We’ve come a long way since the early days of MTV. Designed to spread knowledge and philosophy, the Symphony of Science is a music video project paying tribute to the great minds of popular science.
“We Are All Connected,” featuring Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye
Created by Washington musician John Boswell, the compilation released this past week includes a sampling of comments made by legends of popular science. Using the Auto-Tune software (Antares), Boswell matched clips from interviews and television shows—particularly Carl Sagan‘s Cosmos—to original electronic music to create a cohesive and somewhat addictive new work.
“Carl’s voice is so articulate and his quotes are always poetic,” explained Boswell. The composer also included Richard Feynman for his child-like facial expressions and humble opinions on man’s relation to nature, and Neil deGrasse Tyson for his elegant way of turning scientific facts into easily digestible quotes. “Bill Nye has an enthusiasm that is almost unparalleled in science, and his Sagan-esque soliloquy on being just a speck was too good to pass up.”
Reading the lyrics created from explanations of science is quite moving. Boswell drew this refrain from Sagan:
The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We’re made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself
Boswell first tried the auto-tune technology last February, producing an R&B album with a few close friends to demonstrate the power of the software. Inspired by YouTube artists The Gregory Brothers (“Auto-tune the News”) and DJ Steve Porter (“Slap-Chop Rap“), Boswell experimented with ways to turn normal speech into song. To raise the quality of content, he turned to scientific speeches and documentaries with which he was familiar.
“We Are All Connected” is the second offering from Boswell’s Symphonies of Science project. Last month, “A Glorious Dawn” was posted as a tribute to Sagan, and also features Stephen Hawking. In just a few weeks, it surpassed one million views on YouTube and elicited many positive comments. Even Sagan’s son, Nick, noticed and appreciated the work, which opens with my favorite Sagan quote: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
“The reception for this first installment was very profound,” noted Boswell. He gradually realized the potential for this medium to become an educational tool. Future Symphony of Science projects will focus on specific subjects, such as a biology episode that might feature the likes of David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins. “There are a lot of enthusiastic scientists out there, with a lot of interesting things to say, so running out of material will not be an issue for a while.”
Much of the feedback on the videos has focused on its educational value. Parents comment about how much their young children are mesmerized by the music and imagery. Already, the videos are being used in classrooms, exposing a new generation to Sagan and the other scientists.
“This is one of the most gratifying parts of the project for me, and a large part of the reason I started it in the first place,” Boswell said. “For people previously unaware of some of science’s greatest individuals and insights, becoming exposed to them in a novel way, and a way that is a whole lot of fun for me to produce. I think it’s really a win-win.”
In addition to the videos—which draw footage of popular science shows and films, like Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of 10—the music can be downloaded as an MP3. Boswell’s other original music can be found at Color Pulse, including an auto-tune of a Billy Mays informercial. A hat tip to GeekDad Anton Olsen for alerting everyone to the first SoS video last month.