Combining arts and sciences is getting trendy around Puget Sound these days – witness the Art+Science salons held by the University of Puget Sound at Tacoma Art Museum, the upcoming opera staged at the Pacific Science Center, combined art/science teacher trainings at the Foss Waterway Seaport, and the ‘science of art’ school programs at the Museum of Glass.
This weekend, Pacific Lutheran University adds their contribution with “Cosmosis,” a concert by the university’s wind ensemble and University Singers combining science, images, poetry and a science-based composition by Susan Botti.
“Music is built from scientific components – physics, acoustics… they dialogue naturally,” says Botti. “As a composer, I direct my attention to certain aspects of the world and add imagination and emotion, reflecting back some of what I perceive in the human experience.”
Botti’s a musician whose list of commissions as a composer (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra) is as impressive as her resume as a soprano (the Los Angeles Philharmonic, collaborations with conductor Tan Dun, premières with the BBC Scottish Symphony). The Cleveland native is currently on the composition faculty at the Manhattan School of Music and also teaches at Vassar.
She also performs many of her own compositions, and she’ll do just that on Saturday night. “Cosmosis” sets texts by American poet May Swenson on gravity and the Skylab experiment on Arabella, the first spider to spin a web in space.
“There are four movements in “Cosmosis,” explains Botti. ”‘Overboard’ (the prologue) sets the atmosphere and creates a setting; the two stanzas of “The Cross Spider” poem tell the story; between (them) I wrote an “Interlude” which (is) a fantasy depicting the wildness of space, and creating a sense of time expansion between the (events of the two stanzas).”
Botti adds that while “Cosmosis” tells Arabella’s story, the spider is also a metaphor for creative ideas. “I thought that a text about scientific exploration would be a wonderful idealistic, anything-is-possible-type world to explore,” she says.
But the science doesn’t stop there.
PLU science faculty Brett Underwood and Justin Lytle have put together a science-based video that will be projected alongside the performance – examples of how human science makes and overcomes mistakes to empower humanity, Lytle explains, to follow the theme of the music.
After the concert, Lytle and Underwood will lead a musically-inspired science lab outside in the amphitheater. Demonstrations will include a flame tube filled with propane gas that reverberates to the sounds from a nearby speaker, causing the gas flames to “dance”; a wine goblet zapped with high-energy sound waves to cause vibrations and ultimate shattering (kind of like an opera singer doing the same trick, Lytle adds); and several chemical reactions that cause bright or colorful light, such as magnesium metal with dry ice (solid carbon dioxide).
“Arts and sciences do relate,” says Lytle, assistant professor of chemistry at PLU. “They use different parts of the brain but we feel them both. The value of (combining them like this) is to provide basic information and to inspire people to learn more about things.”
“Cosmosis” will be performed, along with works by Janathan Newman, Beethoven and John Mackey, at 8 p.m. May 11. A musically-inspired science lab follows in outside amphitheater. $8 general/$5 seniors/$3 alumni/free for 18 and under. Lagerquist Concert Hall, Pacific Lutheran University, 12180 Park Ave. S, Tacoma. 253-535-7411, plu.edu