounds and Astropark, at 2.00pm, 3.00pm and 4.00pm.  This is an outdoor event; please be prepared for inclement weather.

To reserve your free place please telephone 028-3752-2928 or email: ambnat stating how many places and which time you prefer.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Libby McKearney at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; lmkat




1. When and Where

aroundNorth Image 2

Saturday 22nd March 2014 - Armagh Observatory Grounds
Explanation and Tours: 14:00, 15:00 or 16:00
This is an outdoor event; please be prepared for inclement weather.

To reserve your free place please telephone 028-3752-2928 or email: ambnat stating how many places and which time you prefer.

2. Partners

The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1789 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, the Observatory is one of the UK and Ireland's leading astronomical research establishments. Around 30 astronomers are actively studying Stellar Astrophysics; the Sun; Solar System astronomy; and the Earth's climate. The Observatory is funded by major grants from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. The aim is to advance the knowledge and understanding of astronomy and related sciences through the execution, promotion and dissemination of astronomical research nationally and internationally in order to enrich the intellectual, economic, social and cultural life of the community.

Robert Jarvis is a musician and sound artist based in the South of England.  For the last thirty years he has been engaged in performing his music and exhibiting his installations in a wide range of places — from the Northern climes of Scandinavia to the densely populated cities of mid-China.  Throughout this time, his compositions have taken many forms: from solo concerts to surround gallery installations, as interactive games or as large-scale nature-inspired compositions.  He has won the British Composer Awards on two separate occasions for his sonic art installations, and has been short-listed twice for the New Music Award for his environmental musical works.  His latest astronomical work, aroundNorth for the Armagh Observatory, was shortlisted for the New Music Award in 2010. It offers a reinterpretation of our changing window on the Universe as the Earth rotates on its axis.

Outdoor Culture CIC is a not-for-profit company that connects people with landscape and natural heritage through the arts, learning and play. Its Director, Alistair Will, aims to create new and imaginative experiences of green spaces by bridging the arts, education and environment sectors, generating brilliant new reasons for all kinds of people to spend time outside of buildings and to enjoy the real world. As indoor culture takes us further and further away from the land that sustains us, so there is a corresponding opportunity to reach out with purpose and imagination for the realities beyond our walls. His work seeks to immerse children and families in green spaces; to help artists to question, provoke and transform; and to help people discover their own wildness and explore our stunning natural heritage through all the tools that culture in the outdoors can offer.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the development and funding agency for the Arts in Northern Ireland. The Council distributes public money and National Lottery funds to develop and deliver a wide variety of arts projects, events and from theatre and literature to art in the community. It works in partnership with hundreds of artists, arts organisations and venues. Art has the ability to reach across boundaries, inspiring, teaching and bringing people together.

The PRS for Music Foundation has been a leading UK funder of new music across all genres since 2000, their mission being to stimulate and support the creation and performance of new music throughout the UK and to ensure that this music is enjoyed by a wide audience. They do this through open grant schemes, which are available to musicians and organizations four times per year, and partnership programmes led in response to specific needs and gaps in funding.

QTX is part of the AVSL Group Ltd, a leader in the UK consumer electronics market place. The company has a vast product portfolio covering the general electronics, audio visual, sound, light, public address and MI trades, and continuously strives to develop and diversify these product ranges in order to meet the demands of an ever-evolving technology climate. QTX is supporting aroundNorth with its range of portable speaker units.

3. Links to Images and Sound Clips

Outdoor Culture
Robert Jarvis
New Music World
National Trust

4. Where Next

aroundNorth will return to Armagh Observatory in March 2015 as a permanent exhibit. There are further planned phases of the project to fully realise its educational potential and its capacity to help visually disabled children and adults better to understand the nature and apparent movement of the stars around the North Celestial Pole, close to the North Star, Polaris. For example, it can be extended so that it will correctly 'play' stars that happen to be visible from visitor centres and other locations around the world, or be reproduced as an Internet-enabled facility accessible to home computers or mobile phones worldwide.

Last Revised: 2014 March 6th