I talked to string theorist Brian Greene earlier this afternoon about the upcoming World Science Festival, and he remarked about how many artists of all types, from painters to musicians to choreographers, have been inspired by scientific discoveries. The festival will explore this theme. Another beautiful example of this occurred last weekend during the premiere of composer Darryl Kubian's concerto 3-2-1.
Kubian says the piece was inspired by a November 1999 article in Sci Am written by cosmologists Lawrence Krauss and Glenn Starkman. (Krauss explored similar themes last month in an article with Bob Scherrer.) The live performance was recorded by WQXR and isn't online yet, but Kubian has made a MIDI version available for listening here. As he describes it to me:
The three movements are titled:
1. The Big Bang
2. Zeno's Paradox
3. Distant Suns
Each movement traces through the timeline in your article. The Big Bang is obvious and if you listen very closely you can hear the solo violin's pizzicato which is the Singularity, the 3 bass drum hits (dark energy, dark matter and gravity which are all equal at his point) morphs into the rhythmic timpani figure which is the main 3-2-1 motif, now asymmetric. The overtone series is also built up basing this on another article I read in SciAm about how the sound from the Big Bang could have been responsible for matter clumping in just the right way to form the galaxies we see now. The solo violin's entrance is on a florid run that is supposed to represent inflation. Later on in the movement there is a pizzicato/delay section which is the creation of atomic nuclei and the movement ends with the creation of the first stars.
One more interesting point is the transition from the 2nd to 3rd movement is an distorted electric violin cadenza which is supposed to represent the reign of man. The violin is trying to imitate the 3-2-1 motif, but the best it can do is reduce it to 4 notes instead of what it actually is.
I have to confess that I've never been much of a classical music aficionado -- my playlists are heavily stacked with Cuban dance music -- but, philistine though I am, I found Kubian's piece deeply moving. (It helps that some of the electric-violin riffs sound like '70s guitar bands.) Often in science we explore a subject from many angles to glean new insights. These angles can and should include artistic ones. The natural world is something to be experienced through every sense.
Update (April 20th): Kubian recently appeared on New Jersey Public Television.
Edited by gmusser at 04/20/2008 8:50 AM
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
George Musser is a contributing editor to Scientific American and author of Spooky Action at a Distance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) and The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory (Alpha, 2008).