Skylife is a celebration of curiosity. It is the climax of the album before the more reflective coda. This piece has an anthem rock groove and, for me, betokens the joy of discovery and the optimism of what the future could hold.
For the entire project, I chose a pallet of acoustic instruments (trumpet, trombone and saxophone) to represent the human presence, represented visually by a circle, and electronic instruments (synths, laser harp, tenori on, tesla coil etc.) to represent technology, visually represented by a square.
Prof Winfried Hensinger
This track takes the theme from the Prologue, altered slightly, and this time played on the saxophone. The middle section features a development of the original melody, harmonised by a computer. I wrote a program for a Raspberry Pi computer with the simple rules of drop 2 and 3 harmonisation and let it loose on the melody. The band play the line generated by the computer, which means that this piece was co-written by a human and a computer.
Prologue – Setting the scene
The Hello_World project is the story of the gentrification of technology, which has taken place over the last 40 or so years. I wanted to explore both new and emerging science, how humans are interacting with technology in the 21st century and how it is affecting us all.
The project was largely inspired by the work of Dr Aleks Krotoski with her book Untangling the Web and her BBC radio show, The Digital Human, and BBC TV series Virtual Revolution.
This work is about curiosity, so I felt compelled to talk to as many people who live, work and breath the topics I was investigating.
This track includes the Phantom Word Audio Illusion sounds first discovered by Diana Deutsch where the brain can be manipulated to “hear” words and phrases that aren’t really there. These sounds represent the state of a quantum computer (where both 0 and 1 coexist at the same time).
With thanks to; Tamar Osborn, Titch Walker, Emma Bassett, Ben Handysides, Santiago Morales, Ollie Weston, Geoff Southall, Adrian Woodward, Steve Pretty Ardee Arollado (Keroberzo Manga), Aleks Krotoski, Helen Czerski, James Randi, Winfried Hensinger, The Estate of the late Richard Feynman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Libby Jackson, Jim Al Khalili, Marcus Du Sautoy, Anna Ploszajski, Gemma Church, Isla Cummings, The Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) Singapore, LucasFilm, Alaska Studios, Livingstone Studios London, Ascape Studios Kent UK.
For any information regarding 1201-Alarm and the Hello_World project, please contact Steve Thompson email@example.com
Dr Krotoski has been a huge influence on the Hello_World project. I first discovered her work in 2010, exploring the genesis of the internet and how technology has affected people in the 21st century.
James Randi is a world-renowned magician and sceptic. Like Houdini before him, he spent much of his career investigating the paranormal, occult and supernatural. We spoke for around an hour and Randi told me about his early life, how he became interested in magic and frustrated with the wild claims and dishonesty of people such as Uri Geller and the infamous faith healer, Peter Popoff. We spoke about the difficulties of filtering ‘fake news’ or ‘flim flam’ in the 21st century and how we might not be quite as smart as we think we are.
The interview with bubble scientist, Helen Czerski, focuses on the scientific method and how scientists go about establishing “the facts”. Indeed, in our current age of misinformation, what even constitutes a fact?
Helen has a passion for public understanding of science, and I have been fortunate enough to work with her on several occasions. In her book, Storm in a Teacup, she outlines many ‘kitchen table’ experiments and demonstrates the wonders of science in our everyday lives. She is also a prodigious environmentalist and has many concerns over the lack of action taken over global climate change.
The final track on the album recapitulates the opening theme of the Prologue. We have explored the scientific process, seen the beauty of understanding and taken heed of the warnings. My hope is to stimulate curiosity in anyone that listens, which is a good start on the path to optimal experience, to a life in Flow.
I wanted this track to be lots of fun to reflect the sheer joy that Helen finds in science. I used a rare Japanese electronic instrument called a Tenori On for the bubble sounds, and gave Helen a recurring ‘hero’ theme, played in unison on the brass and laser harp.
Richard Feynman was a 20th century American theoretical scientist and was renowned for his work in particle physics. He also played a leading role in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster enquiry. Although his life did court a certain degree of controversy, Feynman was an interesting character and an advocate for the public understanding of science.
The only track on the album that is a cover, this piece was originally written by for the Turtle Island String Quartet by David Balakrishnan and rearranged for electronics and horn section.
In 2010, a new virus infected computers across the globe. Twenty times more dangerous than any other virus seen before, Stuxnet has been described as being more powerful than an atomic bomb. The virus was supposedly dispatched to destroy the Iranian nuclear programme following a joint project by the US and Israeli governments.
Stuxnet is a truly terrifying virus. So far contained to disrupting the nuclear ambitions of a nation, it could easily be adapted to cause untold damage from plucking planes from the sky to shutting down entire power grids.
