Posted in music, physics

Extradimensional theories of the universe as opera

Lisa Randall recites her opera
Lisa Randall recites her opera

Since writing a bestselling book on her fascinating and complex extra-dimensional theory of the universe, Harvard physicist Lisa Randall has been busy re-imagining it as an appropriately cerebral art form—opera. After three years of development, Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes premiered at Paris’s prestigious Centre Pompidou in June and, like Randall’s book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions [Buy], it manages to translate the impenetrable world of theoretical physics into something that not only appeals to scientists, but to anyone willing to look beyond the obvious for clues about the nature of reality.

Spanish composer Hèctor Parra, 33, first saw artistic potential in Randall’s ideas after reading Warped Passages, which uses plain language to describe how hidden dimensions may explain some of physics’ greatest quandaries—such as why the gravitational force is so weak. When the book was released in Europe in 2006, Parra met up with Randall in Berlin to ask her to write a libretto based on her work. Randall admits she was “a little uncomfortable focusing so much on the physics,” she says, because she didn’t want to alienate the audience. “But I did see that the exploration of an extra dimension could be very nice as a metaphor. It seemed exciting.”

As its title suggests, Hypermusic Prologue doesn’t simply make art out of hard-to-grasp scientific theory, it inverts and renovates the genre of opera with an experimental score, a two-person cast, and minimalist and abstract stage design. Randall asked artist Matthew Ritchie [Video], whose sculptures often reference inflationary universe theory, to design the sets. Ritchie also developed a series of video projections for the performance: The industrial imagery projected behind baritone James Bobby represents the lower four-dimensional universe while the soprano, Charlotte Ellett, is often surrounded by projections of wildly colored celestial shapes, suggesting the expanded reality of a fifth dimension.

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Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.