Daily Bow: Composition Collides with Particle Physics

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New Project Attempts to Depict History of Particle Physics in Piece for Violin

Science and art can seem like two opposite ends of a spectrum. One deals with quantifiable data and the other deals with intangible elements. These disciplines, however, are intricately connected. Complex mathematical proofs can be viewed as metaphorical representations of the physical world; musical harmony can be broken down into theoretical elements to provide an almost scientific understanding of how composers support a melody. And while both fields are clearly connected, a scarcely explored domain is a work that combines the two.

A work like this is the mutual goal of composer Edward Cowie, violinist Jack Liebeck, and particle physicist Brian Foster, who have teamed up to compose a series of works for violin that depict the history of particle physics from the late 19th century to the modern era. Far from a grandiose tone poem in the style of Liszt or Berlioz, Cowie’s composition is actually inspired by principles in particle physics itself, embodying the physical world in musical form.

“The music is shaped by the activity of particle physics,” explains Cowie…”In terms of the way subatomic particles are observable in their collisions, in their traces, in their impacts, music can do the same thing. You can make music that has a device into which it is forced to impact – fragments fly off it and they have behaviours, which can parallel.”

The work, titled “Particle Partitas,” is comprised of twenty short pieces interspersed with short lectures by Foster on the history of particle physics. The ultimate goal of project is to generate public interest in this complex scientific field as well in classical music. Although the concept of a cat that can be both dead and alive at the same time might be perplexing to the some listeners, the collaborators have positive outlooks for their project’s 2012/2013 debut:

Musician Liebeck is already impressed by what he has seen so far. “Sometimes, I suppose that something inspired by science could end up being dry and theoretical, but there seems to be a lot of colour and interest in [this work],” he says. “I’m really looking forward to digging deeper into the depths of the music.”

A combination of science and music this intricate is rarely seen in art. But in an era where the internet has changed the way we share information, why shouldn’t this new openness encourage unusual collaborations? “Particle Partitas” is an example of the untapped possibilities available in modern composition. What other unusual partnerships could be incorporated into a composition? Submit your ideas below!

One Response to Daily Bow: Composition Collides with Particle Physics

  1. Steven Rochen December 27, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Music based on patterns found in Math. Here is a piece based on the irrational number, PI.

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