Date: January 9, 2011

Title: Music in a Rational Universe


Podcaster: Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes

Organization: Project Calliope LLC –

Description: Can you mix astronomy with music, science with art, science fiction with real science? Sandy joins Matt and Hai-Ting of the podcast to delve into ‘music in a rational universe’.

Bio: Dr. Sandy brings you space science-y joy twice a week at, and is launching a personal science/music satellite at

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[Sandy] This is Dr Sandy Antunes at ProjectCalliope talking with the Scopes Monkey Choir podcasters, Matt and Hai-Ting. Hello there, Matt.

[Matt] Hi Sandy

[Sandy] And hi Hai-Ting.

[Hai-Ting] Hi Sandy.

[Sandy] So Scopes Monkey Choir, your tagline is ‘music in a rational universe’, I just love that sort of look at music as science without making it boring or technical.

[Matt] That’s exactly what we’re going for. We’re both musicians and we’re also both science buffs. We sort of… there’s always this feeling, especially in artistic communities, that there should be some sort of separation, that you know, it’s sort of the rational versus the emotional. So I suppose in a way we started this podcast to just address that question and say ‘no, you don’t have to separate them’, in fact, the separation of them is totally illusionary.

[Hai-Ting] Also, just personally in my life, I’ve found that, the more I find out scientifically about things, the cooler I think they are, and the more attached I get to them emotionally, and I don’t think that a lot of people get that experience because people are afraid of science and somehow afraid that understanding something will take away its mystery and therefore its wonder. We also noticed there are [sic] so much science out there, so many artists who use aspects of science in their work, or to make their work, as you are doing. I think maybe more visual artists, but lots of musicians as well, they use scientific or mathematical processes to create some aspect of their music. But we’re kind of doing the opposite, we’re delving into the actual scientific workings of all kinds of music and performance and sound and et cetera.

[Sandy] Well, that goes to, to me again, it does enrich the experience. The analysis that happened of Jackson Pollack paintings, they analyzed the fractal dimension, the amount of self-similarity in a mathematically way, and they found it was astoundingly high in his works, and it was not there in people who tried to copy his works or to mimic his style.

[Hai-Ting] Wow.

[Sandy] It wasn’t that he was intentionally saying “I am going to make something fractal”, but there was an underlying pattern there, like a rational underpinning leads to stronger art.

[Matt] Yep, I read about that, the Pollack analysis as well and, last time I saw a Pollack painting that I’m really fond of, I liked it even more. Knowledge does not subtract from…

[Hai-Ting] Enjoyment.

[Matt] Enjoyment.

[Sandy] Yes, you can say “I love this” or “I love this, and I know some of the reasons why.” I think knowing the reasons why makes a better case. Would you rather have someone that says “I love you, but I don’t know why” or someone that says “I love you, and I’m absolutely certain!”


[Sandy] For you two, what would your dream position be two years from now. For background, I did podcasts for 365 Days of Astronomy for 1 year and I found it was very tiring and I improved my podcast skills, but at the end of it, I didn’t have a plan for where to go next, other than continuing to help them by being a member. But I’m wondering if you have, like, higher aspirations on where you can go, with ‘music in a rational universe’.

[Matt] So we’re brand new and we’ve been really very happily surprised at the thousands of downloads we’ve gotten, but we really started this as just an excuse one a week to sit down and talk about music and science. And where it goes, we… do you have any fantasies?

[Hai-Ting] I actually have a secret evil plot.

[Matt] Aha!

[Hai-Ting] … That I have not told Matthew about. I am, as I’ve said, an opera singer or a classical singer. And I have been working for, vaguely for a number of years and in a more directed way now, on a project setting scientific texts to music and making a full-length multimedia (I guess is the simple way of describing it) show, that is, an evening of classical– of science set to music and movement. I am hoping that, one, the scientific community will help contribute text and ideas and off the cuff fact checking and things like that to my text, and also that they will eventually be interested as an audience in what I’m doing. It’s my way of trying to disseminate science education in a fun and beautiful way, and also to reach out to the scientific community and kind of reflect back to them how beautiful I think their work is, and the wonder in science. So I’m hoping eventually to give performances of pieces of this at some of the scientific conventions like Nexus and maybe TAMM. This is my secret plot here. And also, as I said, to take advantage of the vast community, the communal resource in shaping this show.

[Sandy] That should be brilliant. So many people in astronomy and space science that I know are also musicians on the side. Either just, you know, playing Chopin on the piano or in many cases doing things like forming a capella groups to sing science songs. I’m sure you’re going to get huge amounts of support from the science community on that.

[Hai-Ting] Yes, already whenever I’ve reached out, I’ve gotten great enthusiasm back and it’s really exciting.

[Matt] I guess this sort of goes back to an earlier point we made, but there has been for a years now, a fair number of musicians and artists incorporating science into their work. But one of the things that has always gotten our goat and perhaps another thing we’re trying to address by sort of going public with our love of science in the artistic community, is that a lot of times, when artists incorporate science, they get the science wrong. Or they take an idea from science, especially

[Matt & Hai-Ting] quantum mechanics

[Matt] and string theory and things like that, they take the ideas and then run with them and go to ridiculous places. By putting it into an artistic framework, supposedly it’s okay to. But for us, it’s not right because it’s just, [sighs] as I’m sure you know, disseminating incorrect ideas about science is way, way too common, and that needs to be battled as well. So, our attempts at integrating science into art is very much, we’re intent on keeping the science… true. [laughs]

[Sandy] Well, good science fiction will usually just break one thing, but then once you that that one thing, you say ‘and this happens and this happens’, and if you read in a book or watch it in a movie, you’re like “that’s exactly how it would go.”

[Matt] Yeah, no, it will, but that’s also why science fiction, when it’s done well, it sort of skirts around the problem, because it’s sort of built in, the very idea is that we’re going to play with the science, we’re going to make some stuff up, but it’s clearly fictional. I don’t know, somehow when it’s done well, it mannages to skirt around the problem of offending science and ends up supporting it.

[Sandy] Entertainment as a whole, I think they have to know, when are they being rational and when are they being irrational, whether or not it’s science or not. We can only take so much irrationality before we disconnect from the characters and the story.

[Matt] Yep, well said.

[Sandy] Okay, well, thank you for time.

[Hai-Ting] Thank you very much for your time, it’s been great talking to you, and I look forward to hearing what Calliope sends down.

[Matt] Great! It was great talking to you Sandy.

[Sandy] It was great talking with you two.

[Matt] Alright. Bye bye!

[Hai-Ting] Bye bye!

[Sandy] Bye bye. This is Dr Sandy Antunes at ProjectCalliope with the Scopes Monkey Choir podcasters, Matt and Hai-Ting.

End of podcast:

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