Monday, 28 January 2013

TURNING INSIDE OUT - CLASSICAL MUSIC AND PARTICLE PHYSICS

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Talk given by Ariane Koek Cultural Specialist at CERN at the Association of British Orchestra’s annual conference, Leeds January 25th 2013 on a panel called Breaking the Mould – with Will Gompertz BBC Arts Editor; Mark Baldwin Director of Ballet Rambert; and Neetia Jones video artist and director.

With thanks to Fabiola Gianotti, spokesperson and Pippa Wells – both of the ATLAS experiment, CERN – physicists and musicians.


I am here to turn things INSIDE OUT AND PROVOKE.

- For a start I am here from CERN – the world’s largest particle physics lab. Science here at the Association of British Orchestras annual conference at Leeds. That is crossing a boundary or two. What am I doing here?

- I am also the only arts person in an organisation of 680 institutions from 100 countries around the world – 10,000 people at most and some of the brightest people on the planet.

 Let me explain. I work at the world’s largest particle physics lab – CERN just outside Geneva – the home of the Large Hadron Collider -  the largest machine on the planet  - 27 kms long  - doing the largest experiment on the planet to unlock the secrets of the universe and how we came into being. You can’t get much bigger than that.

I am unusual that I am not a physicist – or a man – amongst 10,000 people. But I am  an arts person. Deliberately embedded in the organisation and doing what I teasingly call CERN’s other great experiment. Called Collide @CERN, it is the laboratory’s first home grown artists residency scheme,  making creative collisions between the arts and science, by giving artists selected in open competition the time and space to be taken outside their comfort zones and be immersed in the multi-dimensions of particle physics.

I argue that I am working with elements even more elusive than the Higgs Boson Those elements are ingenuity, creativity  and the human imagination. Science has had the formula for the Higgs Boson in physics since 1964 – but not for creativity – which is the very essence of breaking the mould   which  is the title of this session at the ABO conference which is all about thinking right outside of the box. Turning things inside out in fact.

So let’s do this by looking at how Particle Physics and Classical music are natural partners. And what they can learn from each other to take each other further?

When I asked one of the world’s top physicists what the experience of listening to – and playing classical music is to her – she said “It is like jumping into the infinite space of the universe.”

Those are the words of Fabiola Gianotti , who is the spokesperson for ATLAS – CERN’s largest experiments on the Large Hadron Collider and one of the places the Higgs-like particle was discovered last July. She was runner up to president Obama as Time Person of the Year 2012. She could have been a classical concert pianist – but had to chose between a career in physics and one in music. She chose physics but plays the piano to this day.

For her music is like physics – it steps out of tangible reality into  beyond the visible and our limited visual reality. You can’t see notes, you can’t see particles. They exist in different dimensions beyond  human scale –  in the infinite.

Likewise, both particle physics (and maths) and music have a  language/notation which not everyone understands or has access to – a language  which describes the invisible which is beyond our sight, which is unusual in our visually dominated age.

But the similarities between classical music and physics don’t just end there.

First off  is the way in which both classical music and physics are organised. Particle physicists work in collaborations of individuals – just like an orchestra.  Say that statement straight off without context and it sounds bizarre. But it’s true. Physics works in big collaborations – even bigger than an orchestra, with in the case of the ATLAS experiment which Fabiola and Pippa work on having 3000+ scientists individually working together. Like an orchestra, the soloists/individuals are working towards the common goal and are subsumed in delivering the final result – live and kicking. In the case of an orchestra, a live finished piece. In the case of ATLAS, analysing the data from 10,000 collisions per second between protons under the ground and piecing them together to form the whole picture of the formation of the universe.

Both orchestras and particle physics collaborations evidently strike a balance between the individual and the ensemble. It is about individuals of excellence working together, with precision and  in synchronisation for the final results.

Secondly, there are similarities in composition. The rules of symmetry rule particle physics as much as they do classical music with its rules of harmony and motifs. Particle physics is founded on the principle of symmetry –  unchanging principle rules which match. Particles repeat in physics like scales or motifs. There has to be structure to make things happen and make things harmonious in both science and music. But then what is essential to both is to twist and turn the rules inside out–  to break the symmetries in physics which is the act of creation. That is how the universe came into being - by symmetry breaking - according to particle physics. Real uniqueness and creativity is about breaking these symmetrical rules. Or as Pippa Wells physicist and musician from ATLAS at CERN says,  just like Beethoven  did, by breaking the symmetry and the rules by taking the tiny motif of the 5th symphony, breaking, twisting and turning it into a bigger structure.

Thirdly,  music is totally based on  the laws of physics. Without physics, music would not exist. One of the first analysers of sound was both a physicist and a musician. He was born in 1756 – the same year as Mozart, and died in 1829 – the same year as Beethoven - and he laid the foundations for that discipline within physics that came to be called acoustics – the science of sound. He was Ernst Chladni, who in 1787, published  Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klangesor -  Discoveries Concerning the Theory of Music. Among Chladni´s successes was finding a way to make visible what sound waves generate. With the help of a violin bow, which he drew perpendicularly across the edge of flat plates covered with sand, he produced those patterns and shapes which today go by the term Chladni figures. What was the significance of this discovery? Chladni demonstrated once and for all that sound actually does affect physical matter and that it has the quality of creating geometric patterns.

