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The quantum scales those strings play are, unfortunately, terribly intangible, both mentally and physically, but there it was in front of me — sound — a This unexpected contact with sound made tangible shone a sidewise gleam on a question Alexander had been puzzling over ever since graduate school, when he had asked his mentor — the famed cosmologist Robert Brandenberger — what the most important question in cosmology was.
Normally, Brian was working on the details of a new tune — getting his bass sorted out just right for a track, getting a line just slightly behind the beat.
He was a pioneer of ambient music and a prolific installation artist.
At the risk of rudely imposing, I let the phone ring for quite a while. “Professor Lateef is here.” We spoke for nearly two hours about the diagram that appeared in his acclaimed book , which is a compilation of a myriad of scales from Europe, Asia, Africa, and all over the world.
I expressed how I thought the diagram was related to another and seemingly unrelated field of study — quantum gravity — a grand theory intended to unify quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Through the gateway of hip hop and its wide-ranging influences spanning Caribbean and Latin music, Alexander discovered the saxophone and became besotted with the free jazz of Ornette Coleman.
His parents eventually bought him a vintage alto saxophone at a garage sale, and so began his second great love affair with the universe.That particular morning, Brian was manipulating waveforms on his computer with an intimacy that made it feel as if he were speaking Wavalian, some native tongue of sound waves.What struck me was that Brian was playing with, arguably, the most fundamental concept in the universe — the physics of vibration.Drawing on the legacy of Kepler, who composed the world’s first work of science fiction — a clever allegory advancing the then-controversial Copernican model of the universe through a conceptually ingenious analogy — Alexander writes: Contrary to the logical structure innate in physical law, in our attempts to reveal new vistas in our understanding, we often must embrace an irrational, illogical process, sometimes fraught with mistakes and improvisational thinking.Although it is important for both jazz musicians and physicists to strive for technical and theoretical mastery in their respective disciplines, innovation demands that they go beyond the skill sets they have mastered.Eno described his work in the liner notes for his record, : “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” What he sought was a music of tone and atmosphere, rather than music that demanded active listening.But creating an listening track is anything but easy, so he often had his head immersed in meticulous sound analysis.Visiting the American Museum of Natural History with his third-grade class, he was mesmerized by a set of papers behind a thick pane of glass, inscribed with symbols that seemed otherworldly to his eight-year-old consciousness.Next to them was a portrait of their author — a wild-haired, mischievous-eyed oddball.This was his first encounter with Einstein, who would go on to be a lifelong hero as Alexander devoted himself to decoding the secrets of the universe.A few years later, as a teenager in the Bronx, he had a parallel experience of encountering a new, almost mystical language and recognizing it as an encoding of elemental truth.