Beautiful Questions

Music and Cosmology explore the fundamental questions of the early universe

On Wednesday, April 26, Music of Reality presented a multidisciplinary event exploring the unanswered questions of cosmology through music and lectures by Harvard Cosmologist Dr. Cora Dvorkin. 

Dr. Dvorkin's work studies the cosmic microwave background through data-driven analysis to uncover the physics of inflation, dark matter, and primordial gravitational waves. 

We invite you to explore the concert program in web form, and the watch lectures, and performances by pianist Sophia Vastek, the Transient Canvas ensemble, and the Table Manners DJs.

Beauty From Nothing by David Ibbett, performed by Sophia Vastek

Beauty From Nothing by David Ibbett, performed by Sophia Vastek

Beauty from Nothing* 

Where does beauty come from? Did we invent it, or was it always here - a property of the universe?

As you read this, cosmologists and particle physicists are drawing closer and closer to an explanation of our beginnings: how the universe transitioned from nothing into something. These discoveries are thrilling to follow, but what is their connection to our everyday experience? We live in a world of values - love, truth, beauty - did these also come into being in an instant? Perhaps, in the interaction of quantum chaos and physical laws, the seeds of beauty can be found.

- David Ibbett


* EP Version - visit the EP Page

Heat Death by Jason Charney, performed by pianist Sophia Subbayya Vastek

Heat Death*

It's unknown how our universe will end, but one hypothesis is the "heat death" – long after all the stars die out, energy released from the Big Bang will have dissipated evenly across the universe, creating an expanse of cold, diffuse matter.

- Jason Charney


* work commissioned for this concert by Music of Reality


CMB 52121*

CMB 52121 by Stefanie Lubkowski (performed by the composer) 

This is the first piece I have written using extra-musical data and it is amazing to me how much beauty there can be in phenomena that on the surface may seem monotonous. While the sound of the Cosmic Microwave Background is itself not musically interesting, the power spectrum data renders an interesting shape. Using the salient data points in the graph allowed me to derive everything in the piece, from the pitch material to the placement of the sounds, from the CMB sample while at the same time creating sonically satisfying music.

I used the maximum and minimum data points in the power spectrum graph as frequencies for filtering the CMB audio sample, and to generate tones using a basic waveform generator. I then layered the resulting sounds according to time points derived from the same power spectrum graph data. “52121” refers to the first digits in the sequence of data points I used in generating the piece. The resulting soundscape is much like that of the ambient electronica that has been a consistent influence on both my acoustic and electronic work.

- Stefanie Lubkowski

* work commissioned for this concert by Music of Reality

Radiant Sky - Robert Honstein performed by Sophia Subbayya Vastek and David Ibbett 

Radiant Sky*

A vast expanse, 

our beginnings scattered across the horizon, 

a faint noise eternally pulsing, 

cosmic static carried on waves of time through a sea of eternity. 

- Robert Honstein


* work commissioned for this concert by Music of Reality


fzzl fuses the acoustic and electronic by using a small transducer attached to the bottom of the snare drum allowing electronic sounds to resonate through the drum. Though initially ‘noisy’, due to the wide frequency content of the metallic snares, the drum’s resonant frequencies are gradually discovered though a process of playful exploration.

- Dan Van Hassel

fzzl - Dan VanHassel, performed by Matt Sharrock, percussionist

Wave Figment 1a - Mischa Salkind-Pearl performed by pianist Sophia Subbayya Vastek

wave figment 1a*

wave figment 1a is the first of a planned set of solos with sine wave. The piece approaches metaphorically the phenomenon of Cosmic Microwave Background, specifically in its qualities of purity and fluctuation, which can perhaps be seen as antithetical. A rising tone throughout points to an unreached goal.

- Mischa Salkind-Pearl


* work commissioned for this concert by Music of Reality

Surfing Cosmic Radio Waves by Mary Kouyoumdjian, performed by Sophia Vastek and David Ibbett

Surfing Cosmic Radio Waves*

Surfing Cosmic Radio Waves integrates both recordings of the cosmic microwave background, recorded as radio waves by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs in 1964, and a sonification of the background, provided by Music of Reality collaborators Dr. Matthew Kleban and Dr. David Ibbett. I was interested in the pitch drones found in both of these recordings, and how that might relate to my own influences of Armenian folk music. The piano performs over the drones and emulates the sound of an Armenian kanon, a plucked string instrument in the zither family.

- Mary Kouyoumdjian

* work commissioned for this concert by Music of Reality

Table Manners DJs - Ode to the Cosmos

Ode to the Cosmos is a turntablist's reinterpretation of sounds and samples from the universe, including sonifications of the cosmic microwave background and samples from David Ibbett’s Beauty From Nothing.