So we can see the ways in which physics and classical music share commonalities – and in fact are natural partners. It is no accident that many physicists are musicians too – seeing and constructing patterns in sound and acoustics. Similarly many musicians I talked to here at the conference said how they had done physics at advanced level GCSE, and had to choose between physics and music. There is an inherent affinity and love of the patterns of the invisible and ineffable.

But what can classical music learn from physics, in order to break the mould and turn the perception of classical music as regressive and outmoded inside out?

What I have found so exciting working at CERN is that every day I am challenged to defend the arts and think about why the arts matter. It is exhilarating to justify what you take as a given because it makes you think about this in a different way every time you are challenged.

For a particle physicist, challenge, questioning and never staying still is what life and furthering knowledge is all about.

So I would like to end with these provocations which are inspired by working with particle physicists and what I, as an arts person, have learn't from them. Turning things inside out again.

Openness - For a particle physicist, this means you have an openness and constant questioning, which propels you to going beyond what you are doing now and what you already know and familiar with.  And doing it. Do you do this? How often?

Surprise - You are open to surprises about nature.  And are constantly surprised by it. Nothing is given or a constant truth.

Doutbt and Questioning - You are open to doubt and questioning everything. Everything is there to be questioned. The accepted and the done thing is always to be doubted and questioned to you push beyond boundaries. Perceived wisdom and ways of doing things are there to be challenged, never accepted, for the good of culture.

Technology and Innovation - You are open to new developments in technology and instrumentation, new experiences – including new spaces – and working across boundaries – just like we symbolically do at CERN and at the LHC. Do you embrace new technology for performance as well as in your programming or instruments?

All these qualities – of never accepting, always seeking challenge, and the joy of surprise are at the heart of particle physics. It is what made the laboratory accept to have an arts specialist in their midst in the first place.

So how open are you to new venues?
To new instruments and new technologies – like 3D sculptures through sound?
To working across culture not – just within your field?
To creating new experiences which take classical music outside the domain of the live performance?
To creating  classical musicians in residence at a school, a hospital or shopping centre?

Are you ready to turn things inside out? And by doing so, really confounding your critics and taking classical music further?

Some ideas to get your thinking going inside out

One of the beauties of classical music is the live performance of an orchestra – the interactions between the musicians. A glance, the way a hand goes across a bow, a flick of the head, a touch even – these show how the live human element of interactions between all the members subsumed to making the piece works. It makes live performance fascinating. It is a human drama of endeavour.

One of the most inspiring recent examples of a classical orchestra embracing new technology was the Philharmonia Orchestra's installation at the Science Museum, London called 'Universe of Sound.' Recorded with 37 cameras, this multi-screen digital immersive experience in the upstairs galleries was designed so the audience could feel what it is like to be a member of the orchestra – whether flautist or string player, conductor or timpanist. It was a triumph in showing also the subtle interactions of body language too which make the live experience even more thrilling.

But what if we turned that inside out – banned the orchestra and made them invisible behind screens from the audience? Then projected them back in different places – ceilings, walls, floors?

Or what if we broke through the sanctity of a performance of Beethoven’s 5th by intersecting dancers  at certain points and deliberately breaking up the uninterrupted performance, like the Antigel Festival does provocatively in Switzerland?

However, these ideas do not work on their own –  they need the skills and aesthetics of a great producer.  But they are examples of thinking beyond and differently and engaging with the multi-dimensionality of experiencing music, which John Cage characterised as Listening, Watching and Writing – and  to which the contemporary composer Matthew Herbert at this conference also added Multi-media immersion.

Classical music can really break the mould. Mozart was after all the rock star of his age. Stravinksy’s the Rite of Spring scandalised all who heard – and saw the  accompanying ballet. By reclaiming its roots of disruption, provocation, and avant gardism – breaking out of its fossilised historical cave – orchestras can take the lead in releasing the revolutionary heritage and dimensions of music.  Inside Out.

ENDS

Saturday, 25 February 2012

WILLIAM FORSYTHE: WHY THIS MO(VE)MENT

On February 24th 2012, William Forsythe visited CERN as my guest. What follows are fragments of conversations and thoughts exchanged during the visit.

Lying…
Lying in the bath listening to Mozart’s Symphony in C, William Forsythe realized that all action is now. And from that single moment, with that single certainty, all his work flowed. He describes it like everyone who has been struck by those sudden collisions of simple and certain truths: he is in that moment, of that moment, is that moment. And from it everything and all flows.

Approaching Zero…
Back to the beginning again. A Re-approach. The moment before all knowledge – before the universe. Approaching zero. That’s what he calls it, as he trades faster than light question about particle physics with Michael Doser at CERN. It is hard to know where the shots are coming from or who pulls the trigger first - so fast and furiously the words and ideas fly

It all Begins with Duchamp…
It’s him again. This the moment he says when modern art was really born. The Standard Stoppages 1913-14. The metre line.
The Idea of the Fabrication
Horizontal
--If a thread one meter long falls
Straight
from a height of one meter on to a horizontal plane

twisting as it pleases and creates
a new image of the unit of
length --
-- 3 examples obtained more or less
similar conditions
:considered in their relation to one another
they are an approximate reconstitution of
the unit of length
The 3 standard stoppages are
the meter diminished

Duchamp follows the the protocol of his note. Or so he says. He claims he drops three pieces of string, each exactly one metere long, each from a height of exactly one metre too, and each only once, onto a canvas. He then glues each string to the canvas in the exact position of its chance fall. Photographs of the three canvas strips appear in the Box of 1914.

