Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Musical inspiration from CERN's Large Hadron Collider

Fascinating correlation this morning between an article in The Guardian about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and a script that I'm trying to finish exploring different interpretations of a notoriously elusive piece by Fauré: the Cello Sonata No.2, which dates from his 'Indian Summer' of 1921. 

The Higgs boson, says the article, is just the beginning. The Collider will be used in future to explore the substance of dark matter and the existence of other dimensions, which apparently should be detectable through the wave-like movement of particles and the way they respond to gravitational force. 
"The rules of quantum mechanics say that particles behave like waves, and as the LHC ramps up to higher energies the wavelengths of the particles it collides become ever shorter. When the wavelengths of the particles are small enough to match the size of the extra dimensions, they would suddenly feel gravity much more strongly.
"What you'd expect is that as you reach the right energy, you suddenly see inside the extra dimensions, and gravity becomes big and strong instead of feeble and weak," says [Andy] Parker [professor of high energy physics at Cambridge University]. The sudden extra pull of gravity would cause particles to scatter far more inside the machine, giving scientists a clear signal that extra dimensions were real.
Extra dimensions may separate us from realms of space we are completely oblivious to. "There could be a whole universe full of galaxies and stars and civilisations and newspapers that we didn't know about," says Parker. "That would be a big deal."
More here.

It was a mention earlier in the article of "looking for signs of the missing energy and momentum" that reminded me of Fauré's Cello Sonata No.2. The metronome marks mean that this piece is supposed to go like the clappers, but the fascinating paradox of it is that some recordings that meet the markings sound like they're trying to finish the Xmas shopping at 11.59pm on 24 December, while some that are slower simply let themselves fly. Finding the reasons for missing energy and momentum is key to detecting which performers know best how to bring this late-flowering of Fauréan genius to life.

And it's the way the performers uncover the work's hidden depths that makes all the difference. From some, you'd scarcely know they were there. Fauré can be like playing 'pass the parcel' - he wraps up his emotional kernel in many layers, and hides it, but you know it's there somewhere, and you need to find it, and if you don't find it then the piece won't work - but if you do find it, the worst thing to do is splash it all over the place. He's hidden it for a reason. If you make it too obvious, the energy dissipates and the music loses its gravity, in every sense. Whereas if you let the gravity become big and strong as you reach the right energy level, then maybe you can see inside the extra dimensions - and my goodness, there's a galaxy in there of feelings that you never suspected could lurk within the bounds of a rather short piece for two instruments. It's chock-full of stars. (Not sure about the newspapers, though.)

Here is the piece played by Maurice Gendron and Jean Francaix, just for argument's sake. To find out my further conclusions, and my final top choice, tune in to BBC Radio 3's CD Review 'Building a Library' in a couple of weeks' time (I'll put out an alert once I've double-checked the date).