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Published on December 28th, 2009 | by Will

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Chillax – A Glorious Dawn

Its the Christmas doldrums and many of you will want to keep your brain in neutral for a little longer, so how about a little chill-out music that might teach you something.

For example, here is “A Glorious Dawn”, a tune and video in which Carl Sagan and his cosmologist companion Stephen Hawking sing. Almost all samples and footage taken from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and Stephen Hawking’s “Universe” series. John Boswell turns the television shows in to an anthem for science.

An interview with John Boswell follows after the jump.

The Symphony of Science is a musical project by John Boswell designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. Sounds like a Sesame Street of science. Actually its closer to a remix bootleg edition of science. What John Boswell does is use pitch corrected audio and video samples from television programs featuring popular scientists and educators. The audio and video clips are mixed into digital mash-ups and scored with Boswell’s original compositions. The project started as a result of this video.

This mash-up has done fairly well. Unruly Media, a viral video tracking service, charted the video having more than a million views and ranked in the music category on YouTube as one of the top rated videos of all time. On November 9, 2009, Third Man Records released a 7-inch single of “A Glorious Dawn” for the 75th anniversary of the birth of Carl Sagan. Nick Sagan, Carl’s son approved the release.

First off, who are you?
I’m John Boswell, a 24 year old economics graduate living in Bellingham, Washington, with a passionate music hobby and a strong love for science.  I was born on a ranch in North Idaho and grew up in Spokane, WA before moving to Bellingham for college.

Are you a scientist who dabbles in music or a musician who dabbles in science?
I am more of a musician who dabbles in science.  I developed a strong passion for science while in college, but did not pursue a career in it, for reasons I’m not sure of myself.  I have been making music in my free time for the last 6 years or so, gradually gaining experience and collecting better equipment, and the two fields really connected for me.  I am more knowledgeable about music because I have been focusing on it for a longer period of time, but science is something I take great interest in.

Given that the area of music you work in is fairly technical and, well, electronics and software based, how much of a music geek and or technician are you?
I’m a fairly big music geek, but by no means am I a technician.  I have no formal training in music production, and only one year of piano lessons, so just about everything I know has been self-taught; I developed a strong interest in music theory while in high school, and that continues to be a perpetual source of fascination for me.  I still have a lot to learn about the technical side of production, which to me is just as interesting as the theoretical side of composing.

How longs have you been playing, in both senses of the word, with autotune?
My initial introduction to auto-tune came in February of 2009 when first I got my hands on the software.  I got the Antares Auto-tune plugin for my editing program and I had a lot of fun with it right off the bat.  I started making comedic R’n’B auto-tune songs with some close friends, and it quickly developed into a full blown album.  Along the way I discovered the program Melodyne, a more versatile auto-tuning program, which greatly expanded my toolset. Creating the RnB album provided me with ample experience to begin experimenting with auto-tuning speech, like the Gregory Brothers and DJ Steve Porter have done.  It was only natural that my passion for science and music would collide with the endlessly fun auto-tune, resulting with A Glorious Dawn in September 2009.

Do you find yourself listening to adverts and newsreaders wondering if you can autotune them?
After tuning so much speech to music, at times I can’t help but notice when a person talks in a manner that is really close to the beat.  I hope this goes away after time though, it can be quite distracting.

What is the Symphony of Science project? How did it begin?
The Symphony of Science project was born out of the hugely positive reception I had for creating A Glorious Dawn.  So many people loved the video and were craving more that I couldn’t resist making a string of videos, given how fun they are to make. The project intends to spread scientific knowledge and philosophies through short music videos, hopefully exposing an otherwise unaware audience to some of our generation’s greatest scientific insights.  I have had a great amount of positive feedback which motivates me to keep producing the songs, much to my pleasure.

There is an obvious link between certain science fields and music. How musical are most scientists?
I don’t know the answer to that really, but I can say that many popular scientists I know of have been musicians.  Einstein, for example, was very fond of playing Mozart, who is one of my favorite composers.  Douglas Hofstadter, author of Godel Escher Bach, is a scientist-musician who has given me great inspiration in the past through his deep appreciation and study of how music relates to everything else around.  I’m sure there are many more, but I can’t provide a list off the top of my head.

How do you find the samples you use?
This is the most tedious part of the process, but is also fun because I get exposed to many clips that I otherwise wouldn’t sit down and watch.  I like to flip through documentaries and try to gauge the passion of the speakers, then if I find the subject matter and excitement level appropriate, I will search for a usable clip.  I usually throw out more than half of the clips I determine usable because they don’t auto-tune well.  So this is the most laborious part of the process in creating these songs.

Why Carl Sagan?
I first saw Cosmos as a sophomore in college and I was immediately hooked.  It came off as really retro but still relevant and oddly exhilarating.  Carl Sagan has a charisma that is untouched in the rest of science, in my opinion.  He was sharp, he was passionate, he was cordial and he was also philosophical.  The combination of those factors and the amazingly produced Cosmos series has been a favorite TV series of mine since the moment I saw it, and as he works very well in song, he fits naturally as the leader of the Symphony of Science project.

I know that Nick Sagan, son of the late Carl Sagan gave his approval for the track. How did this come about, and how has it helped the project?
I am really grateful that Nick Sagan has endorsed A Glorious Dawn.  I have never contacted him personally, although I have been in touch with Ann Druyan, Carl’s wife, so his endorsement was entirely his own and it has been a reputation boost for the video and for the series itself.  I am thankful that the song has been received positively without any copyright claims or other objections.

What problems have you encountered along the way? I’m thinking DCMA requests in particular.
I have not encountered any problems, strangely enough.  I keep expecting copyright lawyers to come knocking but there hasn’t been any conflict thus far.  I think because I’m not monetizing anything directly, except A Glorious Dawn which has been cleared, that I’m safe, but who knows?

Will it cover areas other than cosmology?
My next video will branch out to cover other scientific disciplines, specifically biology.  Carl Sagan still plays a role of course, because he had a lot to say himself on the subject, but there will be appearances from others that are well respected and deserve to have a spot in the series of videos.

Will you be raiding (or requesting) iTunesU or the UK’s Open University for more material?
I haven’t heard of either of those, but if they provide good material I will certainly make use of them.  Thanks for the pointer.

What else have you done?
My other musical outlet is an electronica project called Colorpulse .  I love electronic music and it is a way for me to put my goofy songs out there for anybody who’s willing to listen.  I also have a couple of side projects that haven’t been released but are in the works, possibly to make their way online at some point.

What do you listen to?
I hop between genres pretty frequently; my main music at the moment includes Chet Baker, Junior Boys, Al Di Meola, Proem, Tchaikovosky, Thom Yorke, and so on.  Anything random that strikes my fancy.

Thanks

[NOTE: For those of you about to hit search engines, there is more than one John Boswell. He is not the same John Boswell that is a professional pianist. While John does play piano, its not professionally and his style is different.]

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About the Author

Will likes to dance around the interfaces of technology, people and culture. Unfortunately that dance floor is freshly waxed. He usually remembers to write (and photograph) at WillKnott.ie



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