The Three Standard Stoppages. With a few wooden rulers added, following the same curves. From a box with string and rulers comes one of the great upheavals of the twentieth century in visual arts. A box whose name was given by chance when Duchamp strolled the streets and spotted the sign Stoppages over a shop on the rue Claude Bernard in Paris.
Perception is never the same again. Chance operation with a definitive curve. Possibility and necessity. A run game.

Magritte says it better…
An apple, a hat, a hollow man, ceci c’est un pipe. Or not. Rene Magritte too interrogates perception, just like Duchamp, but playing with words and images…

Les Mots et Les Images

An object is not so attached to its name that one cannot find for it another one which is more suitable

There are objects which can do without a name.


A word sometimes serves only to designate itself.


An object encounters its image, and objects encounters its name. It happens that the image and the name of this object encounter each other.

Sometimes the name of an object occupies the place of an image.

A word can take the place of an object in reality.

It is all a matter of perception…

We are all starlight…

From the core of our being to our bones. When matter and anti matter come into contact they annihilate, creating pure energy - light. Like the light in stars and that of the sun. And we too are made of light. No wonder that people are obsessed with light, as well as space and time. It is within us all. And if you dance – how the light dances too. There is no surprise that William admits that he has dancers in his company who have been trained as physcists. I ask him if their quality of movement is different and he says they think before they move. That is the difference. The difference he is reaching for.


Consensus…

When he works, Forsythe works like a physicist. He works in a consensus driven collaborative style – just like the experiments at CERN. If a dancer wishes to be an individual, s/he can not stay. The decisive moment. Think again.

Human Writes
Last night, Forsythe himself was one of the 36 dancers battling with constraints to write one sentence of the Declaration of Human Rights. One dancer pushed charcoal with her nose and wrists, trying to sketch out the words. Antoher flung himself against the table, so that his body would mark the words out with every fall. The audience wondered throughout the grid of tables, some whispering instructions - left, right, down, up – Human Writes. Rights of Man. The individual tested against the community. Where does responsibility lie? With the audience passing through to help the dancers constrained and contorted by instructions which chain their actions? Or with the dancers to persist and resist the constraints to complete the task?

William sets himself a deliberate constraint – one so against his nature it tests him to the core. The constraint he set himself was to be decisively indecisive. To deliberately destroy what he set out to do with indecision. Creating movement and the moment with a complete and competent negation.

Why It Matters
Matter is classically patterns of nothingness in empty space. Understand that, and you realize nothing is nothing. What is empty is in fact full of patterns, and what appears material – like the table beneath my hands, the blackboard I write on or my feet on the earth, is in fact probably empty too if it wasn’t for the forces which create resistance in the real emptiness of space. Without these forces – like gravity – we would be infinite.

There is no such thing as emptiness – there is merely movement. As William Forsythe himself says – you need to see my piece I Don't Believe In Outer Space. Because there is none.

This thought takes William back to his Christian Science upbringing and the phases about how all is infinite in the mind which itself has infinite manifestations.

Earth is our testing ground for these theories of space and the infinite. The ultimate mass which pulls us towards it – as strong as an umbilical cord.

In the end we all part of

The Human Experiment - Being Human.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R4owdEikTo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqGyFiEXXIQ&feature=related

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

DANCE TO EXIST

Dance drives the universe. Creates our being. Is the essence of our existence. The seeds of our creativity.

The notion of a fixed point in time and space and the stability it offers to us all is nothing but a chimera. Because the world is made up of movement. Without it – we don’t exist.

Look at the physics – and then it all becomes clear. When we take a temperature reading, which gives us a so-called fixed measurement, this measurement is only made possible by the movement of molecules agitating the air. Or take a vacuum, which we always think of as empty. But in fact it is the movement of molecules again, which creates and makes it – sealing it all in. Without their energy, this would not happen and a vacuum is no more empty than a full glass – because it contains this movement.

This is the world of quantum mechanics – where nothing is what it seems. Measurements and definitions seem to pin down stable meanings, only for them to be revealed, if you look at the world in a quantum way, to be fixed by and in dissolution. Read that sentence, and suddenly also the world of Deconstructionism and Jacques Derrida does not seem that far away either. There seems to be a quantum entanglement between both physics and philosophy – both of which say the same thing in essence. That absolutes are illusionary.

After all, when symmetry breaks – which is also the most absolute and fixed of man made aesthetics constructs – the universe comes into being with an explosion of energy and movement. The imbalance of matter and anti-matter leads to the Big Bang. The universe is created out of imperfection and imbalance which leads to movement and the birth of stars.

So when talking to CERN’s first artist in residence, Julius Von Bismarck, who starts at the laboratory in March 1st, it seems entirely appropriate, that the essence of his work is about movement. The slippages between perception and energies of both nature and machine drive work such as the Image Fulgarator as well as the Public Face. But talk to Julius further, and then even more is revealed. That he finds the ultimate stillness and clarity of his creative process when dancing. Movement frees his thinking, so he will dance for 4 hours at a time and the line of creativity will just unfurl as he circles and spins.

http://www.juliusvonbismarck.com/bank/
www.cern.ch/arts

Monday, 29 August 2011

LUMINOUS

Although this has very little in some senses to do with particle physics, it has at its heart a fascination with light and the creative collisions which happen when two artistic forces meet to make work together.

