IOP and ROH team up to probe the perfect song

25 November 2014

Professor Brian Cox hosted a panel discussion at the Royal Opera House (ROH) last night, 24 November, to explore the intersection of physics and music, and sound out opinions on what makes the perfect song.

What makes the perfect song panel
(L-R) Christine Rice, Philip Ball, Maria Witek, Brian Cox

The event, a collaboration between the Institute of Physics and the ROH, began with an introduction from IOP president Frances Saunders, who spoke of the IOP’s continuing mission to engage more people and showcase the beauty and relevance of physics. For the ROH, the event also represented an initiative to carry its message to a wider audience, as part of its Insights programme.

The packed audience in the ROH’s Clore Studio was treated to a lively discussion from the panellists – opera singer Christine Rice, science writer Philip Ball, and music researcher Maria Witek – with topics ranging from the statistics of melodic interval steps and the Gestalt principles of harmonic progression, to the movement-inducing syncopation of Michael Jackson’s “Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough”.

Joe Stilgoe
Joe Stilgoe

Musical entertainment was provided by jazz pianist and singer Joe Stilgoe, with an energetic rendition of Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife”, as well as a dissonant yet right-feeling interpretation of Wizzard’s “I Wish it could be Christmas”.

A Q&A session rounded off the event, with questions including how deep the connections between physics and music actually run – perhaps not as deeply as you might imagine, according to some of the panel – and why the saddest music is also often the most beautiful.

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