Listening to the sounds of the Universe

 Ceiling with circular patterns

David Stephenson, 20106 Sant’lvo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy 1642–1650, Francesco Borromini (1599–1667), 1997/printed 2016. From the series Domes (1993–2005), pigment prints. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2016. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Bett Gallery, Hobart.

David Stephenson, 20106 Sant’lvo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy 1642–1650, Francesco Borromini (1599–1667), 1997/printed 2016. From the series Domes (1993–2005), pigment prints. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2016. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Bett Gallery, Hobart.

There is an ancient concept attributed to Greek philosopher Pythagoras which suggests that orbiting celestial bodies produce a musical frequency, revealing a divine poetic order to the universe. This theory forms the foundation of UQ Art Museum's current exhibition Music of Spheres, which I curated under the mentorship of UQ Art Museum staff.  

Last year I completed Visual Arts Curating and Writing, a course convened by UQ Art Museum Associate Director, Dr Holly Arden. Our final piece of assessment involved creating a proposal for a UQ Art Collection-based show on Level 3 of the Museum. We were told that certain proposals may be mounted, and I was thrilled to learn mine was selected. In late July, I began working with Curator Anna Briers to turn my proposal into an exhibition.

The concept for Music of Spheres significantly changed throughout the curatorial process. Last year, with the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, outer space was at the forefront of my mind. Galleries all over the world were responding to the theme of space, with some focusing on our relationship to the Moon, and others exploring the influence of space on popular culture. In the interests of curatorial research, we looked at the sorts of exhibitions that were being presented both locally in an Australian context, and internationally, before proceeding with the theme. I wanted to use space as a means to explore broader ideas and, as I investigated my concept further, I stumbled across the Pythagorean concept of 'Music of the Spheres'. I was immediately absorbed in the theory, engrossed by the notion that we're all connected by an imperceptible cosmic hum.

Anna Briers and Elena Dias-Jayasinha by Simon Woods

Anna Briers and Elena Dias-Jayasinha by Simon Woods

Michaela Gleave, Amanda Cole (Composer), Warren Armstrong (Programmer), A Galaxy of Suns (2016), computer generated live HD video feed, stereo sound: ODROID single-board computer, custom computer program, GPS duration: infinite. Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner.

Michaela Gleave, Amanda Cole (Composer), Warren Armstrong (Programmer), A Galaxy of Suns (2016), computer generated live HD video feed, stereo sound: ODROID single-board computer, custom computer program, GPS duration: infinite. Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner.

I compiled an extensive list of artworks for consideration, which we whittled down by tightening the curatorial concept, viewing the works in person, and redesigning the exhibition layout. Eventually, we selected fifteen works that spoke to ideas of cosmic mysticism, spirituality, imagined worlds, parallel universes and hidden forces. While the majority of the works were drawn from the UQ Art Collection, we wanted to extend the scope of the show further by introducing new commissions and selected loans.

Michaela Gleave's A Galaxy of Suns (2016) translates stellar data into an audio-visual composition, using real-time geolocation technology. Anna introduced me to the work as a smartphone App, and we felt it would add a layer to the exhibition, making it more interactive and immersive. We reached out to Gleave and discussed loaning the work, then began devising the most effective mode of display. As a contemporary interpretation of Pythagoras' theory, we felt the work would be an alluring introduction to Music of Spheres; Gleave's cosmic sounds greet audiences as they reach the top level of the Museum and, as they pass through the first gallery, the work plunges them into a multi-sensory experience of the cosmos.


Dylan Martorell's Galilean and Inner Moons (2020) series graphically notates the movement of the moons orbiting Pluto, Uranus and Jupiter. Having previously worked with Martorell, Anna familiarised me with his work, particularly his musical scores based on plant structures. We thought a similar work, more directly related to the concept of 'Music of the Spheres', would be a beautiful addition to the exhibition and, after contacting Martorell, commissioned a series of drawings. In the work, sonic pulses based on the orbital periods of the moons form a polyrhythmic composition, which Martorell intended to perform on a synthesiser before travel restrictions were enforced.


Dylan Martorell, Moon Score 2 – Uranus, from the series Galilean and Inner Moons (2020), mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner.

Dylan Martorell, Moon Score 2 – Uranus, from the series Galilean and Inner Moons (2020), mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner.

Sandra Selig, Behind the Great Mirror (2016–2020), spun polyester sewing thread, nails, adhesive, paint. Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Photo: Carl Warner.

Sandra Selig, Behind the Great Mirror (2016–2020), spun polyester sewing thread, nails, adhesive, paint. Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Photo: Carl Warner.

At the beginning of this process, we were lucky enough to visit local artist Sandra Selig in her Yeronga studio. The UQ Art Collection houses a number of Selig's works, including her Universes (2007) series which features in Music of Spheres. Selig's practice examines spatial perception, vibration and intangibility, and often implies an order to the apparent chaos of the universe. Viewing her experimentations with architecture and thread, we eventually commissioned Behind the Great Mirror (2016-2020), a transformative spatial installation. The work took three days to install, and beautifully extends the ideas explored in Universes, while also revealing the forces of nature.

Artists featured: Dylan Martorell, Lindy Lee, David Stephenson (left to right). Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Photo: Carl Warner

Artists featured: Dylan Martorell, Lindy Lee, David Stephenson (left to right). Installation view, Music of Spheres, UQ Art Museum, 2020. Photo: Carl Warner

Image: Simon Woods

Image: Simon Woods

Just as Music of Spheres opened, the Art Museum entered a period of temporary closure. UQ Art Museum staff were incredibly supportive, and quickly actioned strategies for online engagement. We've been featuring works from the show on social media, and also participated in several online talks. A few weeks ago, Dr Holly Arden and I were guest speakers for an Exhibiting Culture: Theory & Practice class, coordinated by UQ lecturer Eve Haddow, on Zoom. I also gave a virtual curatorial tour to students of the Institute of Continuing & TESOL Education in which I narrated a video walk-through of Music of Spheres, allowing students to experience the show from the safety of their homes.

At times like this when it's easy to feel detached and lonely, there is something to be said for remembering we are all floating in the same celestial soup. Music of Spheres will be reopening when the world does.


UQ Art Museum is a site for progressive and contemporary artistic inquiry. Our work speaks to the distinct context of the Art Museum’s place within the University. It aims to connect visitors with new ideas in creative practice, and with learning in its many forms. The University of Queensland Art Collection is one of Queensland’s most significant public art collections.

Contact: Sonia Uranishi, sonia@soniauranishicommunication.com