Saturday, June 6, 2009

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] artists and atoms: fission and fusion

Dear Yasminers,

Thank you Roger and Guillermo for inviting me to be one of the discussants.

As a composer and sound technologist, I would like to illustrate some
aspects of how post-war avant-garde and contemporary experimental music was
greatly influenced by atomic bombs, nuclear physics and nuclear issues in
general, responding with profound aesthetical developments in music creation
and practice.

At that time, there was intense interest by musicians in the discovery and
analysis of the internal structure of sounds, the inherent continuum between
rhythm, pitch, and acoustic energy, and in bold, decisive crossing of new
perceptual time scale boundaries in music practice. Music and physics
became almost indistinguishable for some composers. They invented synthetic
"sound particles" analogous to those of particle physics and "microsound
composition," the art of composing with sound particles, developing many new
technologies, such as granular synthesis (Dennis Gabor) and grainlet

In a different but parallel vein, composer and mathematician Iannis Xenakis
in his "Formalized Music" proposed microcomposition based on stochastic
processes. I think this too demonstrates inspiration from the quantum world
of nuclear physics. One of his methods referred to pressure-time space (as
in air pressure received by the eardrum). About it he judiciously wrote:
"It is necessary to limit untimely growth of these pressures as they could
otherwise equal those of the atomic bomb."

In light of what has been said in this discussion about fission quickly
becoming interpreted as negative, I think it is interesting to note that
even music or sound can used as a weapon (LRAD for ex., In his "Music and Ideology in Cold War Europe,"
composer Louis Saguer claims that composers wanted to pursue "a purely
technological path holding the possession of a new compositional system like
that of an atomic secret." Incidentally, Xenakis founded the Center for
Musical Mathematics and Automation which was granted official recognition by
the French government in 1970 and was housed in the Centre de Recherche
Nucléaire of the Collège de France!

John Adams' 2005 opera "Doctor Atomic" ( is
about Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb at Los
Alamos. This is quite unrelated to the above in its approach, as it
explores characters and personalities in an operatic setting, but is
nevertheless a powerful social statement.

I believe the beginning of this new century may be even richer in arts and
atoms technology developments. I agree with Patrick that there should be an
artist-in-residence program at ITER.


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