Written in 2010, a year after I had the privilege of working with both both Fernanda and Victor in helping them find the lighthouses they sought around the English coast, and having deep talks in extraordinary places, this text is being published this year in a book celebrating the great Brazillian British Council initiative ArtistsLinks, coordinated by the amazing Roberta Mafhuz.


THE LIGHT SEEKER/KEEPERS

This is the tale of two artists. And two lovers, too. One is a film maker from Uruguay who looks as if he carelessly shrugs on his clothes, stepping straight out of a Jean Luc Goddard movie, with watchful eyes and a crown of hair laced with silver. The other is an artist, who appears as tall as the sky, treading the earth with the care of a mermaid, a waterfall of golden corkscrew hair tumbling down her back. He is called Victor Lema Rique. She, Fernanda Chieco.


Both are other-worldly, somehow fittingly so, lured to England from South America by a love of Virginia Woolf and her modernist stream of consciousness novel 'To the Lighthouse', published in 1927. The artist-lovers sit, in-be-tween worlds and moments, one deepening Autumn evening in 2008 at the start of their journey, in St James's Park in London, under trees whose leaves are singed with scarlet and orange. They talk of how the beam of Virgina Woolf's prose has caught them in its glare and never let them go. That's why they are in England for five months - to go to not just one lighthouse, but to many - however impossible or dangerous they may turn out to be. To enable them do this, they have an accomplice, they tell me. And a strange one she turns out to be. Or so their story goes.


Carolina is a young student in Sao Paulo, they say, who has a passion for gardening and anything to do with the sea. She knows everything there is to know about ships and tides, fish and coastal maps. One day, out of the blue, she sees a light coming out of a drawing of a lighthouse that is hanging on her wall. She feels compelled to find the light and follow its sweeping arc wherever it leads her. Or so they say. And so her quest begins, bringing Fernanda and Victor in her slipstream to these English shores. But the truth is stranger still - because in fact she does not exist. She is just a metaphor for Fernanda and Victor's first artistic collaboration together: both its reason and its subject. Without her, they wouldn't exist as a couple working on a shared artistic enterprise:


"Us working together “only exists” because of her so we’ll only get rid of her (or she’ll get rid of us) when we have decided the work is finished. Differently from many other artists’ partnerships, in our case, the subject itself ended up establishing the identity of our collaboration."


This is how they explain the presence of this stranger in their midst, Carolina, who is also referenced in decades of popular culture, like in the 1970s horror movie Poltergeist. 'Carol Anne - Don't Go into the Light!' is the epic cry at a turning point in the film. Or the same words turn up again in 2006 in that bricolage-showcase of popular culture, the american cartoon, South Park. Or again in the 1980s in Brazil, when Carolina was one of the most popular names of the day. The truth is Carolina has existed long before Fernanda and Victor: she is a thread across time. And so with this timely timeless companion, Fernanda and Victor start beating their way to 12 lighthouses during October and November in 2008, along the leggy rugged coast of southwest of England. They discover lighthouses with names like Trinity and St Just, Tatar Du and Godrevy. Some can be only reached by sea. Others are perched precariously on cliff edges. Another one is found, unexpectedly, inland, stranded like an upturned whale hanging by its tail. Fernanda and Victor document everything, like the British adventurer William Dampier who is another source of inspiration for their project and who had even landed on the shores of Brazil:


"William Dampier was our inspiration to the explorer’s aspect of Carolina: the way he investigated the world throughout his trips around the world as well as his drawing/writing documentations. For her, he is a sort of Google from the 17th century. In his diaries, he performed cut and paste of information, using his buccaneer’s skills, to recreate the world filtered by his own eyes. During his time, in some ways he lit up and fired people’s imaginations regarding the unreachable, and hardly known lands. "


Thus following in William Dampier's transverse-reverse-converse footsteps across time and place, Fernanda and Victor film, photograph, film, write, draw, sketch their way to and from all the lighthouses, recording every detail right down to the GPS coordinates. But where will their journeys lead after they have been finished? And how will two such distinct artists work together as artists, never mind as lovers? Carolina is like a protective shield with whom they guard themselves against what may happen. A talisman, or a charm, some would say. Or an angel. A charming angel of a metaphor, who unites them.


Yet at first glance Fernanda's and Victor's artistic work is worlds apart. It is difficult to second guess how Carolina is going to work her magic between them. Fernanda's work is intense and illustrative, with fine lines, a detailed intimacy and a raw sexuality. Her drawings are like the surrealist Leonora Fini's - exquisite in their illustrative detail and powered by imaginative scenarios, full-frontal in their celebration of the naked body, drawn with flowing delicate lines. Mushrooms impossibly bloom from a woman's vulva or between her breasts. Men and women copulate copiously and riotously in illustrative detail across the bareness of white paper, sometimes connected by the throat by a line pumping of blood. Fernanda describes her work as being 'like a medical textbook, a folio of classical drawings and the physical laboratory of a lunatic inventor.' Her work is represented by the celebrated Gallery Leme in Sao Paulo.


