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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

The Ambient Spaceship Soundscape

In this episode we will take a break from my multi-part series on Psychedelic Japan which will continue in the next episode.

For now, however, I want to invite you to take an entirely different sort of sound excursion in electronic music. I’ve created something called The Ambient Spaceship Soundscape and share it with you in the edition of the Archive. I envision it as something you might want to listen to while relaxing, with headphones on, in a quiet space. Like when you lie down to go to sleep.

What exactly is The Ambient Spaceship Soundscape? It’s not the kind of space vehicle that NASA regularly launches. But a magnificently expansive craft capable of crossing deep space and housing hundreds of human occupants and crew, most of whom are in hypersleep during this journey. Where they go we do not know. What technology they use is up to your science fiction imagination. So, what I’ve imagined is a very large craft and a skeleton crew doing the rounds to ensure that everything is operating as planned. For the next hour you will travel on this journey in sound as I try to map out the various spaces and functions of the starship.

This journey in sound is organized around various imaginary spaces in the spaceship. Imagine a lone crew member doing her rounds. Walking through the passageways and crossing into various rooms, each with a particular function. There is the hyperspace sleep chamber, where the sound of a clock and synthetic white noise reminiscent of crickets are always present to soothe the unconscious minds of the sleeping crew members. Then we move to a mechanical room where you will hear the automated sounds various controls and machinery. From there we cross through the control deck of the spacecraft where the continuous sound of monitors and computerized processes fills the air with assorted electronic beeps and clatter. Next, we move on to a special space that I call the greenhouse and aqua culture room. Water drips, plants are nourished, and sound of various mechanical pumps and steam devices are heard. Following that is the power station of the spacecraft where you hear the hum of power sources and clattering of related engines. We close with what I imagine to be an observation deck—a room with a view of the void of outer space. This is a place where the crew members who are awake can go to relax, meditate, and find peace.

The soundscape if divided by various audible cues. The different spaces are often introduced by the sound of mechanical sliding door opening and closing.

The sources used to create these sounds will remain largely unknown because to reveal how the sounds were made would, I feel, ruin the effect of a soundscape that requires the imagination. I invite you to listen, do not think or try to figure out the sounds were created, and enjoy the experience.

However, there are a couple of categories of sounds used in the soundscape that I think listeners will be interested in. The computer tones used for various control panels, such as this [Music Mouse example heard] and this [Moog example heard] were generated using two different systems. The first was made using Music Mouse, a program from the 1990s created by computer music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. It was first released in 1997 and a legacy edition continued through 2004. The other source of sounds was a classic Moog Modular Model III synthesizer, the actual, vintage analog hardware version, not a software simulation. Sometimes these sounds are paired, other times you will hear them by themselves. I think you can probably tell these recurring sounds apart as they appears in various guises during the soundscape.

The other category or technique I used to create sounds was for the Observation Deck sequence. I wanted to create the sensation of being in a room with a large, reflective glass wall or window. I decided to find some sort of glass to generate sound through a transducer. Transducers offer a way to transform an object into a loudspeaker by converting electrical signals into sound waves. I use a transducer that I originally applied to a performance of David Tudor’s Rainforest. This type of hockey puck transducer can produce sound by directing sound energy into the solid material to which they are attached. They are typically used for home stereo where the associated solid material such as drywall, glass, or wood, acts as a carrier for the sound energy, passing the sound energy into the air. In this case, I chose a glass brick, like the ones used in architectural structures. I have a single glass brick, attached the transducer to it, and activated them using electronic signals generated on a laptop. Separately, I made digital recordings of three separate passes on the sound, using three different inputs: a contact mike, a barrier microphone, and two cardioid lavalier microphones. I took the results and blended them together to create the observation deck sequence.

And that is how I constructed the ambient spaceship for this podcast.

Episode 83

The Ambient Spaceship Soundscape


This soundscape is divided into the following sections:

1:13-6:50--Hyperspace sleep chamber, where the sound of a clock and synthetic white noise reminiscent of crickets are always present to soothe the unconscious minds of the sleeping crew members.

7:00-17:24--Mechanicals room

17:25-22:18--Bridge and control deck

37:12-41:18--Greenhouse and aqua-culture space

42:22-53:02--Power Generator and engine room

53:02-58:34—Observation deck

Connecting these are various sections of passageways, walking on soft and hard textured surfaces, and various computer-controlled monitors and timers heard along the way.

Total length: 1:04

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

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Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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