Fusing Music and Chemistry

June 22, 2012

steve everettChemical & Engineering News featured the composition of Professor of Music Steve Everett this week. The work turns the research of a chemical engineer and a chemist into sound.

“Overall, the results presented demonstrate the merits of considering plausible prebiotic polymer chemistries and environments that would have allowed for the rapid turnover of monomer resources and for regularly varying monomer/polymer diffusivities.”

On the face of it, that’s not art-inspiring prose, but the peer-reviewed journal article from which it came (Universal Sequence Replication, Reversible Polymerization and Early Functional Biopolymers: A Model for the Initiation of Prebiotic Sequence Evolution) was an important motivation for a multimedia performance called First Life, which “melds the strains of a string quartet with narration,” and imagines, in images and sound, the chemical origins of life, according to the article in Chemical & Engineering News

The Center for Chemical Evolution, which takes a chemical approach to studying the start of life on earth, was searching for an artist who could convey the very specific scientific findings in complex scientific papers through artistic presentations that made them intellectually accessible to wider audiences.

It found Steve Everett, a professor of music composition and computer music at Emory. In March, he premiered “First Life,” a fusion of music and chemistry. Several hundred people attended the opening. Two scientists affiliated with the center narrated the performance: Emory chemist David Lynn and Georgia Tech chemical engineer Martha Grover, who co-authored the paper. 

One of the primary goals of the center is to figure how life on earth emerged out of a chemical soup that coalesced nearly 4 billion years ago. “Molecules aren’t static. They’re vibrating, just like sound,” Everett said. “That’s one reason why music is an ideal way to create metaphors for this research.” He emphasized that the project represents the possibilities of what can be accomplished through interdisciplinary public scholarship.  

To read the article in Chemical & Engineering News, click here.

To read the peer-reviewed paper, click here.

—Steve Frandzel

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