Physics and music – perfect harmony!

Physics and music, both are cool on their own, but when combined, they become übercool and also potentially very useful. 

One example is of course the music & movement research that we do, using motion capture to record how people perform music or how they engage with it, and then use kinematic or kinetic analyses to break those movements down so that they can be correlated with musical features, personality measures, ratings, brain activity etc. 

Of course, music is (often) sound, and sounds belong to the realm of physics, and building sounds from the bottom up (synthesis) is a “traditional” way to do electronic music. A good example of this approach is the Google doodle today, an awesome HTML5 synthesizer that celebrates the 78th birthday of Robert Moog, an early pioneer of electronic music.

Some people will not stop there. Rather, they’ll want something a bit more high voltage (literally) and more flashy (ditto). Here’s ArcAttack, a band that uses an awesome robot drummer but also plays music on huge Tesla coils.

They have taken part in America’s Got Talent, and recently featured in Makers Faire and on PandoDaily

A somewhat different approach to physics and music is taken by the cool LHCSound project. Their instrument is a slightly larger physical device than the Tesla coils that ArcAttack plays: the Large Hadron Collider and it’s ATLAS experiment. Their purpose is to sonify the data they get from the particle collisions in ATLAS. This has (a very high) geek value, but also artistic value, but also potential scientific value. Data is routinely visualised so that we can analyse it, detect patterns and regularities as well as outliers and quirks. Sonification is used much more rarely, but can potentially be used for the same purpose. 

So, what the LHCSound people do, is take the data, process it, then assign the different dimensions of the data to different musical features and then change those features according to the values in the data. The process takes place in collaboration between physicists and musicians, more details can be found on their website or in this Guardian blog

The sounds of the universe

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