Science and music collide in “Black Hole Symphony” at the Science Museum


Black holes are the most massive gravitational engines in the universe, but what most of us probably know about them could fit in a thimble. A new collaboration of music, art and science through the Multiverse Concert Series offers the opportunity to learn much more about these mysteries of the cosmos. As part of the Museum of Science’s Summer Thursdays series, “Black Hole Symphony” will premiere to a sold-out crowd June 23 (additional performances July 28 and August 25) at the Charles Hayden Planetarium. Featuring original live music composed by Multiverse concert series founder David Ibbett, the new show features research conducted by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and experts from the Black Hole Initiative at the University of Harvard, with visuals designed by the MOS planetarium team.

“It’s a beautiful and wonderful immersive experience that really takes everyone on a journey and allows people to get closer to a black hole than they ever imagined,” says James Monroe, Producer of Adult Programs. and theater experiences from the museum. “Even though there is a lot of mystery surrounding black holes, we know a lot about them, and I’m thrilled that the public will come and discover these objects that have fascinated the world so much.”

Three years in the making, the multimedia project was conceived by Ibbett after a conversation with Harvard astrophysicist Anna Barnacka. “We started talking about black holes, and there’s so much more out there beyond this void that we think about,” Ibbett says. “They radiate incredible energy and are at the center of every galaxy.” He calls them “gravity in its most extreme and wacky form”.

Black holes seemed like an ideal subject for his Multiverse Concert Series, a nonprofit collaboration of musicians, artists, and scientists launched in 2017 to create immersive multimedia experiences that spark wonder and curiosity about science. . As a composer and visiting professor at Berklee College of Music and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Ibbett has found in the universal language of music a particularly effective way to share the wealth of scientific discoveries. “Music has this special way of engaging the whole person — the mind, the ears, the emotions,” he says. “I believe the sonic and emotional power of music can help tell us about the world we live in, in a language that can reach large groups of people.”

Originally from Coventry, England, and the son of a research chemist, Ibbett was not scientifically trained, but childhood visits to his father’s laboratory sparked a curiosity for scientific research. After earning a doctorate in composition with a major in electronic music, Ibbett moved to Boston eight years ago and started the nonprofit Multiverse to combine his love of music and science in the performing Arts. So far he and the organization’s projects have focused on fluid dynamics, coral bleaching and subatomic neutrinos – Ibbett was the first guest composer at the Fermilab Accelerator and Particle Physics Laboratory.

To create music for the 42-minute “Black Hole Symphony,” Ibbett transformed frequencies of light into sound waves based on the electromagnetic spectrum of an active galaxy containing a supermassive black hole. “Inside, you can separate the frequencies to see the ‘color’ of each component, from the torus of dust and broad-lined clouds to the relativistic jets of plasma and the blazing accretion disk,” explains he. “Although these frequencies are too widespread to visualize, we can listen to them by mapping the light frequencies onto sound waves, which become the musical notes of a ‘black hole chord’.” Orchestrating his symphony for chamber orchestra and electronics, he composed a work fusing classical and electronic styles, with special themes for different characteristics of the black hole.

Ibbett’s goal is to deliver a science experiment “in the moment, using as much data as possible to be accurate and using music and visualization to be immersive, touching the ear and the mind.” You will feel some of the frequencies going through the ground. I hope it will be an emotionally powerful and intellectually rewarding experience.

The project marks the first large-scale collaboration that Monroe’s adult programming production team has created with outside partners. “What I love about the Multiverse Concert Series is that they merge art, science, and technology in unique ways to provide entry points to these complex STEM topics,” Monroe says, “ so everyone can engage in those conversations and learn.”

The show was created for touring — with live music or a pre-packaged version using recorded sound — and Monroe says other museums and planetariums across the country have expressed interest in engagements after this world premiere. summer. “I’m confident it will have a life outside of Boston and return commitments here as well,” he says. “David’s work as a composer is incredibly beautiful, and it’s such a unique fusion where every element is rooted in scientific research, which is unique in this field. It’s changing the landscape of science communication, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

Black Hole Symphony, June 23 (sold out), reruns July 28 and August 25, 7.30 p.m., Science Museum, 1 Science Park. $20,

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