Hidden in Plain Sight: Hypermusic Prologue and the Art of Understanding

This week, Seed Magazine* provides a slideshow of photographs and audio excerpts from Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes, a multi-media opera co-authored by Harvard physicist Lisa Randall.  Through mathematically manipulated audio interfaces and staging sleight of hand created in tandem with set designer Matthew Ritchie, Randall and Spanish composer Hèctor Parra have sought to create a work of art that provides the audience with a synesthetic glimpse of the experience of higher spatial dimensions.  Like Randall’s book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, the opera is aimed, in part, at making current concepts in theoretical physics accessable to broader audiences.

Soprano Charlotte Ellett strives to understand higher dimensionality in a scene from Hypermusic Prologue. Photo copyright Aymeric Warme-Janville, via Seedmagazine.com.

Soprano Charlotte Ellett beholds a higher dimension in a scene from Hypermusic Prologue. Photo © Aymeric Warme-Janville, via Seedmagazine.com.

During the course of the hour-long performance which premiered at Centre Pompidou in June, characters debuted by soprano Charlotte Ellett and baritone James Bobby come to a series of revelations about the nature of physical reality, culminating in the direct apprehension of “another view” that’s “hidden yet true.”

Parra, who composed the score, is the son of a physicist and his prior works have been influenced by particle physics. For Hypermusic Prologue, he uses an array of intricately thought-out sounds and instrumentations to communicate warped spacetime, as well as to signal changes in energy, mass, time, and gravity.  As the soprano approaches a gravitationally strong part of the of the universe, for example, her voice is electronically treated to make her phrases shorter in mathematically precise increments and the orchestra matches this shorter phrasing.  As she enters a hidden fifth dimension, her voice gets louder and the music gets sonically richer, while Bobby’s voice—stuck in the lower-dimensional universe—remains digitally untreated and becomes softer and thinner.

I find the concept thrilling:  an unexpected return, of sorts, to a Dante-esque celestial reality drama whose likes we haven’t much seen in our culture since “science” first saw fit to divorce itself from “spirituality” (and vice versa)—which is to say, virtually all of modern history.  As I have often noted on this blog, as the frontiers of physics continue to push our conception of reality further into the realms previously occupied only by mystics, the pre-modern observations of the transcendentally-minded may be increasingly vindicated; so long as they are understood not as descriptions of a supernatural realm of literal gods and demons but as attempts to capture physical realities that were intuitively (or otherwise subjectively) perceived during visionary episodes but could not yet be described within the parameters of science.

Meanwhile, on Science Musings Blog, the lovable mind of Chet Raymo once again waxes poetic about the interface between science and meaning:

The poet Muriel Rukesyser got it exactly right when she said: “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Even atoms are stories we tell about the world, having first paid close attention to how the world works. The plays of Sophocles and the other Greek dramatists live on not because their authors were immortal, but because nature endures and their stories tell us something that rings true about enduring nature.

(*Via 3quarksdaily. Thanks to David for the gnosis, as usual.)

~ by emilypothast on August 16, 2009.

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