Fantasy on Active Galaxies
A piece in four movements

Composed by Dr. Misty C. Bentz

While reading through some references on reverberation mapping of AGNs, I stumbled across a piece of music at the end of one paper. The kernel of a thought was planted.

Some time later (about 3 or 4 years), I wondered what the light curves of some of my own AGNs would sound like if they were turned into music. I wrote a small script to assign musical notes based on flux (brightness) values, and downloaded a program (Finale Notepad) that allowed me to put those notes on a staff and play them as a digitized music file. Our time sampling was approximately once per day, which I converted to quarter notes. I used my artistic license to determine the details of how long each note is held around gaps in the light curve, what key signature to assign, tempo, etc.

The result ended up sounding much better than I thought it had any right to. So I put together a collection of four movements based on AGN light curves, with piccolo, C flute, and alto+bass flute parts. The result is Fanstasy on Active Galaxies. You can listen to one of the movements and see the data from which the notes were derived in the movie file below, and the full piece can be downloaded as a PDF file through the link at the bottom of the page.

At the time the piece was composed, I was an active member of the Orange County Flute Ensemble and a Hubble Fellow at University of California, Irvine. I floated an idea past our OCFE conductor and ensemble leader, and together we organized a concert focusing on space-themed music to be held at the UC Irvine Observatory during an Public Night. The world premier of Fantasy on Active Galaxies was at this concert in April 2010.

NGC 5548 is a well-studied active galaxy, and the subject of one of the movements in Fantasy on Active Galaxies.

This image of NGC 5548 was constructed from Johnson B, V, and R filtered images taken at the MDM 1.3m telescope by Misty Bentz.
NGC 5548

Download the sheet music here

Please send me an email if you will be performing this piece: bentz (at)