From CERN CMS The Cylindrical Onion: “Dark Matter: Music Meets Physics”

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CERN CMS

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is a general-purpose detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It has a broad physics programme ranging from studying the Standard Model (including the Higgs boson) to searching for extra dimensions and particles that could make up dark matter. Although it has the same scientific goals as the ATLAS experiment, it uses different technical solutions and a different magnet-system design.

The CMS detector is built around a huge solenoid magnet. This takes the form of a cylindrical coil of superconducting cable that generates a field of 4 tesla, about 100,000 times the magnetic field of the Earth. The field is confined by a steel “yoke” that forms the bulk of the detector’s 14,000-tonne weight.

An unusual feature of the CMS detector is that instead of being built in-situ like the other giant detectors of the LHC experiments, it was constructed in 15 sections at ground level before being lowered into an underground cavern near Cessy in France and reassembled. The complete detector is 21 metres long, 15 metres wide and 15 metres high.

The CMS experiment is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in history, involving 4300 particle physicists, engineers, technicians, students and support staff from 182 institutes in 42 countries (February 2014).

Music Meets Physics

March 22nd, 2018
Scott Wilson

Several years ago, my friend and collaborator Konstantinos Vasilakos approached me with an idea to develop a collaboration between CERN and our laptop group, the Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research. The idea was to develop ways of transforming data from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest particle accelerator – into electronic music and visuals, allowing us to hear and see the results of this cutting-edge research into the nature of the universe. This was under the auspices of art@CMS, an established international project for collaboration between art and science. They connected us with physicist Maurizio Pierini, who along with Kostas Nikolopoulos and Tom McCauley has served as physicist advisor and collaborator.

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In the original stages of the project, we worked with what is called live coding; essentially making music by writing computer programmes in real time. This is done in such a way that they can be re-written ‘on the fly’, while they are running. The physics data formed source material for our improvisations, and our goal was to explore the unique character of these particle collisions by rendering their salient aspects in sound, creating surprising results and challenging us as performers to respond musically. This evolved into a fruitful and ongoing project, leading most recently to this new work for orchestra, electronic sound, and video for Esprit. While not an improvisation, it uses similar approaches to produce orchestral material as well as electronic music. Working in SuperCollider (the environment we use with the ensemble, of which I’m an active developer), I developed initial sonifications which I then converted to musical notation. These formed the core material of the work, both in terms of orchestral writing and electronic sound. The orchestra parts consist both of music derived from these (in whole or in fragments), and a variety of responses to them, inspired by the fascinating musical characters they exhibited. In some sense this work must be intuitive: Particle collisions do not sound like anything, except as made audible through an algorithm which maps aspects of the event to sounds or musical materials.

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The visualizations posed a similar problem: We cannot see sub-atomic particles, as they are beyond that level of reality in which sight can be said to function; outside of the mechanisms which make ‘sight’ possible. All we can do is capture their traces, render their geometry. Many of the techniques historically utilized for this (the predecessors of today’s advanced particle accelerators) result in images which are beautiful and strange in their own right, and the mysterious tracks that can be seen in cloud chambers have been a powerful inspiration to me in this work.

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The completed piece is in three movements. The first, Clouds, is based around a melody derived from a single particle collision – a sort of slow-motion version of both that event and the accompanying electronic sound. The second, Particles, is based around different sonifications with unique musical characters, which inspire orchestral responses. The final movement, Tapestries, weaves together lines of music derived from different physics events into a rhythmic interplay, inspired by Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow’s words: “Tapestries are made by many artisans working together. The contributions of separate workers cannot be discerned in the completed work, and the loose and false threads have been covered over. So it is in our picture of particle physics.”

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See the full article here .

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