Will Dance Music Lure Aliens to Earth? Sónar Festival Aims to Find Out

Why Sónar Music Festival is sending music to space.

Alfred Darlington, a musician known as Daedelus, was given one assignment: compose a 10-second song for aliens.

Daedelus was intrigued.

The LA electronic music artist was booked for a Spanish music festival called Sónar (happening June 14-16 in Barcelona), the organizers of which decided to do something different for for its 25th anniversary: transmit music from 35 different artists to space, with, with the hope of contacting extra-terrestrial life.

The destination: One of the two exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf named GJ 273, a mere 12.4 lightyears from Earth.

More precisely, the destination for the Earthly dance music is GJ 273 b — commonly known as Luyten’s Star b. The exoplanet was discovered in March 2017.

It’s one of the best targets we have for potentially contacting aliens, and if you’re organizing a music festival, it’s an unlikely, imaginative way to market yourself off-planet.

Sónar collaborated with the IEEC (Catalonia Institute of Space Studies), METI International (Messaging Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) and 35 artists for this project that it has dubbed Sónar Calling.

Last October, the researchers made their first transmission to space from the EISCAT antenna in Tromsø, Norway.

This week, they are making the second transmission. The message will reach the planet on March 11, 2030, and if any aliens are listening, they could respond as soon as 2042. Here’s a complete schedule of transmissions happening this week.



Back in California, Daedelus immediately got to work in composing his song. Here were the rules for sending a song to space: Each artist had to make a low-fi tune that only lasts about 10 seconds; it can’t contain high pitches; and it must be composed with a low beat rate — only 500 bits per second.

“I really nerded out trying to sum up all of humanity and keep it really specifically voiced,” Daedelus tells Inverse. “Not trying to encode human DNA in soundwaves. Not try to solve humanity’s issues. Just speak to my own truth and my own insecurity. That’s what I tap into with these songs.”

Listen to that 10-second song by Daedelus song that was sent to space on Wednesday, May 16.

For years, humans have tried to make contact with extraterrestrial life.

In 1974, SETI used the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico to target the M13 cluster of stars, about 25,000 light years away. In other projects, transmissions were sent to bright or well-known stars like the Polaris and Altair stars, or stars with giant exoplanets that are less likely to be habitable, similar to Jupiter.

The Arecibo Observatory is a radio telescope in the municipality of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.


Also, the twin Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977, carried 12-inch gold-plated copper phonograph records into interstellar space, containing sounds and images from Earth, like music from Bach, Chuck Berry, Mozart and Beethoven, as well as songs from Pygmy, Aborigine and Navajo tribes.

What makes this project different is that the transmission targeting a specific planet that may be habitable. Luyten Star b resides in the habitable zone, the distance from a star where a planet could potentially have liquid water — it’s not too close, so the surface won’t be too hot, and it’s not too far that any liquid would freeze over.

“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space, but the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”

— Carl Sagan on the Voyager’s “golden record.”

Ignasi Ribas, director of the IEEC, tells Inverse that this latest project to send the sounds of Earth to space is “an attempt of humanity attempting to contact another intelligence out there.”

He continues: “To me, the project has been interesting in adding this kind of creativity and to make people think and wonder, and this is the final motivation. The end point of my research is to understand what’s out there and also to place ourselves in the context of the living universe.”

An imagining of Luyten's Star b, posted to the image-sharing website Imgur.

Are there actually aliens on Luyten Star b? We don’t actually know. Scientists currently have no way of knowing if Luyten Star b has a livable atmosphere or water, but it’s located in the innermost edge of the star’s habitable zone. It’s almost three times larger than Earth and has 19-day year. The star it revolves around, GJ273b, a red dwarf much cooler and smaller than our sun — about 3,000 degrees Celsius at the surface, compared to the Sun’s 5,500 degrees.

For this transmission, it will not only include music, but a message from humanity.

The message will be transmitted in binary code (here’s the binary code for Daedelus) that when decoded, becomes an image or song. The message is also propaedeutic, meaning that if aliens were to read our message, they’d have to decode one section of the message to find information needed to decode the next session.

In the beginning, there’s a hello message, as well as a message block similar to a human encyclopedia with information about humans and the Earth. For example, there are pictures of the Pythagorean theorem and information about addition and subtraction. Then, the musical transmissions begin, and the message closes off with a goodbye signal. For three days, two hours a day, these transmissions will be sent to space.

Ah yes, the Pythagorean theorem.

Flickr / janmarthedal

While the introduction and goodbye message will be the same, the music pieces will be different each day. The message will be sent at a low beat rate to increase the chances for the message to reach its target and be decoded. With a high beat rate, parts of the message may get lost or become corrupted. The message itself is not very long, but since it’s transmitted in binary code at a low beat, it’s similar to playing a two-minute record at a low speed.

“It is in the very nature of electronic culture to merge with other genres, to experiment new visuals and music sounds, never heard on earth,” Georgia Taglietti, head of communication and PR at Sónar, tells Inverse. “We strongly believe that humans are not alone in the universe, and we reject any human-centric philosophy that thinks otherwise.”

Daedelus believes there is intelligent life somewhere in space, maybe on Luyten Star b, or somewhere completely different.

The appeal to the electronic music DJ is the fact that extraterrestrial life is likely nothing like anything we’ve imagined on Earth. We don’t actually know if there’s extraterrestrial life on Luyten Star b or if there is, what aliens look like, or if they’d even be able to respond, but in the meantime, we’ll have to wait a few decades.

“I am fairly certain there is intelligent life, some kind of life beyond microbial life,” Daedelus says hopefully. “Just the idea of the silliness that we can be understood by or they resemble something we’d recognize — what a foolish idea.

“I love that Star Trek and Star Wars implanted in our minds what our future can be. Everything’s in our image. That’s the fun of it.”

Now watch this Inverse original video: