IN: Reviews

Synesthesia to the Nth Degree


Museum of Science, Boston image

The Black Hole Symphony pulled us into its sweeping vortex under the dome of the Charles Haydn Planetarium last night as composer David Ibbett conducted the world premiere of his entrancing and immersive journey through spacetime. Harvard-Smithsonian Center Astrophysics (CFA) and Black Hole Initiative collaborated with the musicians of the Multiverse Concert Series. for the Boston Museum of Science and Multiverse as electro-symphonic composer David Ibbett has sonified the light of black hole galaxies into a dramatic electro-symphonic score set to immersive 3-D visuals; it repeats on July 28 and August 25.

The composer-conductor together with his live musicians, sound engineer and a team of scientific experts led an unfolding story of supermassive black holes as engines of gravity, light, and creation by explaining the journey through nine cosmic milestones and then underscoring the images on the dome.

Anna Barnacka from the Harvard CFA, the overall scientific lead, explained that a black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. According to the general theory of relativity, it starts existing when spacetime gets curved by a huge mass. There is a sphere around the black hole. If something gets inside the sphere, it cannot leave. A black hole is black because it absorbs all the light that hits it. It reflects nothing. The Hubble telescope revealed that there are more than a billion galaxies with at least one black hole inside.

Galactic images summoned up an otherworldly musical introduction that combined pre-recorded electric sound, violin, cello, flute and electric guitar.

Dan Schwartz from Harvard CFA introduced X-Ray Sky with Jessica Smith on her piccolo.

Relativistic Jets: Cosmic tornados or jets of plasma (intoned by Matt Russo on his electric guitar) approach the speed of light — a cosmic laser is launched from the heart of the galaxy, beaming radiation to the distant universe. Mojegan Azadi from Harvard CFA led through this part of the universe.

Heart of the Galaxy:  Jets emanated from the center of the galaxy, and gleams of stars became visible. Silicate grains of torus form the accretion disc emanated light with twisting x-rays. In order to display the full range of sounds, the orchestra alternated cords of narration between French horn, guitar and strings.

Dust Torus visualized and intonated the structure around a black hole that surrounds a galaxy’s inner region to the sound of Orchestrated through a melody by the French Horn and underlined by string tremolo.

Broad Line Clouds: Superheated pulses of light from a source within, evoked by violin and guitar to Martin Elvis’s explanation.

Raja Palanimurugan photo

Accretion Disk produced intense light of a quasar that outshines all stars in the galaxy, which summoned up a musical arpeggio by the strings and pizzicato and colorful sparks from the piccolo.

Dance of the Merging Black Holes showed two black holes dancing around each other and formed a larger one. Sounds came from a trombone which stretched and pressed as orbits speed up; the black holes merged and rang down and grew larger.

Waves Coming Home proved that Einstein (who played the violin) was right: gravitational waves to resonate through spacetime, here intonated by xylophones.

Lights Will Be Shown found soprano Agnes Coakley Cox singing a song and poem by David Ibbett to music reminiscent of Henryk Gorecki’s Sorrowful Songs. Here the singer impersonates the sound of the universe, journeying from physics to meaning.

Over the course of the evening, we plunged into deep space, rode relativistic jets of plasma, toured a dense dust torus and broad-line clouds before reaching the blazing accretion disk on the event horizon of a supermassive black hole. Somehow science and music illuminated the wonders of the larger cosmos within that seemingly microcosmic dome…transparent to time and distance.

Stephanie Oestreich works in the life science industry and conducted her PhD in the lab of a Nobel Prize winner at Harvard Medical School. She frequently performs as violinist and conducts workshops with orchestras, demonstrating the similarities between teams and leadership in music and management.

Comments Off on Synesthesia to the Nth Degree