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Scoring Science Videos


Image for scoring.
Image for scoring.

The Cambridge Science Festival is not the first place you might think to look for concert music, but at least this year it has become the scene of an unusual collaboration with Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, one of Boston’s longest established new music groups. The ensemble’s program, “Hi-Fi-Sci” at the MIT Museum, 265 Mass. Ave., on April 14, consists entirely of brand new works set to animated films produced by scientists to illustrate scientific principles or aspects of their particular research. We elicited the following additional information from Dinosaur Annex co-Artistic Directors Yu-Hui Chang and Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin and Manager Jeremy Spindler:

Vance R. Koven: So how did all this come about?

YHC:  The idea of the project came from the time when I was a Radcliffe fellow (2010-2011), when I first encountered the type of animation video the scientists had.  I was totally fascinated by these videos for their visual beauty and for what they represent, and thought how great it would be for composers to write music based on these type of videos.  The New York Times had an article come out at that time [here], and I saw Tom Kirchhausen and Janet Iwasa’s work then. Irving Epstein was at Radcliffe with me, and he is the one who first committed to collaborate with us.  He also tried to help us get other scientists involved, which eventually led to the work that we are using from the Dogic lab.  Sue-Ellen made the MIT museum connection, and the involvement of Alfred Goldberg (and through him, Tom Kirchhausen.)  I will let her tell you more about that part.

SEHT: I met Fred and Joan Goldberg in October of 2011 at a Dinosaur Annex wine-tasting/dinner fundraiser. Fred told me about his research at Harvard Medical School, and the science animation videos made by his former student, Janet Iwasa. Through Fred, we made more connections with scientists who had done animations, including Tom Kirchhausen. The Kirchhausen connection has a funny story behind it: his lab had discovered a chemical used in cancer treatment that affects a protein called dynamin by giving it a kind of sore, and he had named the chemical “dynasore.” So when I approached him about having Dinosaur Annex commission music for his video, he was convinced the stars had aligned for us to collaborate. Then I asked my neighbor John Durant, who is the head of the MIT museum, if he was interested in doing the program, and he loved the idea.

JS: There’s more information on what the scientists and composers have done, including a video of our own, on the Indiegogo site where we’re fundraising for the free program (sorry, had to mention that).

Are these pieces like soundtracks to the videos?

YHC: No, we did suggest to the composers not to write the music like soundtracks.  The video and the music should be combined as an artistic expression, either about the meaning or simply the visual impact of the video.

SEHT: Most of the composers have done a lot of editing; they’re more like tone poems. Some of the videos are very short, but they set the composers’ minds racing.

A scoring session (Jeremy Spindler pohto)
A scoring session (Jeremy Spindler pohto)

JS: Specifically, Peter Child, Tamar Diesendruck, John Mallia, Kurt Rohde, and Kate Soper.

SEHT: Several of the composers spoke to the scientists directly and read some of their scientific articles. They really wanted to understand their research and the meaning of the videos.

YHC: Some of the composers had to learn how to do video editing for the first time, and yet they came up with things that are truly stunning.

So, this is partly a scientific undertaking. Will there be a symposium?

YHC: Not exactly. We wanted the scientists, as well as the composers, to be there to talk about their projects. The scientists who will be at the event are Irving Epstein (Brandeis Chemistry Professor), Alfred Goldberg (Harvard Med School, Cell Biology), and Stephen DeCamp (Brandeis Department of Physics graduate student, representing Zvonimir Dogic’s lab).

What are the basic details of the concert? When does it happen and what does it cost?

JS: The concert is on Sunday, April 14 at the MIT Museum, 265 Mass. Ave., between the MIT campus and Central Square. The concert is at 7:30 and it’s free, but seating is limited to the first 150 people who show up (unless you make a $250 contribution on the Indiegogo site, in which case you get a reserved spot). The doors open at 7:00, so it would be wise to get there promptly.

See related review here.

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