science music

Science Music

I’m the least musical person I know.  I don’t play an instrument, I can’t read a note of it and when I overhear somewhere that the most scientific form of music is the fugue, I have no idea why.  If I were to investigate further I would discover that fugues are celebrated for their mathematical intricacies, so yes, maths and science – brothers in arms – I can relate to that.  Then the importance of the perfect fifth to Pythagorean tuning rears its ugly head and I’m cast adrift on an open boat once more.

Music plays a significant role in SF&F, as a particular kind of theme music, of course and also as a plot device.  As far as the former is concerned, whenever a tune pops up on Lyric FM we usually know immediately if it’s from an SF&F movie, even if we can’t place which one.  They almost all seem to draw from the same pool of tells that Dmitri Shostakovich first began to tap in the 1950’s  (well apart from Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes (1968) soundtrack, which is a class apart; the absolute acme).

As an example of a plot device, I’ve always had a soft spot for Captain Jocelyn’s keyboard recruiting technique in Hubbard’s brilliant To the Stars (aka Return to Tomorrow).  It seems I’m not the only one: Chick Corea created a highly regarded jazz fusion album inspired by the book and with the same title.

Original musical works of science fiction that draw on no other artistic source, are few and far between.  There’s Joe Meek’s I Hear a New World, of course, Stockhausen’s stunning Sirius and one of my personal favourites, The Intergalactic Touring Band.  The latter features such classics as Arthur Brown’s Universal Zoo, Annie Haslam’s Reaching Out (‘…our guidance control lies aloof and dismembered, our ship has forgotten but we have remembered…’) and last but not least, my occasional karaoke staple Space Commando by the incomparable Mister Snips (from where I suspect Dredd’s catchphrase ‘I Am the Law’ was adapted).

But what about science music: music about science?  Composer Michael Nyman wrote an opera based on Oliver Sacks’s neurological treatise The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  As an opera though, it narrates its source material rather than celebrating science for itself.  For me, as creators of science music, one group stand alone, Ireland’s post-hardcore math rockers BATS.  I picked up a copy of their first EP, Cruel Sea Scientist from Bell, Book & Candle in Galway about ten years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Their first album, Red in Tooth and Claw had one absolute standout track, Andrew Wiles, penned to celebrate the man who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem.

BATS last album The Sleep of Reason, is a tremendous thing however; to my mind the best rock album to come out of Ireland ever, bar none.  A veritable tidal wave of astonishing science music; tracks like Stem Cells, Heat Death, The Sleep of Reason and Creatures Collecting.  There’s no weak link.  For anyone who cares about science music, it’s a must listen.