marco nardelli send us these thoughts in response to the questions !
Super short bio: Marco Nardelli
I am a University Distinguished Research Professor at the University
of North Texas, a computational materials physicist, a composer,
flutist and a member of iARTA, the Initiative for Advanced Research in
Technology and the Arts. My music has been premiered, among others, by
the New York Miniaturist Ensemble, London's C.O.M.A. group, the
Accessible Contemporary Music ensemble of Chicago, the Raleigh Civic
Chamber Orchestra, GaTech's Sonic Generator, ICMC and the NOVA
Ensemble. I am a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the
Institute of Physics, a founding member of the AFLOW Consortium and a
Parma Recordings artist.
1- what is your background as a scientist? In the arts, design or
As a scientist, my research activities are focused on the application
of ab initio electronic structure techniques to the theoretical study
of important aspects of the physics of materials. Current research
programs in my group focus on various aspects in the fields of
computational materials and high performance simulations, such as:
materials and processes for energy and environment applications,
nano-catalysis, molecular electronics at the nanoscale and quantum
electronic and thermal transport in molecules and molecular materials;
design of novel electronic devices; physics and chemistry at
interfaces and surfaces; theoretical developments of ab initio
DFT-based methods, high-throughput techniques in materials genomics
and computational materials design. My group is a member of the AFLOW
consortium, a distributed materials genome properties repository from
high-throughput ab-initio calculation, and one of the representative
members of the QUANTUM ESPRESSO Foundation, a foundation that fosters
and supports the design, implementation, maintenance, and free
dissemination of high-quality, high-performance open-source scientific
software for ab-initio quantum numerical modeling of materials.
As for my arts background, I have been a musician and a composer well
before I become a physicist and materials scientist. I started to
study music at a very young age and I have been always fascinated by
the connections between music and mathematics. Actually, thanks to the
teachings of my first mentor, Mo. Pablo Colino at the Accademia
Filarmonica Romana in Rome, Italy, I actually learned to spell my
first notes as numbers. Over the years I never abandoned this broad
perspective and I used it in many of my compositions. One example is
"Tzolk'in", a piece for three marimbas entirely based on the structure
of the Mayan calendar. The composition exploits the interlocking
structure of the Tzolk'in calendar, where 20 melodic units are
superimposed to 13 different meter regions, creating a cycle where
pitch and rhythmic structures follow each other for 260 four-beat
units for a total duration of 13 min. This piece, which won a
honorable mention at the II Louisiana State University Percussion
Society's Percussion Ensemble Composition Contest and first prize in
the Volta Trio composition competition in 2010, is indeed very
mathematical! You can actually watch a full performance of the piece
here http://ermes.unt.edu/tzolkin.htm. However, I would say that my
most recent project , materialssoundmusic, is definitely a high point
of my quest of merging music, mathematics and science in a coherent
2- when and how did you become involved in a hybrid art/science practice?
As I mentioned above, I have always been interested in all aspects of
music and science (I have also developed a course on the Physics of
Music), but the turning point recently has been the design,
development and realization of my project materialssoundmusic (at
www.materialssoundmusic.com). materialssoundmusic is a new
computer-aided data-driven composition (CADDC) environment based on
the sonification and remix of scientific data streams. Sonification of
scientific data, i.e. the perceptualization of information through
acoustic means, not only provides a useful alternative and complement
to visual data representation, but provides also the raw data for
potential artistic remixes and further musical interpretation. The
materialssoundmusic project starts with the sonification of the
materials property data from the online computational materials
science repository AFLOWLIB.org. Databases such AFLOWLIB.org are of
enormous scientific and technological value because they provide the
materials scientists with complete compilations of materials
properties that can be used for materials discovery, development and
rational design. The initial process of sonification provides an
abstract representation of the data that can be used for navigation
and data mining of the database on scientific grounds. From there, the
data stream is open for elaboration as principal element of a
data-driven compositional environment.
3- what have been the major obstacles to overcome?
I am not sure about obstacles so far, but I can see obstacles ahead.
And as it happens, all boils down to funding. I have ideas that will
cost money to realize (see the Crystal Gallery, below), and as far as
I know there is very limited funding to support art and science
initiatives. I always try to have a paragraph or two in my proposals
where I talk about data sonification (the scientific aspect of my
musical work). But it is very little… As a community we have to rally
behind major funding agencies and demonstrate that art and science
project have an intrinsic value that should be supported.
4- what have been the greatest opportunities/breakthroughs?
I think that the greatest opportunity has been the realization that
notwithstanding the impact of materials science in our everyday lives,
the appreciation of the general public for this particular aspect of
science and technology is quite feeble, and the interest on materials
and their properties is not receiving the curiosity and engagement
that they deserve. We are familiar with the intricacies and vastness
of the universe but we give little thought to the universe of
processes that happen constantly inside the materials that surround us
and on which we depend for almost everything. Part of the reason is
that over millennia we have developed a familiarity with celestial
objects, seen as obeying mathematical and musical laws, and we have
embodied a synergy between the scientific and artistic interpretation
of our universe. A similar concept has never existed for the world of
materials. materialssoundmusic is meant to engage and educate the
public on the inner reality of crystalline structures and materials
properties via a range of art and science collaborations originating
from the sonification of materials property data and their use in
musical composition. These compositions are meant to provide an
immersive experience when they are embedded in installations like the
Crystal Galleries (see figure below). You can hear one of these
soundscapes in my piece "EleKtrIoN (music of diamond)"
[soundcloud.com/materialssoundmusic/elektrion-I]. While EleKtrIoN is a
relatively faithful representation (or sonification) of the electronic
structure data of diamond, in other compositions I use the materials
data much more freely, as a sculptor would use clay (the raw data) to
mold any object or create any design. These compositions, like
"Contrappunto" (for player piano and electronics)
[soundcloud.com/materialssoundmusic/contrappunto], "Ricercare" (for
flute, player piano, electronics and live data stream)
[soundcloud.com/materialssoundmusic/ricercare] "Amargosa Triptych" (for piano),
and "Music for 88 keys (to Conlon Nancarrow, in memoriam)" for player
piano and electronics
are the result of this personal compositional approach and would be
ideal candidates for performance in one of my Crystal Galleries.
Conceptual drawing for Crystal Gallery #1 based on the geometry and
electronic structure of Diamond. The electron densities (plastic
balloons) are the results of Density Functional Theory calculations on
the AFLOWLIB database entry C1_ICSD_52054. These are the same data
that have been used for creating the composition EleKtrIoN.
5- what would you do differently, knowing then what you know now?
This is hard to say. Probably nothing, or maybe small things here and
there. Being both a musician and a scientist gives me a great freedom
and independence. I know both realms quite well (at least in my
respective fields) and I do not have to depend on anybody else, if I
so choose. This is a great advantage.
6- any advices to someone who may want to walk in your footstep?
Just follow your passion. Without passion there is no Science and no Art.
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