Imagining the impossible can be easy. If I asked you to form a mental picture of a shadow on the sun, you would be able to do it in an instant. Never mind the fact that such a phenomenon will never actually occur.
Now imagine that the sun’s corona, the plasma atmosphere that emanates from the sun’s surface, is actually hotter than the surface it comes from. Easy, right?
But here’s the rub: the corona actually is hotter than the sun’s surface. In fact, the temperature of the corona is millions of degrees higher than that of the sun. Seems impossible, and nobody can explain why.
I’ve been working on a project with ARTStem that has me cautiously circling these ideas, studying them for musical analogues and illuminations. What is ARTStem? It’s a project of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute of the Arts to efface the lines between the arts and the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
I was approached about this collaboration a couple of months ago by historian Mike Wakeford, who had noticed a scientific thread in much of my music – a thread I confess hadn’t occurred to me. He suggested I look into composing a piece that would illuminate one of the STEM subjects. Intrigued, I embarked on the composition of Shadow on the Sun – a seven-minute work for wind ensemble – which addresses some of these phenomena and paradoxes.
We’re setting up a forum with solar physicist Eric Carlson, conductor Michael Dodds (who will conduct the premiere in March) and me to talk through some of the issues involved, hopefully shedding some light on both physics and musical composition. I’m looking forward mightily. We had a brief meeting a couple of weeks ago to spark discussion about topics we could cover. It was my first meeting with Carlson, and he has the kind of mind I love: an erudite and creative thinker.
More as this story develops over the next two months.