Nolan Gasser, chief musicologist of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project, lectured on the intermingling of music, science and the “art of living” during a free presentation on campus yesterday.
An acclaimed composer and pianist, Gasser has arranged music for purposes ranging from symphonies to a NASA satellite mission. He will deliver three more lectures this month on topics ranging from jazz to cosmology. Next week’s talk, set for Feb. 14, will also include a concert at 3 p.m. in Music Dept. Room 1145.Assistant music professor John Hajda planned yesterday’s event in conjunction with the S.A.G.E. Center for the Study of the Mind. Hajda said he hopes the lecture series will allow audiences to interpret music outside of their comfort zones.
“I hope people will start talking about music in every facet,” Hadja said. “Whether it is how great Pandora is — which I’m sure students do — to people interested in classical music, to people who want to learn to play the sitar. It doesn’t matter what area of science.”
Throughout his presentation, Gasser played metaphorical musical samples of mathematical and scientific structures and patterns while recounting previous experiments. Gasser said music can be applied to understand abstractions of astronomy and science.
“[At one point] I wanted to display in sound what is a gamma ray, using complex musical structures,” Gasser said. “This had a video accompaniment that was shown at the Fermi launch and became a bit of a YouTube sensation in the classical music sense, and got a few thousand hits. It also sparked a few articles in Science magazine. It was through the writing of these works that I came to recognize the connection between scientific theory and music.”
However, not all attendees thought the connections between science and music were as clear-cut as Gasser explained. Psychology graduate student Cameron Brick said Gasser presented his scientific theories in an oversimplified manner.
“As a scientist, I think he has overly simplified and cherry-picked and it doesn’t bear much resemblance to what I do as a scientist,” Brick said. “It’s a lot of nice ideas though.”
Gasser spoke on his work with the Music Genome Project and its combination of music and state-of-the-art technology.
Gasser said he approaches musical theory empirically, applying theories of human genotype to similar theories of identifying elements in music.
“There are six genomes: pop/rock, jazz, hip hop, world and classical,” Gasser said. “I tried to keep the analogy with the human genome project very close. If I could identify all the genes of a musical species in a given genre, I can identify all the genes that connect songs, artists and composers.”