Music of the Spheres? Stand by for the Boson Sonata

GENEVA (Reuters) - Do you enjoy Mike Oldfield’s “Music of the Spheres?” Are you uplifted by Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” suite?

Well soon you can fall in love with the Higgs Boson Sonata, the Dark Matter Cantata and perhaps eventually the Black Hole Symphony -- or something like them.

Such compositions could emerge in the coming months from the unlikeliest of sources -- the LHC Large Hadron Collider at the CERN particle physics research center on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

Scientists there are converting the cosmic phenomena they are chasing through the huge underground machine into musical sound in their state-of-the-art computers.

To do it, they use a sonification technique that converts pure data gathered from the LHC experiments into sound, says physicist Lily Asquith.

The detectors in the machine, which is probing the origins of the universe, can reconstruct the pathway of the particles after they are smashed together at near light-speed and calculate how much energy each leaves along its path.

“If you use the right software, you can get really nice music out of the particle tracks,” explains Asquith, who works on the LHC’s Atlas, one of its six detectors, and was one of the originators of what is called the LHCsound project.

A key aim of the project is to help promote awareness among people outside of the work of CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, and especially the high-cost LHC experiment.


To this end the project team has launched a chatty website (, dubbed “The Sounds of Science” with a nod to the 1960s hit song by Simon and Garfunkel, “Sounds of Silence.”

“We want everyone to be able to share in the wonder and excitement of what we are doing, and this seems a good way of showing the awe-inspiring magnificence of it all,” says Asquith.

The enthusiasm is directed at a global public. CERN, founded in 1954 as a European body and now with 20 nations from the continent on its ruling Council, recently decided to open membership to the rest of the world.

Some of the sounds created so far can he heard on the website, including a musical embodiment of the Higgs Boson -- the mysterious particle that is believed to give mass to matter and without which no universe would have emerged from the primeval “Big Bang” explosion 13.7 billion years ago.

“You can listen to the decay of a Higgs boson in the Atlas detector, or to a proton-proton collision inside the LHC,” says Asquith. Other sounds -- created in collaboration with a pair of musicians -- will be added later.

The LHCsound team are also working on applications for Apple Inc and ringtones for mobile telephones.

But there is more to this project than the simple -- or not quite-so-simple -- and sometimes eerie sounds that resemble the discordant notes of an avant-garde serial music composition.

Musicians around the world have already been asking the LHCsound team for data files which can be read through the British-based Composers Desktop Project (www.composersdesktop. com) aimed at electro-acoustic composers and sound designers.

And later in the summer CERN plans a public performance of the sound of the erstwhile silent particles by musicians from among its scientific community.

Tickets for “The Big Bang Concerto” anyone?

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Noah Barkin