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The Sound of the Far Future

by Jim Kang

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Now. You are alive and listening to this piece. The red supergiant star Antares will likely have exploded. The Sahara's climate will become tropical. The small red dwarf Ross 248 will pass within 3.024 light-years of Earth, becoming the closest star to the Sun. The Earth returns to a glacial period of the current ice age. Niagara Falls will cease to exist. The hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris will likely have exploded. Lōʻihi, the youngest volcano in the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, will rise above the surface of the ocean and become a new volcanic island. The Wolf–Rayet star WR 104 is expected to explode; it may produce a gamma-ray burst that could pose a threat to life on Earth. Earth will likely have been hit by an asteroid of roughly 1 km in diameter. Meteor Crater in Arizona will have eroded away. Desdemona and Cressida, moons of Uranus, will likely have collided. Estimated time for the recovery of coral reef ecosystems from human-caused ocean acidification. Estimated time for full recovery of biodiversity after a potential Holocene extinction. The San Andreas Fault will create a new inland sea on the West Coast of North America. The San Andreas Fault will cause the current locations of Los Angeles and San Francisco to merge. Africa's collision with Eurasia closes the Mediterranean Basin and creates a mountain range similar to the Himalayas. Earth will likely have been hit by an asteroid comparable in size to the one that triggered the K–Pg extinction 66 million years ago. All the continents on Earth may fuse into a supercontinent. The supercontinent will likely have rifted apart. A gamma-ray burst, or massive, hyperenergetic supernova, occurs within 6,500 light-years of Earth, potentially triggering a mass extinction. The death of most plant life will result in less oxygen in the atmosphere, allowing for more DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation to reach the surface. Much of the land will become a barren desert. The only life left on the Earth after this will be single-celled organisms. 27% of the ocean's mass will have been subducted into the mantle. Eukaryotic life dies out on Earth due to carbon dioxide starvation. Only prokaryotes remain. Earth's oceans evaporate. The Earth's outer core freezes. Without its liquid outer core, the Earth's magnetic field shuts down, and charged particles emanating from the Sun gradually deplete the atmosphere. The Andromeda Galaxy will have collided with the Milky Way, which will thereafter merge to form a galaxy dubbed "Milkomeda". The planets of the Solar System are expected to be relatively unaffected by this collision. The Sun will achieve its maximum radius of 256 times the present-day value. In the process, Mercury, Venus, and very likely Earth will be destroyed. The end of the Universe in the Big Rip scenario, assuming a model of dark energy with w = −1.5, which is unlikely. The universe would enter into a "rip singularity" when all distances become infinitely large. The Universe's expansion causes all galaxies beyond the former Milky Way's Local Group to disappear beyond the cosmic light horizon, removing them from the observable universe. The c. 47 galaxies of the Local Group will coalesce into a single large galaxy. Expected time when the net light emission from the combined "Milkomeda" galaxy begins to decline as the red dwarf stars pass through their blue dwarf stage of peak luminosity. Estimated time until the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun at a distance of 4.25 light-years, leaves the main sequence and becomes a white dwarf. Estimated time until the red dwarf VB 10, as of 2016 the least massive main sequence star with an estimated mass of 0.075 M☉, runs out of hydrogen in its core and becomes a white dwarf. Normal star formation ends in galaxies. This marks the transition from the Stelliferous Era to the Degenerate Era; with no free hydrogen to form new stars, all remaining stars slowly exhaust their fuel and die. Stellar close encounters detach all planets in star systems (including the Solar System) from their orbits. By this point, the Sun will have cooled to five degrees above absolute zero. 90%–99% of brown dwarfs and stellar remnants (including the Sun) will be ejected from galaxies. Those stars not ejected from galaxies fall into their galaxies' central supermassive black holes. By this point, with binary stars having fallen into each other, and planets into their stars, via emission of gravitational radiation, only solitary objects (stellar remnants, brown dwarfs, ejected planetary-mass objects, and black holes) will remain in the universe. Estimated time for all nucleons in the observable universe to decay, if the hypothesized proton half-life takes the largest possible value, 1041 years, assuming that the Big Bang was inflationary and that the same process that made baryons predominate over anti-baryons in the early Universe makes protons decay. By this time, if protons do decay, the Black Hole Era, in which black holes are the only remaining celestial objects, begins. Assuming that protons do not decay, estimated time for rigid objects, from free-floating rocks in space to planets, to rearrange their atoms and molecules via quantum tunneling. On this timescale, any discrete body of matter "behaves like a liquid" and becomes a smooth sphere due to diffusion and gravity. Estimated time until the supermassive black hole of TON 618, as of 2018 the most massive known with the mass of 66 billion solar masses, dissipates by the emission of Hawking radiation, assuming zero angular momentum (non-rotating black hole).
A supermassive black hole with a mass of 20 trillion solar masses decays by the Hawking process. This marks the end of the Black Hole Era. Beyond this time, if protons do decay, the Universe enters the Dark Era, in which all physical objects have decayed to subatomic particles, gradually winding down to their final energy state in the heat death of the universe. Collapse of a false vacuum, if the universe actually is in a false vacuum. This would mean that everything, from subatomic particles to galaxies, and all fundamental forces, would be reconstituted into new fundamental particles and forces and structures.
Assuming protons do not decay, the estimated time until all baryonic matter has either fused together to form iron-56 or decayed from a higher mass element into iron-56. Estimated time for a Boltzmann brain to appear in the vacuum via a spontaneous entropy decrease.
All iron stars collapse into black holes, assuming no proton decay or virtual black holes, which then (on these timescales) instantaneously evaporate into sub-atomic particles. This is also the highest estimated possible time for the Black Hole Era (and subsequent Dark Era) to finally commence. Beyond this point, it is almost certain that the Universe will contain no more baryonic matter and will be an almost pure vacuum (possibly accompanied with the presence of a false vacuum) until it reaches its final energy state, the heat death of the universe, assuming it does not happen before this time. The universe will reach its final energy state, even in the presence of a false vacuum.
Quantum tunnelling in any isolated patch of the vacuum could generate, via inflation, new Big Bangs giving birth to new universes. Because the total number of ways in which all the subatomic particles in the observable universe can be combined is 1010115, a number which, when multiplied by 10101056, disappears into the rounding error, this is also the time required for a quantum-tunnelled and quantum fluctuation-generated Big Bang to produce a new universe identical to our own.


