Sunday, 11 July 2010


We all have music under our skin. We can't hear it. We can't feel it. But it beats in our blood and pulses our being. It's the music of the stars contained in our bodies held within the scaffolding of our bones. Part of Boethius's vision of music in De Musica - musica universalis, musica humana, musica instrumentalatis, musica divina - the sounds of existence. A cosmic numerology which is the data of our creation, creativity, making and doing.

That's what experiments here at the LHC at CERN with the sonification of data make me think of. They have been putting the sound of particles colliding into audio - blasting our appreciation of what makes us to a new dimension. Instead of only looking at the great visual splashes of particles colliding on a computer screen, which are radiant with data, scientists have also been playing with sound - the auditory waves of the universe - to complete our fields of perception. Slower than the speed of light, nevertheless sound waves are the most accurate way of telling time - of appreciating and comprehending the intervals of existence - the micro-milliseconds in which particles move. The ear is quicker than the eye to recognise the nuances of simultaneity, the near miss, the hit, the interactions, and defractions - grasping more fully and truly than the eye, which is a blunt tool for time.

Go to LHC Sound and you will hear some of the work which is happening at the largest of the CERN experiments, ATLAS, led by University College London physicist Dr Lily Asquith working with musician and programmer Ed Chocolate. LHC Sound as it is called, is the software development phase and already composers and musicians have been emailing them for sound files. It is primarily an analysis tool for the outpouring of data at the LHC - but it is also a way of eavesdropping on what is happening. A cosmic musical whispering which has been funded by the Science and Technology Funding Council to capture also the imaginations of the public.

But the LHC Sound at ATLAS work isnt the only work with sound at CERN. Along the 27km elipsis which is the LHC, other experiments such as ALICE are experimenting with sonification of data too, as heard in the piece I did for Radio 3 earlier this year. Have a listen and you can hear the sound of ionisation of electrons on Kathi Voght's site - . Then you realise that aesthetics comes into this too. What choice of tone do you make to represent the sounds of science?

Particles physics is not the only science latching onto the possibilities of sound. A whole work has just been composed by composer Michael Zev Gordon working with musician-anethatist Dr Andrew Morley based on the individual sequencing of the DNA of each member of a 40 strong choir. Singers are literally singing their genes - and music pours out of it. The connections with contemporary music composition ring in your ears. It is being performed at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on July 13th 2010 and is fittingly called Allele.

So in the age of the visual, which we hold in our hands on our iPads and iPhones and can touch the world into being unfurled before us with a tap of ours fingers before our very eyes, the audio universe is staging its own revolution in perception too, taking us back to who we really are. A note of existence. A beat in time. It sounds like the music of the spheres all over again.

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