50 Particles in a Three-Dimensional Harmonic Potential:
An Experiment in 5 Movements

for 4-channel tape (10:00)

May 1999


Program   References  

Program Notes

I. Gradual Introduction of 50 Particles into System; Tuning the Harmonic Potential; Adjusting the Observation Apparatus
II. Adding Viscous Fluid to Reveal the Restmass Spectrum
III. Sudden Increases in the Coulomb Potential of the Universe; Subsequent Oscillation of Potential Walls
IV. Two-Generation Cascading Radioactive Decay
V. Reduction of the System Via Least Energies

This 10-minute composition is derived from the methods described in the publication: "Sonification of Particle Systems via de Broglie's Hypothesis". With these algorithms developed, their musical usefulness had to be tested. The ideas are interesting in and of themselves, but what of the final product? Would this system produce music as interesting as itself, even when standing alone from its programmatic nature?

It is interesting to note that even though their is a direct correspondence between the physics and its audification, which makes the music steadfastly programmatic, non-physicists who are aware of this feature will have little understanding of what that correspondence means. It is a very different case when a piece is entitled "Summer on the Danube" and "C. Eligan Genome." Generally titles like the latter will hold little meaning and provide little expectation for an artwork, than will the former title. As in the current example, some titles may be misleading. This music comes form a "simple harmonic system," but that does not refer to the tonal qualities of the work. A physicist would read the title correctly, whereas a musician would not.

Naturally, to test these techniques I composed a 10-minute composition with five 2-minute movements, each utilizing a different aspect of the system. This system of composition with particles is very strange to work with in that common sense takes a hike and expectations are led astray. Before the seven hours worth of computation time to produce one minute of sound, one needs to be sure that the result will be useful for whatever needs. To circumvent this then a practical system of experimentation needs to be developed to predict and mold the variables--much like composers creating studies to determine what solutions exist. The duration of the final composition will be far exceeded by this time of experimentation and computation.

The composition "50 Particles"(Premiered May 24, 1999 at Stanford University; at a very high volume), is the first to use the techniques discussed here. There are five movements, each with a rigid duration of 120 seconds, constructed using one to several phenomena. There are no pauses between movements, no interruptions; the system begins each movement where it left off.

Much more information is available here.


Sturm, Bob L. "Composing for an Ensemble of Atoms: The Metamorphosis of Scientific Experiment into Music." Organised Sound, Vol 6. No 2, Cambridge, UK. August 2001.

Other articles can be found here.