Science and Music Blog

On January 13, 2013, we will be performing works from our Science/Music Project in Santa Monica, CA, as part of the Categorically Not! series hosted by K.C. Cole, the extraordinary science writer and a professor at USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism. The series takes place at the Santa Monica Art Studios, located in a historic hangar at Santa Monica Airport. For this performance, John will give a talk (for a general audience) on his work in the field of RNA interference, and then Gioia will join in for performances of works that explore various aspects of science through music. See the series website for more details. If you are in the Los Angeles area, we’d love to see you there!

We’re excited to be performing on the Entertaining Science series on January 8 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. This wonderful series pairs a science talk with a performance. I’ll be giving the talk — on the very interesting biological phenomenon of RNA interference — and then Gioia and I will perform music from our Science/Music Commissioning Project. Details are below or at the Cornelia Street Cafe web site.

In 1955, physicist Richard Feynman complained that “the value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it.” What a difference a half a century makes!

Biochemist and classical guitarist John Olson will both talk of his research and perform music about science. John’s work at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is on RNA interference, a recently-discovered means of silencing genes that has become a powerful new method for studying gene function — and shown promise as a new type of medicine.

The music, performed with John’s wife, actress, soprano and “recovering mathematician” Gioia De Cari, writer and performer of the hit solo show Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze, will be taken from their Science/Music Commissioning Project, which seeks to explore and celebrate science through song.

The selections will include a set entitled “Men, Women, and Molecules” by composer Frank Wallace, based on the poetry of Roald Hoffmann. Selections by other composers will feature the writings of Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Marie Curie — and yes, Richard Feynman.

Join us for an evening of science, both spoken and sung.

The upcoming issue of the Italian guitar magazine GuitArt features an article article about our Science/Music Commissioning Project written by guitarist and musicologist Isabella Abbonizio. The article (which is in Italian) can be read here. Our thanks to Isabella for writing about this project!

One of the pieces on our Festival 21 program (April 16, 2011 in Boston) is a new solo guitar piece written for me by my friend J. Andrew Dickenson. In keeping with the science theme of the rest of the program, Andrew’s composition, Orbit, draws its inspiration from scientific concepts. With an instrumental piece, the connection to the inspiration is often less direct than it is with a vocal piece based on a specific text. In the case of Orbit, the concept of the atom was the starting point for Andrew as he began to think about the piece, but as he describes, the composition went in unexpected directions:

Orbit began as a completely different piece — I had imagined the first note you’ll hear as a single atom, something so small that our human eye can never perceive it. It is fascinating to me that something this small by itself is virtually insignificant, yet combined with many other atoms and molecules they create the universe as we know it. As I continued to compose, however, the piece began to take on a life of its own.

We are constantly in orbit, in both literal and figurative ways. Moons revolve around planets, planets revolve around the sun, the sun and stars revolve around the center of the galaxy, and even the Milky Way is revolving around another group of galaxies. In our lives, we can see it visibly with the passing of each day, the turning of the seasons, and even the routines we craft with work, school, and other schedules. It seems we can never be motionless. I take comfort in this idea. I know that I am happiest when I am moving towards something, and rather than see these rituals as mindless habits I prefer to see them as rings on a tree that make us stronger. With each revolution we grow and change, hopefully coming closer to our goals and contributing more to humanity.

In the end, it was appropriate that a piece that began with the idea of the atom turned into something completely different, because just as many atoms create the things we can see and touch, many notes working together create the music we hear. And, like the infinite formations of atoms, there are infinite possibilities for music. This music is offered to you with the hope that you will enjoy this very humble creation.

We will be performing music from our Science/Music Commissioning Project at Festival 21, the Boston Classical Guitar Society’s annual celebration of new music. The festival is all day on April 16, 2011, with our concert starting at 2:15 pm at Old South Church at 645 Boylston St. We will be performing Terry Champlin’s Abyss of the Stars: A Mass for Voice and Guitar and Thomas Donahue’s Scientiphilicity, and presenting the world premieres of Frank Wallace’s Men, Women and Molecules, based on the poetry of Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Roald Hoffmann, and Andrew Dickenson’s Orbit for solo guitar. The festival also includes performances by Rafael Aguirre, Maarten Stragier, and Nathan Kolosko.

Purchase tickets online for our concert or the entire festival.

We are very excited to have just received the music from our latest commission. Frank Wallace has written for us a six-movement song cycle entitled Men, Women and Molecules, based on the beautiful poetry of Nobel Prize-winning chemist and accomplished poet and playwright Roald Hoffmann of Cornell University. Frank wrote this about the set:

The six-song-cycle begins with musical references to Roald’s Eastern European roots, minor scales with augmented seconds and compound meters. It progresses into lighter jazz harmonies, symbolic of his new homeland, in “Where shall I look for her?” and uses the image and music of “Amazing Grace” as sung by Judy Collins. The major seventh interval plays an important role throughout the cycle, both as a clashing dissonance, and as part of sentimental jazz chords. “Next slide, please” is a light-hearted jab at the academic world of science, but it proved the most daunting to set. The clashing dissonances and awkward melodies are intended as a technical or scientifically calculated counterpoint to, rather than a direct expression of, the inherent humor in the poem.

Learning these pieces will be a lot of fun, and we look forward to premiering them in the coming months.

Next Page →