In contrast, Victor is an established video artist who works in film and has shown at international video art festivals. He started his career as a painter, but then moved into multi-media, investigating the worlds of architecture, literature and human experience in drawings, videos, performances, short films, radio soap operas and published texts. His work is highly literary and ideas driven- engaging with the world of philosophy, psychoanalysis and theory. Kant and Foucault litter the texts often accompanying his work which can be described as questioning, exploring and opening up psychological scenarios. It's engrossing to think how these two artists will work together - and what will happen both personally and artistically.


In the first days in the artists studio at Spike Island In Bristol, when the artistic journey on paper is about to begin and the physical journey has stopped, Fernanda sends out an initial outline of how they will work together. It is a togetherness which is initially a-part of the whole enterprise:


'We will dismember our trip on 12 parts, which are directly related to each lighthouse we have been to. As for each part we will develop a story, which will be represented in different medias, based on our true experience added to fictional elements. We have decided work apart for a few days, each of us developing stories/sketches/ideas based on each lighthouse we have been to. Having done that, we put our material together and then we create a third material, which our body of works will be based on.'


Ironically the book which has inspired 'Carolina Don't Go Into the Light,' To The Lighthouse', is one which can be read as a manifesto on the necessity of the individual artist being alone in order to make art. The text shows Virginia Woolf's belief in the solipsism being the necessary condition for creativity. And so it is, in her novel, that Lily Briscoe stands apart from the Ramsay family, cut off from them, as they play on the metaphoric rocks and go about family holiday on the Isle of Skye in Scotland whilst she paints. Lily can only do this by never emotionally connecting or becoming part of the family, standing in between the polar and gendered opposites of the philosophical and coldly rational Mr Ramsay and the emotional and poetical Mrs Ramsay. In the meantime, the light in Virginia Woolf's story and prose oscillates between the three of them: the male, the female and the figure of Lily who unites both male and female principles and cuts an androgynous figure. Perhaps Carolina is Fernanda's and Victor's Lily - the lone creative questor, uniting opposites of every kind.


Like Virginia Wool's novel, too, Fernanda and Victor's work is an inquiry into the belief in the power of the individual to create art, which is an abiding driver of European and American modernism in the 20th century. This idea of the individual artist dates back to the Enlightenment and the philosophy of the primacy of self. In the 21st century however, this notion of the individual as artist is being dismantled and cracked apart by the open source creativity inspired by the web and the internet. In the 21st century digital age, time and space are no longer borders, but instead are superhighways to travel on. We can contact anyone at any time and any where. And there is more to it than even that. Web culture blends individual creativity with openness and lack of ownership, suggesting that an artist is the curator of an idea, not its sole owner and originator: any idea can be open to everyone and shared with others who are free to join in. Creativity is not something you keep to yourself.


This is where Fernanda and Victor's work is located, here and now, but even more dangerously and precariously so, by aligning the personal with the artistic relationship too. It is a collaboration which has the potential to put everything on the line for these two distinct and very different artists - not just the work itself. The artistic process will make or break it all, but they are optimistic and have faith in this together apart-ness:


Fernanda:

I think that in some parts of our collaborative process there is a discrepancy. However, we're using our divergences as tools for making the works. Like the way we put our ideas individually, and then we gather them to create something out of it. It's a bit like an alchemic process of putting two elements together in order to get a third one.


Victor:

I think there is a point of distance in our work, but at the same time there is a counterpoint, too. I observe a particular and clear distance in the physical compositions , techniques, traces, etc. but in other way there is a great connection when we look at our processes of creation before the execution of our individual work.


They come together to share ideas and directions for their painting and their stories. That is where their artistic process meets - in the conceptual discussion which happens between them, and their response and readings of their adventures to the lighthouses and to the people and the places they encounter. But the openness to creativity being achieved outside the self does not stop just with them as a couple . Other collaborators are invited to take part in the artistic process too, with Fernanda and Victor sending out a call to artists and writers to join Carolina. One man is filmed telling the story of a friend who went into the light and possibly committed suicide. The appeal he makes on film, is at the same time one for his disappeared friend to get in touch as well as a warning to Carolina. Another woman rushes from her home, at the dead of night, hurtling out into the street with her apron still on. She begs Carolina not to go to the light. No-one sees Carolina's purpose as anything but dangerous. How will she survive? A musician from Finland composes some music inspired by the story.


But the togetherness does have an apart-ness. At least at first. At the beginning of the Spike Island residency, when Fernanda and Victor are starting on the pictures, they work truly apart and separately at opposite ends of the studio. Victor draws in charcoal fantastical towers which are at once the lighthouses, but also at the same time are something completely different. Some are like futurist skyscrapers, others like brutalist architectural drawings or ziggurats from ancient times. All stand as iconic and ready for a game as giant chess pieces. He also leaves or creates great white spaces - hollows sometimes, at other times platforms on top of a structure or stretched out like an apron in front. It's to these places that Fernanda then comes to work, bringing her delicacy of line and a different intensity, as naked figures squirm, wriggle, squat, kneel and stand in a kama sutra of postures and positions.


"This is Tater Du lighthouse. It's the one which took us ages to find - two goes in fact because the GPS coordinates were wrong."


