Artist Interview: Federico Iacobucci

On December 1, 2018 as part of the upcoming Muographers General Assembly 2018, the premiere of Italian composer Federico Iacobucci’sMuography Symphony” with 50 musicians from the Tokyo Universal Philharmonic will take place, conducted by Hakaru Matsuoka and featuring Hungarian clarinetist Istavan Kohan at the Italian Institute of Culture, Tokyo.

In this interview, Federico Iacobucci discusses the ideas and inspiration behind the symphony and his collaboration with Muographer Hiroyuki Tanaka.

How did the idea for the “Muography Symphony” come about?

“The first time I heard about muography was in June 2017 when I met Professor Hiroyuki Tanaka (Director of Muographix, Tokyo University).  I was always interested in physics and its implications with music, but this completely new contact opened to me up to new perspectives which deeply impressed and inspired me. Furthermore, I was very lucky and honored to get information and details directly from the source. Prof. Tanaka introduced the idea that I should compose a symphony about muography. He is also a profound connoisseur of music and art in general.”     

What were the most challenging aspects of translating the ideas of muography into music?

“Muons are high-energy particles that have a very short life, compared to our normal conception of lifetime. If we try to represent them with music and then “translate” them directly into sounds we should use range, intensity and durations that are completely out of the audible spectrum of waves. Also, doing this with a symphonic orchestra forces us to compose for a limited range of pitches. I used the chromatic scale distributed in a particular set. Muons always appear in an asymmetric interval position inside the octave, like forth and fifth, while the matter is constituted by symmetrical harmonies.   

My idea was to create a frame where muons are in the highest range of the orchestra while the matter is represented by other instruments in a different region of the score. I dilated considerably the time to produce a kind of effect that is assimilable to a picture that captures an instant. Doing this I was helped by the fact that the other subjects of the music are steady objects like volcanoes and pyramids. The result is a musical landscape where muons move inside of it within magma and other particles.”  

Federico Iacobucci presenting his ideas for the Muography Symphony at the Japanese French Embassy during the Muographers General Assembly 2017

Music seems to be more suited to expressing ideas about the 4th dimension, how did you utilize this with the composition of the Muography Symphony

“Yes, time is the fundamental dimension in music, without it sounds could not propagate. I used a constant beat in all the three movements. It’s a sort of measurement line. Speed changes, accelerando and rallentando, are obtained through music notation. I’m convinced that every one of us has a subjective perception of the passage of time, that’s why I fixed a constant pulsation of tempo. The most peculiar property of music is that you can show the whole picture in the same time that you are painting it. It’s like observing a large artwork in multiple sections, but the composer chooses the point of view from time to time. I think that this form of art is very much appropriate to represent this scientific argument. “

The muon is the hero of this symphony, I believe.  Could you describe the story and settings that the muon will go through?

“I’m delighted to collaborate for the premiere with a talented clarinet player like István Kohán, who is the soloist in this symphony.

Hungarian clarinetist Istavan Kohan

The solo clarinet, supported by other high-pitched instruments is the hero of the composition, the muon exactly. Using a soloist gives more personality and distinction to our hero. He appears the first time in the first movement and he passes through different sets. I tried to describe with sounds the interaction of the muons with the matter. In the first movement we can hear him interacting with a volcano; in the second he’s playing through a pyramid; in the third movement he is transported by the cosmic rays in a travel across the space-time and then released by the impact with the atmosphere and finally detected by the muon detector. When the muon‘s sound is played it generates a sort of magnetic interaction with the matter’s sound.”

I think that you have planned some unconventional approaches to describing muography with music to describe concepts such as the Doppler effect and Relativity.  Could you describe some examples of this?

“The Doppler effect is something that we experience every day and it’s not so difficult to reproduce with sounds. What I did is to combine an expression of the Doppler effect with an expression of the relativity of time. For example, in the second movement as the speed of the notes increases concurrently the pitch and intensity of the muon sound decreases. I designed three lines of tempo to reflect that time differs depending on the speed an object is traveling at: one is the constant time, as I explained before, we can call it the observer time line; another is the muon’s speed related to its personal time; the third is the environment time, related to the matter and the audience.

The vertical axis of this score is in logarithmic scale, meaning the variations of instruments represent the logarithmic scale of speed.  On the contrary, the flow of time is in linear scale, that is indeed the time sequential variations of the notes.  Therefore, the score indeed represents the muons and humans in the sliced Minkovski space.

When the muon sound is at its top level of energy and speed, the muon time is frozen and the “human” time runs very fast. Then, while the muon tempo (tempo=speed) exponentially decreases the “human” tempo increases and finally they meet again on the constant time. I choose this part of the symphony to introduce this element because it’s related to the pyramid, a structure manufactured by human beings. In fact the movement is structured like a Scherzo (an humorous composition that is traditionally one of the movement of a symphony) in which the subjective feelings and perception of the human audience are positioned in the foreground.  “

The Conductor of the Muography Symphony Hakaru Matsuoka

What extra instruments have been added to the standard orchestra and what inspired these choices?

Muography was born in the first half of the last century, so I decided, under the suggestion of Prof. Tanaka, to set a traditional instrumentation. To represent muons I chose to use, as well as the clarinet in his highest region, high-pitched instruments like crotales (upper octave) and glockenspiel. Crotales in particular have a very penetrating sound with a considerable long decay. To improve the high-energy effect of the muon I mixed them with harmonics of the strings and the highest notes of harp, piano and glockenspiel. I used a bass drum, which can produce a very huge sound with a long decay, to represent the volcano eruption. I also used temple blocks to make a kind of metronome effect in some sections.”

What do you hope audiences will experience during the symphony?

“If the audiences experience the sensation of traveling through the history of muography and can clearly distinguish the muons from the other sounds while enjoying listening to the composition like a piece of music I think that I’ve reached my target. Especially in the last movement where the travel across the universe is predominant and in the end the muon detector is the protagonist. My conception is not to try to compose music as an alter ego of science, but the two things can support each other to make the scientific argument more accessible, also for common people, by giving inspiration for new ideas.”     

Federico Iacobucci also discusses the “Muography Symphony” in Italian during his interview (around 2 minutes into the interview) at the following link: