Stellar Performance as Student Whips up a Musical Solar Storm

Posted on Thursday 15th May 2008

A student has composed a piece of music inspired by a physics lecture given at the University of Birmingham Science Festival, which will be performed tomorrow by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Tamasine Leighton-Crawford, has composed the planetary piece, Chink of Light, after witnessing a lecture given by Dr Somak Raychaudhury about what the universe is made of, in which he referred to exploding stars in distant galaxies at the far end of the Universe

Tamasine, a student ambassador at the University, witnessed the astronomy lecture as she was showing a group of 14/15 year olds around campus as part of the Science Festival, a day aimed at raising aspirations towards the sciences.

Tamasine explains: “I was fascinated by the telescopic images and wanted to integrate the ideas I subsequently formed into a musical composition so I started doing some further research. I looked at the NASA website where I found recordings of solar wind and radio emissions from Earth, Jupiter and Saturn, and I began to hear the foundations of the piece. When I read an article on the website describing the drone pitch of B flat that resonated from the black hole in the Perseus Cluster, this became the fundamental pitch for Chink of Light.”

The cosmic compilation expresses recent scientific discoveries about the universe through contemporary music. Non-pitched sounds in the woodwind and brass are complemented by different percussion instruments to produce the noise element. The ‘chink of light’ is revealed in the final section of the piece through clusters of pitches high up in the Harmonic Series on B flat in the brass juxtaposed with cluster chords from the Harmonic Series on B natural in the upper strings.

Dr Raychaudhury, who delivered the inspirational lecture, said: “I am thrilled that my lecture inspired the piece. Astronomy provides some of the most stunning images from outside our sphere of daily experience. Historically astronomical images have provoked great compositions from Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ to KT Tunstall’s ‘Eye to the Telescope’ album and I am really looking forward to hearing Tamasine’s interpretation.”

The profound connection between contemporary music and current science has recently been investigated through the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group Resonance Project; a collaboration between scientists at the University of Birmingham and composers, during which string quartets were written for young people inspired by NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) Spectroscopy – the art of using powerful magnets to allow scientists to ‘hear’ the individual ‘voice’ of each atom.

Chink of Light will be performed in a workshop by the BCMG, conducted by Peter Wiegold, on Friday 16th May at CBSO Centre.

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Further media information  – Tamasine Leighton-Crawford and Dr Somak Raychaudhury are available for interview. Please call Anna Mitchell on 0121 414 6029 / 07920 593946.