Fernanda says this, standing in front of a huge swathe of paper which runs half the length of one studio wall. A stubby lighthouse stands in the left hand corner, and in front, on a platform of activity, naked faceless and face-obscured women squirm, wriggle, kneel in an array postures and positions. What links them is that their hair is profuse, curling like snakes, sometimes covering their faces, sometimes binding their wrists or legs together, at other times clothing their whole bodies so they are one walking-length of hair. The picture is profoundly uncanny and surreal - suggesting both male and female surrealists like Max Ernst and Meret Oppenheim. The women are bound and gagged by invisible tides of wind, thrown into postures of abjection, suggesting a sexual enslavement and abject rapture too.


On the second attempt to get to Tater Du, Fernanda and Victor noted in their diary and script of their excursion, that the gates were locked, and more besides:


"There are three signs hanging, which say:


1st sign-

TATER DU HAIR SALON

Let the winds comb your hair

Open daily from 10am - 10pm


2nd sign-

CLOSED


3rd sign-

ACCESS FORBIDDEN"


"That's why the women's hair is all over this picture" Fernanda says. "The place is a hair salon, where the wind is a hair stylist, who combs and styles your hair in so many different ways."


Opposite the Tater Du picture, another picture runs the whole length of the other wall. Two lighthouses, one which isn't so dissimilar from the Empire State Building, the other like a Le Corbusier tower, stand on opposing shores, their beams intersecting in the middle of a turbulent chiacurso sea. In the crossbeam, stands a giant pig, with perky pickled eyes and a wrinkled snout, standing in the midst of a pool of potatoes. Every bristle on his body is picked out - even the piggy-pinkness of his skin in fine detail - in contrast to the great monolithic black and white representations of Lizard and St Ann's lighthouse, drawn by Victor.


"Do you know that when there was once a shipwreck off one of the coasts, that the only survivor which was found was a pig floating amongst a tide of potatoes?" Fernanda is smiling as she tells tales. "And do you know, that where the pig was found are the great rocks known as the Manacles? Thousands of years across, this was in fact a giant natural statue of a pig in the middle of the sea, just like the Colossus of Rhodes. The Manacles is but a fragment of what used to be there, and there are plans to reinstate it with a giant pig hologram."


Telling tales is an essential part of the couple's art work - picking up from Virginia Woolf and the narratives we weave out of existence. Fernanda is writing stories which tell of the couples' journeys and encounters to the lighthouses - but do they tell the truth? And when exactly were they written too? Before or after the event - or even after the picture have been made? She tells another tale this time, about St Johns, lighthouse which turns light into music. The tower is not a lighthouse in a conventional sense: it doesn't house a beacon or one of those huge oscillating mirrors. But instead, apparently, St John's is a conduit for all the light in the world, which then gets sucked down its tower to be stored underground in a chamber where it is transformed into sound. It then emanates as strange music from the scores of foxholes which stud the landscape around St Johns - much to the locals' surprise and wonderment. A composer Fernanda and Victor met on their travels has even made music inspired by this.


And of course this tale is reflected in the large picture on another wall: a stubby squat building, shrouded in darkness, below which and underground is a pyramid-shaped chamber bathed in light, in which naked women clap and chant. These pictures with their accompanying myths are pure fabrication - in the best senses of the word. They are made with the artistic tools which Victor and Fernanda have at their disposal to release their imaginations: words, pen, charcoal, music, video and their experiences to the lighthouse itself. It is difficult to know where the lines between fact and fiction begin and end - the unsettling experience of reading modernist fiction which Virginia Woolf deliberately played with, when she mixed her memories of her mother and father, with fiction in To the Lighthouse.


Fernanda is adamant that the tales they are telling in their work and in words can not be told in her mother tongue of Portuguese:


"I have thought and dreamt about these ideas in English. So the stories are written in English because it is through another language that I discover new ways of seeing, finding the lighthouses and telling tales. They are stories and experiences which just could not be told in Portuguese. They would be something completely different"


And five months later, as the artistic project is coming to an end in the UK, the way Fernanda and Victor have worked together has changed. Whereas at the beginning they worked at separate ends of the Spike Island studio, they now can work on literally the same paper, side by side, even if Fernanda describes Victor's work as messy, whereas her's is neat and particular. But the practice remains the same: Victor makes the first marks on the paper, making the setting and frame for the whole work. Fernanda brings the colour, making the connections between inside and outside worlds and the stories they are both telling.


They also reveal in their last few days in the studio, that the drawings in a sense start writing stories before they have finished them. Hence the blurring and the sense of giddiness when Fernanda spins yet another web of words in the freedom of a foreign language.


Then Victor and Fernanda throw open the doors and hold an open studio on the day before they leave. People drift in and feel compelled to stay when they hear the stories and glance at the huge pictures which line the walls with their surreal intensity. A psychoanalyst breaks into the silence with a candour which in England is shattering. "You have to be lovers. Only lovers could have made these works."


And so Carolina - and by default, Fernanda and Victor come into the light - though the work has yet to be finished. The light is now being carried back to Brazil to be completed and pursued still further on different shores, in different light.


