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Communicating Science with Music: SXSW EDU 2023

Alyssa Schwartz performing at Carnegie Hall

SXSW EDU (pronounced South by Southwest E-D-U) is an annual event that fosters innovation and learning within the education industry. This year the event will be held in Austin, Texas from March 6 to 9, 2023.

On March 9, GÉANT Senior Research Engagement Officer and music composer, Domenico Vicinanza, will be joined on stage by flute professor Alyssa Schwartz, professional concert flutist from Fairmont State University. On stage, Alyssa will be playing live the sonification that Domenico will create using the EGI Cloud notebooks, turning data into sounds and melodies across the GÉANT network. Read the synopsis of the performance on the event’s website.

This performance is proof of how technology – and networking in particular – is changing the way music is created, shared, and accessed, making it a tool for science communication. In this context, the research and education networking community has a unique role. There is no better time to be in education: the most advanced network technology, the fastest, highest quality links are those created by and for research and education, for the benefit of millions of students and researchers worldwide. The community is at the forefront of delivering the best technology available to the largest, most diverse, transversal community.

The world premiere of the piece for solo flute is an example that not only science can be communicated through music, but music can be created with the science. The melody was composed using plasma data from the Voyager 1 Spacecraft, collected daily inside the solar system, across the heliopause – the transition region between the inside and outside of the region of influence of the sun – and in the interstellar space. The scientific part of the sonification has been processed on the GÉANT network.

A snapshot of the melody

The piece has three sections. A smooth melody line, played “legato”, using the low, darker register of the flute, describing the data at the border of the solar system, still inside the heliosphere; a short transition phase, from the low to the high register of the flute, played staccato; and a melody in the high register, that incorporates higher intervals, modulations, atonality, rests, and played with a mix of techniques, describing the interstellar space.

You can listen to the second section of the melody clip of the melody below.

To simplify, waves are turned into music, but if you are interested in learning more about the physics science behind it, read this article on NASA’s website:

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