Home Musicians and Scientists Blogging about the science/music overlap

Blogging about the science/music overlap

by Eva Amsen

May 2012: I just moved the science/music blog over to easternblot.net, which also contains different types of blog posts. This was the historic start of my project for which I interviewed science/music people, so I’m leaving it below, even though much has changed since then.

Einstein was a violinist, Elgar had a home chemistry lab, and many other people are active in music and science.

Both scientists and musicians work long and odd hours for little pay, and have very little chance at reaching the top of their respective fields. Why would anyone pursue either career, let alone both? Why even make one or the other a hobby on top of an already challenging job?

I’ve been thinking about these questions for a few years. Initially, I thought I’d write a book about it. However, books don’t come with sound, and I needed sound to tell the story of people who spend their days in between humming lab apparatus and their nights tuning guitars or violins.

About a year and a half ago I started toying with the idea of making a documentary about people who are both scientists and musicians. Unlike books, documentaries have sound. It would be perfect, I thought, to find some science/music professionals and follow them around for a bit, to try and tell the story of these busybodies. I was very quiet about the idea at first. After all, I had no experience at all at making documentaries. I had no camera, my laptop wasn’t good enough for editing, I didn’t have a budget, and I certainly didn’t have time to even be thinking about it.

A few months ago I found a little more time to daydream, and while I still didn’t have experience, a camera, editing software, or a budget, I started talking about this documentary more seriously. I mentioned the idea to a few people, and they liked it. I talked to scientists and musicians and those who do neither but like both. Every time I told someone my idea, they came with several suggestions for things I should do and people I should talk to. After only seriously discussing the topic with five people, I already have pages and pages of notes and leads and websites.

In October I took two workshops to learn how to start making a documentary. Here I learned about budgets and the importance of good cameras and the need for a good proposal and the time it takes to do research before you can even start shooting. Lots of things felt far out of my reach for now, but I thought there is no better way to start than to just start. The research part I don’t yet need a camera for, so I plan to start doing research interviews as soon as January 2009. I have some people in mind who I would like to talk to.

Since this is by no means a day job, and I already have several other projects on the go, it’s going to take me a long time to even get ready to actually shoot, and I figured that in that time I might find someone with a camera and/or editing software willing to jump on board. (Or at least I can put off worrying about it for a while…)

I’ll document the progress of my research and my endeavours into the world of documentary making in this blog, and will also put some general thoughts about music and science in here.

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Peggy December 22, 2008 - 4:16 PM

This is a very cool idea. I think it would be interesting to compare scientists who play “serious” music (like Mark Ptashne playing classical violin), and scientists who play pop or rock (like Pardis Sabeti). Is one more socially acceptable than the other?

Eva December 24, 2008 - 3:30 PM

That is interesting. I want to look at both, because I personally don’t make a distinction between music styles, but you may be right that many people would be more accepting of someone playing classical music after hours than rehearsing with a rock band. I have musicians of both types on my list of people I want to talk to soon, so maybe I’ll find out =)

Purple Mangos December 27, 2008 - 4:50 PM

Interestingly, I was invited to a party for the Christmas break that would have been right up your alley. My connection was through music (my hobby/second career, although as you know I’m not a scientist), but most of the people at the party were scientists or engineers who also happened to do music on the side. It also reminded me that most universities have engineering orchestras or chamber groups (unlike other faculties, which may have a university-wide group but not a faculty-specific one). Yet another piece of (not particularly valid or unbiased) evidence of my personal theory, which is that all good engineers have a music background. 🙂

Bridget January 11, 2009 - 6:47 PM

If you need a studet’s perspective, let me know 🙂

(I’m a current doctoral candidate at MIT in Bioengineering as well as French hornist in the MIT Symphony Orchestra)

Best of luck in your project!

Kevin Z January 13, 2009 - 9:40 PM

Great idea for a blog! I’m a musician and scientist too. I do mostly folk rock/americana styles. Anything rootsy. My blog has a widget in the sidebar for my songs. I think its fun to write about my study interests, namely the ocean and invertebrates!

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