Light is said to have three primary characteristics - intensity, frequency/wavelength and polarization. All these oscillate and change, but the three physical ingredients of light always remain the same. The artistic process of 'Carolina Don't Go Into the Light,' reflects the very subject Fernanda and Victor are trying to capture - the properties of light. Like 'To the Lighthouse', the work oscillates in its intensity, timing and movement between the opposites it investigates. Fernanda and Victor are light seekers who have become in their personal and artistic journey, light keepers too, bringing it home to Sao Paulo. Carolina goes into the light - and is coming out the other side. But in what final form is yet to be seen as the work continues In Brazil. 'Carole Anne don't go into the light' might have been the cry in a 1970s horror movie called 'Poltergeist'. But in this particular case, the horror would have been never to have gone there in the first place. And never to have even dared.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

QUANTA, QUANTA - GILBERTO GIL AND THE ART OF PHYSICS

Nobody does it like Gilberto Gil. Nobody. A one man powerhouse of ideas, music and insight, Gilberto was one of the front men of the late 1960s revolutionary Tropicalia movement which brought foreign influences and the voicing of social conscience directly into Brazillian music.

With the poet Torquato Mento, Gil wrote what became the hymn of the Torpical movement - Geleir Geral:
A poet unfurls the flag

And the tropical morn begins to beat 

Resplendent, cascading, gracious

A joyous sunflower heat 

In the general jam of Brazil

That the Jornal do Brasil will greet

With Tropicalia, Gil became a global superstar and then shocked everyone by becoming Brazil's Minister of Culture in 2003, exciting another cultural revolution for the 21st century, this time in cultural policy. Pontos de Cultura focuses on the dispossessed and disenfranchised, creating a network of belonging and social change through the arts, supported by the Brazilian Government. But what has this got to do with physics? At first glance not alot.

Quanta, Gil's 32nd album released in 1997, shows as ever Gilberto Gil's focus on living and creativity. It is a heady blend of sambas, country, rock, forros, funk, ballads and boss nova rhythms and won the Grammy for World Music. But that's what one expects from Gil. What makes it so unusual is that it is an albulm all about art and science - as one of its samba tracks, 'Cinenci e Arte, makes explicit.

The lyrics of the title track say it all: "I know that art is the sister of science, both daughters of a fleeting God who makes and in the same moment unmakes. This vague God behind the world, from behind the behind." The albulm's quest for meaning through its elaborate series of short song cycles is thus set.

Another song, 'Pela Internet' (For the Internet) is a buoyant starry eyed ode to the information super highway, describing the evolution of communications.
However, Gil's image in this song isn't the internet as a superhighway, but instead as an "infosea," where the port of call receives not slave ships and merchandise, but diskettes and far flung missives. "I want to enter the net," sings Gil, "to contact the homes in Nepal, the bars in Gabon, that the carioca chief of police warns on his mobile."

It is this infinite web of possibilities and social connection which the internet offers, which was to become nearly 20 years after he wrote this song, the heart of Gilberto Gil's radical Pontos de Cultura policy.

The song is doubly ironic too. In form and style, Gilberto Gil draws comparison with what is considered to be the first samba ever recorded in Brazillian music, 'Pelo Telefone'. The last verses in Gil's song are an update of the original lyrics - bringing it up to date for the internet world, and the finale is a parody o Rolling Stones 'I Cant Get No Satisfaction' with playful vocal adlibs echoing Mick Jagger's endless quest for satisfaction with the line, sneered in English during the fade, "Got no connection!"

There are many shout outs throughout the albulm - embracing language from quantum mechanics, crab vendors and the goddess Shiva. But the ghost in this musical machine is undoubtedly physics. The albulm is in all but name dedicated to Brazil's most distinguished and honoured physicist, Cesar Lattes. Lattes was one of the discoverers of the pion - a subatomic partcile made of a quark and an antiquark and studied cosmic rays for all of his life. He came close to winning the Nobel prize twice, but never did.

The albulm contains an open letter from Lattes to Gil, in which he analyses the lyrics and the songs, observing

I ask only that you let me tell you of the happiness that your words about physics give me, but in some cases there is poetic license:

The "infinitesimal" is a mathematical fiction. Quantum is the minimum action (energy x time).

This theme of minimalism is reflected in the albulm on many levels. None of the twenty songs runs over four-and-a-half minutes, but together they amount to what has been called 'a sprawling, hungry embrace of everything from Gil's African roots, to God and the cosmos, to personal reflections, to the wowing possibilities of the Internet.'


Lattes ends his letter movingly with these observations directly to the great musician:

"Science and Art": moved and appreciate the attention.
Science inseminates subliminally.
Science is a younger sister (perhaps illegitimate)
Art: Camões asked for help from the ingenuity and art - not science.
Solomon says that "science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul" - the art, no. I will stop here, because Solomon also says: "Seek not to be too tight nor too wise: you want to ruin it?"

To conclude I quote a great architect, "When science is silent, art speaks" (Artigas).


With a hug,
Cesar Lattes

In the end, Quanta quanta is all about transformations - not only of the science and arts kind, but also of the society. The particle turned samba. A universe of possibilities in a quantum world. Quanta quanta


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

ANTI-MATTER: MIND OVER MATTER

He says
It's all about
Mind over matter
Those moments on the trapeze
When a hand reaches out
Hand over heart
Over hand
Hand over
Heart.
You have to trust
That you will not fail

For 16 precious minutes in May, anti-matter was trapped at CERN for thelongest time on the planet. Held fast. Trap tight. In a vacuum. Like no place on earth, on earth. For a length of time not seen since the birth of the universe. It is arguably one of the most significant cultural moments on the planet - even aside from discovering the Higgs Boson.