You can have your browser play a live version of this here: jimkang.com/sound-of-the-far-future/

The Sound of the Far Future is an ambient concept album about events that scientists postulate will happen in hard-to-fathom amounts of time in the future. These events are famously collected in the Wikipedia article The Timeline of the Far Future. They include the decay of protons, the heat death of the universe, and false vacuum decay.

The events happen between and 10^10^10^56 years from now. In this piece, these amounts of time have been scaled down so that the piece can play these events within the space of two hours. The events are represented as clusters of horns and speech.

The passage of years is represented by two to four vibraphone voices. Their rhythmic, harmonic, and timbral choices become more entropic over time, and their performance becomes wilder. (This was informed by Laurie Spigel's writing about the application of information theory to composition.) Time pushes tempo and dynamics waves through feels and moods.

Time is the tool that the piece uses to communicate the vastness of the future beyond humanity's involvement. Events are frequent early on (until about +quadrillion years). Because of the limits of scientific prediction and human knowledge, predicted events are sparse beyond that point. The piece takes the listener through the space between these isolated events. The piece and the listener spend time in the present to earn a sense of these vast gulfs of future time.

The piece is played entirely by web browsers. The recording required the horns and vibraphones to be played in separate takes, though one browser can handle a "live" rendition. The source code for the program that both executes the layers of composition rules and plays the music is available for anyone interested in reading or hacking: github.com/jimkang/soff/


released June 22, 2021

Composition and programming by Jim Kang.
Horns and voice played by Firefox.
Vibraphone played by Chrome.
Album cover by Katherine Thorne.

Thanks to:

- The amazing Wikipedia authors of Timeline of the Far Future for documenting these scientific predictions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_far_future
- Atonia for vibraphone samples. freesound.org/people/atonia/packs/7293/
- Virtual Playing Orchestra 3 for the French horn sample. virtualplaying.com/virtual-playing-orchestra/
- Jordan Wirfs-Brock for data sonification advice. jordanwb.com




Jim Kang Boston, Massachusetts

I generate music both by telling computers what to do and by telling myself what to do.

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