Prepare to ‘jam with the universe’ at WOMAD

Published: 28 July 2016 at 12:30

Dr Domenico Vicinanza playing a flute

Anglia Ruskin scientists will mix CERN data, cosmic rays and jazz live on stage

Scientists are preparing for a truly “out of this world” musical performance at the WOMAD Festival this weekend.

Dr Domenico Vicinanza and Dr Genevieve Williams from Anglia Ruskin University will deliver a performance tomorrow [29 July] that will see data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider turned into music and combined with the sound of cosmic rays hitting the stage in Wiltshire. 

For the performance, called “Jamming with the Universe”, the scientists will be joined by jazz pianist Al Blatter, and results from the groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs Boson particle will provide the backdrop to the piece. 

The data from the Large Hadron Collider will be sonified, which involves converting the peaks and troughs into musical notes.  The scientists will be wearing motion sensors to capture their movements, and this is mapped to music phrases.

The higher the position of their arms, for example, the higher the pitch of the note.  The melody generated this way will follow the same structure and properties as the original data.  Blatter will then improvise on this along with the live data arriving from outer space.

Cosmic rays are energetic particles, mainly protons, which originate from the Sun and other galactic sources and may have been produced billions of years ago.  When they hit the Earth’s atmosphere they create showers of particles that pass through our bodies.

To capture them, small pads will be placed on the WOMAD stage that will produce a flash of light when a charged particle passes through them.  This light is then transformed into an electric signal.

The “cosmic piano”, a creation by a team of scientists from the ALICE experiment at CERN, consists of four pads that send their signals to an electronics card; each signal triggers a musical note and a colourful flash of light.  As cosmic rays are unpredictable with no set pattern, the audience is guaranteed a truly unique performance.

Dr Vicinanza, Director of Sound and Game Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“During our performance, we will jam together with particles from outer space and data from the tiny Higgs Boson particle. Infinitely large, infinitely small and us, human beings, playing together on stage in cosmic harmony!”

Dr Williams, Co-Director of Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“Through a process called sonification, we are able to make music from scientific data and experience that data in new and beautiful ways. The music can also help us to explore and further our understanding of that data. 

“This works because structure and regularity is fundamental to the natural world, but variability plays its part too. Structure helps us make sense of what we observe around us, and create models and predictions, while variability is key to any live and real phenomena. 

“No two snowflakes, heart beats, sunsets or rain drops are alike, there is always something different in everything natural. It is exactly because of this mix of structure and variability, predictable and unexpected, then that our music is both melodic and fascinating. The audience can close their eyes and experience science with their ears.”