The global institute in Swiss marking its 60th anniversary has released a video playing harps and violins beside the huge particle accelerator where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2013, in a process known as sonification of scientific data collected by the Large Hadron Collider.
Sonfication works by assigning a musical note to each measurement created by experiments, so that the same data is presented as a musical score.
Developed by Domenico Vicinanza, an arts manager at the European education network GEANT, it was meant as a metaphor for scientific display in an arts form. “When I wrote this piece, I hoped it would be be a metaphor for scientific collaboration; to demonstrate the vast and incredible effort these projects represent – often between hundreds of people across many different continents,” he said.
“And just as the magic happens when the instruments are playing together: the music played by each single players is the foundation for the others. Each give strength to all the other, new light and new colours are appearing. Exactly the same process that occurs every day when people collaborate over scientific research.”
The musical scores are based on the sonification of data obtained by four detectors – ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb – during the Large Hadron Collider run 2010-2013. The video shows each musical piece performed individually and as an ensemble by CERN’s very own researchers; the music was played in the four experimental caverns and in the CERN Control Centre (CCC) and features a harp, a guitar, two violins, a keyboard, a clarinet and a flute.
“Recording in situ presented a few challenges” says Piotr Traczyk – CMS physicist, guitar player and the film editor of LHChamber Music – “the Control Centre can be very busy and it was a challenge to limit background noise in some of the areas but this adds to the authenticity of the project and gives a real feel for the origin of the experimental data” he adds.
Vicinanza, from DANTE in Cambridge UK, collaborated with CERN and created the compositions by transposing data obtained from ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb. Paola Catapano, the director of the film, came up with the original idea for the project as part of her contribution to CERN’s 60th birthday celebrations.
Catapano wanted to have scientists play sonified data from their own experiments in the experimental caverns. The parts could then be weaved together to create a multi layered musical piece. “On their own, the pieces differ greatly from each other but when blended together they really work” comments Traczyk.
The resulting video is a perfect metaphor of scientific collaboration and shows how we can combine different experiments to help us understand the universe in a more complete way.
Domenico has previously worked on sonification of data projects, including the transformation of data from NASA’s Voyager dual missions (link is external) as well as a more recent project for CERN’s 60th anniversary based on the sonification of the CERN Convention that established the organization 60 years ago. The European Union Youth Orchestra (link is external), directed by Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, performed this at CERN’s anniversary ceremony on 29 September.