Star Man 

Local astronomer John Nemy sets the night to music

John Nemy in his office.
  • John Nemy in his office.

The night sky is a profound source of human inspiration and creativity.

How many stanzas of poetry and pages of novels have been composed beneath it? How many children conceived? How many life-altering decisions made?

For local astronomer John Nemy countless hours of stargazing have inspired two independently produced full length CDs – 1995’s 6 Billion Suns and the recent release, Sky .

An ambient, new-age journey through time, space and powder days, the 12-track Sky , like its predecessor, was produced entirely by Nemy on a home computer system, with artistic guidance from his partner Carol Legate.

It’s a given that Legate’s opinion would be sought. The couple founded the Whistler-based Pacific Observatory together in 1990 and work together as acclaimed astro-photographers and educators. They left Whistler for Eastern Canada in 1998, but in 2001, Whistler called them back.

Nemy’s appreciation for the area is evident throughout Sky . The track "Whistler" even features a sample of the Whistler-Blackcomb snowphone.

"I’m very fortunate to live and breathe what I do right now," Nemy says.

"It’s 24-7 for me. I’m never very far from an eyepiece or just talking to a friend over the Internet about what’s going on in the cosmos. Just living in Whistler and doing backcountry stuff, I’m continually motivated and I’m always getting ideas on how to represent that to people."

Nemy’s background in music dates back to the 1960s. Like many his age he idolized guitar gods like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton and strummed the odd chord himself. Upon discovering astronomy he also discovered the surreal soundtrack music from planetarium productions and set out to create his own version of the genre.

His take was well received. His first album, 6 Billion Suns, was used in the Vancouver Planetarium’s show The Solar System’s Greatest Hits about impacts of objects into planets and moons. Nemy also uses his compositions to score his self-produced astronomy presentations, such as the talk he and Legate will give at Millennium Place for the Whistler Naturalists on Jan. 20 on supernovas and life on earth.

According to Nemy, his persona as a man of science and a man of music and art are one and the same. The concept forms the basis of his general philosophy. It’s all part of the whole, he explains. The science, the music, the photography, the presentations, the cosmos he deems "one big package."

"A lot of times we like to think that everything’s out there and we’re down here. But it doesn’t work that way," Nemy states. "Too many times we separate ourselves from the sky, the universe, the cosmos. If we felt more a part of it and realized how massive and powerful and creative and amazing it is, it would maybe make us more humble and kinder to one another. Maybe if more people would have a little bit more understanding of that they’d realize we’re just on this teeny little rock hurtling through space, and we’ve all got to get along."

The sentiment figures musically on the warm, folk guitar-infused track Peace .

Other tracks are more whimsical in nature. Down to Titan imagines space travel circa 3004 to Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.

Nemy explains how he constructed the song as a sonic odyssey. "It starts off as floating, atmospheric type sounds and it ends up a percussive dance," he says, describing a difficult descent through thick cloud cover before breaking through to witness a surreal landscape with "strange coloured mountains and a methane ocean."

Yet he hesitates to characterize Down to Titan and other similar tracks such as In Between Albirio , which chronicles a journey to the heart of a binary star, as sci-fi.

"None of the stuff that I’m into I think of as fiction," Nemy muses, "because there’s so many amazing things that I’ve learned, seen and been exposed to as far as the reality of what we know of the cosmos. So I just paint that into music, because that’s bizarre enough."

"Don’t read too much into my music," Nemy insists, quoting The Who’s Pete Townsend. "I just like to romanticize what I see and feel and hear."

John Nemy’s CDs are available around town at Whistler One-Hour Photo, Solarice, the Whistler Herb Emporium and Bestsellers, as well as via the Pacific Observatory Web site at


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