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Music of the muons

30 August 2019
Subatomic Desire

Swiss composer Alexandre Traube and the Genevan video-performer Silvia Fabiani have collaborated to form music and dance troupe Les Atomes Dansants, with the aims of using CMS data to explore the links between science and art, and of establishing a dialogue between Eastern and Western culture. Premiering their show Subatomic Desire at CERN’s Globe of Science and Innovation on 21 June during Geneva’s annual Fête de la Musique, they took the act to the detector that served as their muse by performing in the hangar above the CMS experiment.

Muon tracks from W, Z and Higgs events served as inspiration for Traube, who was advised by CMS physicist Chiara Mariotti of INFN. He began by associating segments of the CMS’s muon system to notes. Inspired by the detectors’ arrangement as four nested dodecagons, he assigned a note from the chromatic scale to each of the 12 sides of the innermost layer, and to each note a sonorous perfect fourth above to the corresponding segment in the outer layer. Developing an initial plan to also link the intermediate two layers of the muon system to specific frequencies, he associated two intermediate microtonal notes to the transverse momentum and rapidity of the tracks. At several moments during the performance the musicians improvise using the resulting four-note sequences: an expression of quantum indeterminacy, according to Traube. Fabiani’s video projections add to the surreal atmosphere by transposing the sequences into colours, with an animation of bullets referencing the Russian Second World War navy shells that were used to build the CMS’s hadronic calorimeter.

Clad in lab coat, Einstein wig and reversed baseball cap, Doc MC Carré raps formulas and boogies around the stage

In concert with the audiovisual display, three performers sing about their love for the microcosm. Clad in lab coat, Einstein wig and reversed baseball cap, Doc MC Carré (David Charles) raps formulas and boogies around the stage. He is accompanied by Doc Lady Emmy, played by the soprano Marie-Najma Thomas, and Poète Atomique – the Persian singer Taghi Akhabari – who peppers the performance with mystical extracts from Sufi poets Rûmi and Attâr, and medieval German abbess Hildegard of Bingen, each of whom explores themes of the natural world in their writings. The performers contend that the lyrics speak about desire as the fuel for everything at the micro- and macroscale. Elaborate, contemporary and rich in metaphors, this is an experience that some will find abstruse but others will love.

Subatomic Desire will next be performed in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on 14 September.

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