Musical molecules

Music created from movements of tiny particles

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Brownian motion is perhaps not something to set musicians’ hearts a-flutter, but a new piece has been created at the University of Sheffield from the random movement of molecules (which, as you’ll remember from your school days, is what Brownian motion is all about).

Scale Structure Synthesis is a collaboration between scientist Jonathan Howse and artist Mark Fell, and is produced from the ‘sounds’ of eight polystyrene particles, each one tracked separately and linked to its own loudspeaker. The distance of the particle’s movement defines the pitch of the note, with the angle of its movement changing the timbre of the sound.

‘The piece we’re doing could be thought of as quite confrontaitional,’ said Fell. ‘It’s not nice, drifty, atmospheric kind of soundscapes; it’s quite pure, resonant, frequencies. Aesthetically it could be quite challenging.’

Howse sees Scale Structure Synthesis as a chance to demystify a world rarely glimpsed by the public. ‘These things we’re looking at are really, really small and you don’t interact with them, you only ever see them down the end of a microscope,’ he said. ‘Making something bigger with it will be quite interesting.’

Scale Structure Synthesis has its premiere at the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind which begins today.