Week 8 - Space by Tung X. Dao

The exploration of space has lead humans into the deepest and most intimate parts of physics. Ever since Einstein came along and gave humanity the idea of relativity, we have to deal with its consequences. Things that don’t make sense must make sense. Faster-than-light travel is no longer possible. Time and length dilation leads to bizarre contradictions that should not be. Ideas such as his lead to a revolution in thinking about the world we live in. It turns over the long standing ideas that Newton has set forth. Within the last century, we have been able to understand just how enormous the scale of the universe is and how complex the rules that govern it are.

It is a very simple concept that is difficult to execute. With just 4 simple patterns, Steve Reich wrote an epic 20 minute piece.

It is a very simple concept that is difficult to execute. With just 4 simple patterns, Steve Reich wrote an epic 20 minute piece.

There was mention of John Cage in Thursday’s lecture that led to how space and music are related to one another. After having studied music for about 10 years, there is an interesting pattern in musical development that arises. Formal music theory started at around the same time as Newton in the Vatican, which had quite a bit of control over just about everything back then. One of the very early rules about musical perfection dealt with tonality. To avoid a lengthy explanation what of why they decided this, let’s just say that singing one note avoided all the issues with having multiple notes. So at one point the most perfect music was monotonic. Naturally, people get bored of such things, and someone decided to diverge from this idea. And that was quite revolutionary. Over the next few centuries, more notes were added. Rather, they were allowed to be used. See, in tonal music, the melodies revolve around a tonal note. Again, quite naturally, after many years of allowing more notes to be used, a man named Schoenberg decided to get rid of tonality all together. He said that all notes in the scale should be allowed to be used, and they should be used equally. This idea is called serialism. It’s as complicated as music has gotten in the western world. Now, back to the man named John Cage. His and another man named Steve Reich’s idea was that music should not be that complicated. Their response to the complexity of serialism was called minimalism.

In minimalism, one takes a very simple idea and repeat it over a long period of time, and over time change it slowly to reveal subtle changes in the pattern. Steve Reich wrote a piece called “Piano Phase”, in which there are two pianos and two pianists. One pianist starts with a simple pattern, and then, after a time, the second pianist joins in with the same pattern. The second pianist then speeds up an ever so little bit such that his pattern is ahead of the first pianist’s by one note. And this is repeated until the pattern catches up again and the piece goes on to the next section. This idea was quite revolutionary in music.

How this is related to space exploration can be revealed in the “Orders of Ten” video that was shown. As one travels away from our galaxy, the more the universe starts to look like the smallest structures in atoms. This repetitive nature is very similar to the nature of “Piano Phase”. From unison, to patterns of organized chaos, and back to unison. This is the nature of the universe, of the cosmos, and of the arts.

Stars are also like that. In the link below, a flash application allows one to experiment with a star’s attributes and see the phases it goes through. One can adjust mass, amount of metal contained in the star, and how long the star has been living. Then, press play and see the star move through time, growing and growing, until it may suddenly expand many times, and then collapse into a neutron star. It’s quite amusing.

Tung X. Dao

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnC5DhNqZ6w
2. http://www.seed.slb.com/en/scictr/lab/byo_star/byostar.htm

Final Proposal

It is an elaboration of some of the exhibits in the photography museum, with more specifics on the exhibits that would be included. For instance, a movie screen can be comprised of fiber optic cables, for a number of reasons. Another exhibit would explore holograms and the theoretical possibility of storing all the visual data of an entire movie within one piece of film.

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