Pripyat is the Ukrainian town located next to the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The town was evacuated after the disaster in 1986 and has stood as a ghost town ever since. As outlined in Chernobyl Prayer by the Nobel prize winning author Svetlana Alexievich, the event was one of the most important of the 20th century. It offers not only knowledge but also prescience, because it challenges our old ideas about our place in the world.
Bubbles – Dr Helen Czerski
Feynman was a keen bongo drummer and made several recordings with his friend Ralph Leighton. I contacted his estate who kindly agreed that I could use these archive recordings to create a new track with the great man posthumously playing with the band. I wanted to create a 1970’s atmosphere – representative of the time that I felt Feynman was at his peak. I asked some contemporary scientists sand science communicators (who are also musicians) to join the band on the track as a celebration of the Professor. I was delighted to welcome Libby Jackson (ESA) on Oboe, Prof Jim Al Khalili OBE, on guitar, Prof Marcus Du Sautoy and Dr Anna Ploszajski on trumpet, Dr Helen Czerski on Theremin and science communicator Gemma Church on percussion to the recording session.
Surely, You’re Joking –
Prof Richard Feynman
This is the only track on the album on which I decided to use audio taken from one of the interviews I conducted. Professor Csikszentmihalyi describes his concept of Flow so eloquently, I wanted to include it in the track.
The electronics were recorded by me and each of the musicians were asked to improvise their parts, never having heard the accompanying track before. They were recorded in one take with no retakes allowed. During our conversation, I set the challenge with the Professor that I would create a piece of music that would induce Flow in the musicians and, hopefully, the listener too.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
This track utilised the laser harp and a 400,000V musical Tesla coil. The theme was first quoted on the album by the trumpet in track 1 - Prologue
Flim Flam – James Randi
This track features a complex electronic texture mixed with a rare Hang hand drum played by guest artist Adrian Woodward of the Globe Theatre London and the very ‘human’ melodic line played by the saxophone.
Flow - Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
This track is about social media, how people use it and how it uses people. It starts with the sound of an old-fashioned telephone ringing mixed with the modern Skype ringtone, demonstrating our desire to be heard in a world that is so noisy, but where it is almost impossible to have a voice.
The theme is constructed by short musical phases or ‘tweets’ played and repeated by each of the brass instruments with only tiny changes occasionally being made. The saxophone solo represents Aleks’ effortless understanding of the complex social systems of social media.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous experiments into ‘optimal experience’ have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called ‘Flow’. During ‘Flow’, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity and total involvement in the task.
Surely, You’re Joking
I got my first micro-computer, a Sinclair ZX81, when I was 10-years-old. Ever since, I have been fascinated by the promises that technology and science hold. Over the past four decades, technology has moved out of the geek clique and into our mainstream consciousness, finding its way into the lives and palms of everyone on the planet.
In my lifetime, I have witnessed the development of lifesaving medicines, super computers, and the World Wide Web. Billions have been spent by governments connecting us online. Curiosity is rife with 63,000 search requests being received by Google every second. 350 million new posts are made to Facebook and 500 million tweets are made on Twitter every single day.
Science and technology hold so much promise for the human race. If we spent our time learning about these amazing developments, maybe we could bring the world together to solve the global issues that face us all. But it seems these tools have done more to divide us that bring us together in harmonious discussion.
The brevity of Twitter encourages tiny opinion grenades with little room for context or nuance, destined to explode in a cloud of controversy.
And, contrary to encouraging curiosity, does the web discourage it? Does it force us into digitalised ghettos, where we sit in our own comfortable bubbles, ‘liking’ posts that reinforce what we already believe and shunning ideas that challenge our thinking and beliefs?
With all this in mind, where will technology take us to in the years ahead? From exciting new quantum computers to devastating new digital viruses, the future is unsure. Even Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of web, is uneasy about how his technology has been used over the last 30 years and how it could be developed over the next three decades.
Can we live side by side with the machines, creating a life perpetually in ‘Flow’, or will we walk headlong into another Chernobyl-style crisis, this time on a global scale? Can we coexist happily in an optimal experience with the truly awesome technology we have created?
Quantum computing is an extremely exciting new technology, but it’s still in its infancy. Quantum computers use qBits, which can not only be in the state of 0 or 1 like regular classical computer bits, but both at the same time. This makes their potential power truly awesome, giving them the ability to compute unthinkably complex calculations.
Quantum technologies Professor Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex showed me around his lab and granted me an interview about his exciting work in this field. He aims to have a working quantum computer with billions of qBits within the next 10 to 15 years.
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