Symphony of science

The Czech National Symphony Orchestra in the Rudolfinum Concert Hall in Prague.
The Czech National Symphony Orchestra in the Rudolfinum Concert Hall in Prague. (Photo: Lynchpin/Emma Foster)
Musicians play composer Matthew Dewey’s symphony.  Tasmanian composer Matthew Dewey in the Czech National Symphony Orchestra’s recording studio

Nick Roden’s Southern Ocean research (see previous story), and that of fellow PhD student Rob Johnson, has been the inspiration for a symphony, written by Tasmanian composer Matthew Dewey, and recorded by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

Both Nick and Rob are the 2012–13 Lynchpin Scholars – a private scholarship program developed to promote the significance of the ocean to life on the planet.

The 45 minute symphony, ex Oceano – we are from the ocean – the ocean sustains us, is central to Lynchpin’s program of arts/ocean science collaborations, which aim to bring ocean science to the wider community in new ways. The recording will be available in early 2014 on iTunes and by limited edition CD.

Inspiration for the symphony came from a series of essays written by Rob, about how the Southern Ocean works, its importance to the planet and to humans, and how the function of the ocean will change as a result of climate change. These essays included findings from Rob’s research on Southern Ocean phytoplankton (see next story) and Nick’s work on ocean acidification. Matthew was also given a recording of Rob reading one of his essays. Using these materials Matthew was able to respond to the Southern Ocean story in musical form.

In September Nick and Matthew visited Prague to film the recording by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in the famous Rudolfinum Concert Hall. Nick is now working on a short film, The Making of a Symphony. He will also use his own spectacular video footage from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, along with aspects of the symphonic work and a range of visual arts responses and scientific images, to create a lengthier arts/science film.

‘There are some important messages that science needs to convey to the wider world and I feel a social responsibility to do that in the best way I can, which at the moment is through science and video,’ Nick said.

The symphony CD will include a booklet containing a short essay by Rob on the science behind the symphony, as well as an artist’s statement from Matthew and Lynchpin coordinator Sue Anderson’s rationale for the project.

The emotional impact of the symphony may be best summed up by an excerpt from an email Rob wrote to Matthew after hearing the Czech recording for the first time: ‘You have touched me. You have scared me. You have moved me. You have given the world a piece of your soul and I thank you.’

Wendy Pyper
Corporate Communications, Australian Antarctic Division