- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

The Big Bang did not boom, roar, thunder, thud or crash. It did not even bada-bing.

The Big Bang was a sonorous hum.

So says University of Washington physicist John Cramer, who believes the theoretical moment in which the universe was created some 13.7 billion years ago was more lyrical than bombastic.

Mr. Cramer arrived at his idea after analyzing the imprint of sound waves in radiation left over from the event, thought to be the cosmic explosion of a primeval atom that flung matter in all directions.

But the researcher — who specializes in something called ultrarelativistic heavy ion physics — did what others did not do. Mr. Cramer re-created the Big Hum itself, spawning what he called “a media explosion” at the same time.

There hasn’t been so much excitement since English astronomers announced in September that black holes in space sing to themselves in an unfathomably low key of C, some 57 octaves below middle C, and the lowest known note in the universe.

But back to the Big Hum.

Once Mr. Cramer posted a sound file of his Hum re-creation at an Internet Web site, https://faculty.washington.edu/jcramer/BBSound.html, the global press was at his door. Overnight, Mr. Cramer — who originally came up with his idea back in 2001 — was inundated with print and broadcast interview requests from the United States, Australia, Britain, the Middle East and Germany, among many other regions.

But such is the nature of media rather than cosmic explosions.

“One Saturday morning, when I should have been doing something else, I sat down and wrote out a 16-line Mathematica program that produced the sound,” he noted, crediting his personal computer’s sub-woofer and software for the quality of the Big Hum re-creation.

Mr. Cramer modestly acknowledged that he was inspired to create the sound after an 11-year-old boy asked a simple but pivotal question: “What did a Big Bang sound like?”

The researcher set to work with his “symbolic algebra” computer program, capable of rendering mathematical functions in the form of sounds.

“When I ran the program for the first time and the sound started in my office, our two Shetland sheepdogs, Alex and Lance, came running into the room, barking with agitation,” Mr. Cramer recalled.

“After they had determined that nothing terrible was happening, they lay down on the floor and listened attentively, giving the ‘Sheltie stare’ to my sub-woofer,” he added.

Yet universal demand for Mr. Cramer’s Big Hum — an eerie but satisfying sort of buzz — was so great that the Hum Web site crashed from the heavy traffic of eager listeners.

Mr. Cramer’s original Big Hum was 100 seconds long. But the Hum was so popular, he added five other versions of various durations, from 20 to 500 seconds.

Like the black hole’s cosmic soliloquy, the Big Hum was very, very low in key. In creating his simulation, Mr. Cramer had to boost the sound wave frequencies 100,000 billion billion times to make them audible to the human ear.

Meanwhile, the noise of the universe may be low, but it is compelling.

“We would expect that every cluster and every group of galaxies has its own note,” said Cambridge astronomer Andy Fabian, who studied the sounds made by the black holes.

“So if you look at the whole universe, there are many tunes being played,” he told the Associated Press in September.


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