The hand
that minds
the heart
that hands
the mind
the heart's
hand
Matters

And why? Because even though anti-matter does not exist today on earth, except when it is manmade like at CERN, without anti-matter we would not exist. There would be no beginnings - and indeed fewer endings. So capturing the disappeared is a moment of affirming exitsence. But somehow - and this is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science - at the beginning of the universe, matter and anti matter co-existed in equal amounts. And yet when the Big Bang threw them headlong into each other's arms, matter won over anti-matter - hence the world we live in, naturally is made of matter. The LhCB experiment at CERN is determined to find out why this is.

She says
It's all about
Matter over mind
Those moments on the trapeze
when a hand reaches out
Heart over
Hand over
Heart.

Essentially anti-matter is matter's time twin. A lone twin. A non twin-twin even. Because anti matter is essentially the same as matter except for one important fact - the electric charge on matter and anti-matter for some reason differs. This distinction leads to annihilation - because if anti matter comes in contact with matter, it will destroy itself.

Michael Doser, one of the physicists working on the Alpha experiment which achieved the historic trapping of anti-matter, believes that the arts have a role in helping us explain and understand anti-matter - taking us beyond the equations and formulas and experiments of particle physicists like himself:

"Much of science is mathematical. It is hard to go from maths which you know is correct to an intuitive understanding. For this, you have to go to an analogy which is flawed and never perfect. However until you can bring an equation into a visual analogue it is very hard to think about it fully. Once you find an analogue, then you can develop a much better understanding, and from this develop predictions which go beyond your understanding defined by the equations themselves. That is what art does for science"

You have to trust
that you will not fail

The mind
that hands
the heart
that minds
the heart's
hand

That's all that matters
No matter

But in essence, the arts have always been investigating the lone twin. The ying and yang of existence. The arts are predicated on absence - the absence of the thing itself, the idea, the feeling, person or an object. The arts stand in for what is not there or present at a particular moment in time. From the caves of Lascaux to the work of Rachel Whiteread, the arts have all been about non existence at the heart of existence. The arts are the negative charge.

Some arts explicitly engage with this idea of absence. Like Rachel Whiteread's Untitled (One Hundred Spaces 1995). She cast the spaces undet the chair, rendering the chair itself invisible and the invisible space beneath it visible, turning it in turn into a structure which could potentially be sat on or ate at.

Negative space has been the dominant form of Rachel Whiteread's work- turning negative space or emptiness into presence on a huge scale - like that of a house.
It is done to symbolise memory - that other great activity of the mind making present through mental thought what is no longer there.

But flip back in time, and those pictures of the horses, the man with the spear, and you have since earliest days of mankind, records of mankind now absence. Like those early examples of cunnieform - always standing in, always standing for what has been, making the non present, present. It is the art of knowing.

So in many ways, the arts can be seen as the anti-matter of science. Without it, science would not exist. Let alone the science of anti matter itself. The negative charge of the absent. The positive charge of the arts.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

THE MATHEMATICS OF CROWD SOURCING

The seeds for the forest were sewn playing chess. When he was 8 year s old, Andreas came face to face with the great Chess Grandmaster Kasparov. Pawn in hand, he made the first move. But Andreas was not alone. With him were 5 other 8 year old german chess players too, all as eager as he to make the opening gambit. And so it was, that a team of 6 8 year olds beat the great grandmaster of the game – proving that six heads are definitely much better than one – even the biggest and best one.

“People say that there are no scientists like Einstein today. But I say that doesn't matter. Much better to have a crowd of scientists not as good as Einstein, than to have one Einstein. My experience with Kasparov showed this.”

So says the now 48 year old Andreas, who is one of the leaders in the field of probability at CERN. And when he starts talking, you realize that the public and social trend for crowd sourcing in fact has a truly mathematical as well as experiential basis for delivering results. That in fact it is maths which really has created and driven the crowd sourcing phenomenon of today. We are merely following the numbers.

“We have developed Boost Tree Decision Making. Basically, you plant a decision and then go down the decision tree, until you get to the leaf – the most probable and true answer,” says Andreas. It is truly as simple as that. Or so it sounds when an expert describes it so simply in words. The algorithms to get there are another matter.

But in fact Boost Decision Tree Making does not stop there. In fact it has been shown that you don't just plant one tree to get the right answers. You plant many trees, with short roots, leading to quicker multiple answers. It turns out that one tree does not a forest make because it doesn't give you the full complete picture or the true answer after all. This is because if you just plant a decision and follow the roots to get to the answers, they will only come from one source and one starting point. Thus they can only be a binary variant on the same tree, rather than creating a whole forest of trees, which gives you the whole landscape of a forest to look at and check the verity of your answers. At least that is how I understand it. It gives a whole new slant to that expression not seeing the wood for the trees.

This algorithmic path to truth also has social application and others too which are part of our daily lives.

“Take your iLife on your mac” says Andreas. “You put in your photograph and it will go through the internet looking for matches, following an algorithmic path. That’s boost tree decision trees at work.” It works like magic - and like magic, it is in the end, all about numbers.

But that is not all. The Boost Decision Trees method also has a military application too, becoming the tool for decisions about making air strikes and selecting targets – an altogether much less palatable application for what was conceived of as a tool to link not destroy humanity. The twin sides of technology – revealing itself in the forest of our psyche.



BOOST DECISION TREES

http://www.ehow.com/how_5130809_boost-decision-trees.html