A scientist and composer will feed live data from performers’ brainwaves into one of the most powerful computers on earth to help an audience understand the mysteries of quantum physics.
Dr Alexis Kirke, Senior Research Fellow in the University of Plymouth’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), will premiere his new piece, Entangled Brains at this year’s Contemporary Music Festival.
Running over the weekend of Friday 22 to Sunday 24 February, the festival is organised by the University’s Arts Institute in partnership with the ICCMR.
With a theme of Multiverse, the 2019 edition is aimed at helping us understand how the mysteries of quantum science relate to daily reality, through musical interpretations of the quantum world.
Entangled Brains, one of three pieces to be performed in the Research Concert on Sunday 24 February, focuses on a quantum effect that remains the subject of considerable debate among scientists. Entanglement is the idea that two subatomic particles in different locations can be linked, so that they affect each other instantly, as though they were in the same place.
Together with superposition, where particles can be said to be in two different states – and even locations – at the same time, the effect is cited as evidence by proponents of the ‘many worlds’ interpretation. This argues that all possible histories and futures are in some sense ‘real’, giving rise to a potentially infinite number of separate universes.
Entanglement takes place inside a quantum computer, so to harness it Dr Kirke will send information from electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets, connected to two performers on stage in Plymouth, to a machine at the University of Southern California. In real time, the D-Wave 2x quantum computer will process the data and feed back information, which will be converted into sound and form part of the music the audience hears.
Kirke will programme the computer, and tailor his composition so he can effectively switch entanglement on and off during the piece. By displaying data on screen and letting audiences know when the phenomenon is taking place, he hopes his audience will get a unique perspective on one of the great mysteries of physics.
“The aim is to have a projection that shows the live data coming back, and highlights in some way as the entanglement triggers - so you can see and hear it at the same time.
“People read about the hype all the time, but have they ever sat in a room while a quantum computer is being used? Even then all they would see is figures coming up on the screen.
“But what if they could sit in the room and know what’s going on and hear what’s going on, and have an actual emotional reaction to these concepts that are so philosophically misunderstood, that are current areas of serious debate.
“Would the audience be listening to the multiverse?”
The Research Concert will be preceded on Sunday 24 February by a talk from University of Oxford Professor of Quantum Information Science Vlatko Vedral.Formerly known as the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, the event is directed by Eduardo Reck Miranda, Professor in Computer Music at the University of Plymouth and Director of ICCMR. Now in its 14th year, this annual celebration of contemporary music has developed a national reputation for combining artistic creativity with scientific development.