Drummer Mickey Hart teams up with Nobel Prize winning physicist
George Smoot III in creating Rhythms of the Universe, bringing to
life the sounds of the supernova.
By David Bois
January 26, 2010
The natural world and the vast reaches of space have long engaged our
curiosity and have directly prompted artists of all types to bring
forth creations that reflect their inspiration and sense of wonder.
While science and music may on a fast first pass seem to make for
unlikely bedfellows, we have witnessed some truly remarkable musical
statements that could not have been made without the artist having
drawn insight from a consideration of the natural world.
Recent articles at Tonic have featured the equal-parts quirky and
lovely Symphony of Science (a mash up of the musings of the late Carl
Sagan) and DJ Spooky's Sinfonia Antarctica (an ambitious composition
that incorporates recordings of the sound scape at the ice-capped
bottom of the Earth).
Now, as reported by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we
have Rhythms of the Universe. In outer space, no one can hear you
rock out. Sound waves do not travel in the vacuum of space, and even
the cosmic cataclysm that is the supernova is completely silent to
our ears. However, Rhythms of the Universe presents a musical
offering that suggests what a supernova might sound like, once the
different electromagnetic frequencies given off by an exploding star
are translated into signals that we can hear.
Appropriate to the project, Rhythms of the Universe is made possible
through the collaboration of two of the brightest stars in their
respective fields: Nobel Prize-winning physicist George Smoot III,
recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, and Grateful Dead
drummer Mickey Hart, who has worked tirelessly to celebrate and
preserve world music traditions through his Planet Drum and Global
Drum projects as well as through his appointment to the Library of
Congress American Folklife Center Board of Trustees.
Hart has been pursuing space as a raw material for his art recently,
and several examples of his creations are available on the Grateful
Dead website. Rhythms of the Universe recently premiered at an
astrophysics convention Hart and Smoot attended in Mexico. Perhaps
the following example is not a tune that's either catchy enough to
whistle nor funky enough to have you dancing right there in your
chair. But without doubt this fusion of musical creativity with
cutting edge astrophysics successfully reaches for the stars in
pushing the boundaries of creative expression and musical possibility.