An Interdisciplinary Workshop in Geneva
Minerva Muñoz Rodriguez
Minerva Muñoz is a professional choreographer who also happens to have a PhD in condensed matter physics. She says she sometimes feels like a particle/wave duality, living and working in both the artistic and scientific research communities in the municipality of Ensenada in Baja Mexico. Her work and life are all about crossing borders, geopolitical, academic, artistic and scientific. In short, she is the embodiment of the kind of cross-disciplinary inspiration and collaboration that Gilles Jobin, choreographer, and Susana Panadés Diaz, dancer, managed to cultivate in the most recent edition of Jobin's GVA Sessions series — an intensive week of study, discussion, and cross-collaboration among choreographers, physicists, musicians, engineers, and filmmakers, all taking place in his studio in Geneva, Switzerland, not far from CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) where he was an artist in residence during 2012.
The GVA Sessions 2015 began with the 50th performance of Gilles Jobin’s Quantum and an announcement that he had been awarded the Grand Prix of dance for his radical and revolutionary contributions at the frontiers of contemporary dance.
The participants in GVA Session 2015 came from many different backgrounds but were united by an intense, almost childlike curiosity that could scarcely be contained in the presence of so many experts so open and willing to share their knowledge and enrich each other's understanding. Remember what it was like when you were a kid and your endless sequence of “Why’s” eventually hit the limits of your parent’s knowledge and/or patience? Now, instead, imagine a group of professionals at the forefronts of their respective fields with abundant generosity and patience. Imagine being able to keep asking “Why?” and continuing to receive patient, respectful and thoughtful answers. It sounds like a dream-come-true — and it was!
A view of Gilles Jobin's studio during the workshop
Franz Danksagmüller, Carla Scaletti, Kurt Hebel confer on how to express various forms of symmetry in Kyma while filmmaker Peter Mettler develops image mixes in the background
I was left with a mental model of a universe consisting of sound and vibration — of a big bang leaving its asymmetric impulse response on the physical universe — of living within the baryonic oscillations that make up the reverberation tail of that initial impulse —of the Large Hadron Collider as an unimaginably energetic mallet striking the Higgs field to coax the higher modes of Z, J/Phi Y and Higgs particles into existence for a fraction of a zeptosecond (the Higgs particle has a lifetime 1.56×10−22 s), as if they were the short-lived, high-frequency modes of an enormous gong. Were the physicists obligingly mapping their abstract universe of mathematical structures and processes to sound and vibration just to help me understand it? Or were they, too, understanding the universe as vibrations and modes and resonances? Either way, it was oddly satisfying and beautiful to discover that the entire universe is resonating with vibration (whether metaphorically or in “reality”).
There were so many new ideas, connections, and information packed into the week that it’s impossible to mention everything, but here are a few highlight moments that are etched in my memory:
• The moment of clarity when Balasubramian Ananthanarayan, a.k.a. Anant, explained the observer-effect by pointing out that the observer and the observed are both part of the same system.
• Peter Mettler’s smiling face and quiet way of observing everyone and everything and our ways of interacting, and his voiceover near the end of his film titled Gambling, Gods, and LSD: "Maybe there’s a difference between looking for something and just looking. When you’re a part of what you’re looking at ... and it looks back at you.” It was like a pre-echo of Anant’s explanation of the observer-effect.
• Playing my data sonification of the eta angles of two photons to the beam axis from the Atlas experiment (with its mysterious “shadows” in time and frequency) and seeing Nicolas Chanon smile and nod as he explained that the detector has end-caps on it where the resolution and signal-to-background ratios are so poor that they prefer to throw those data away (I had been wondering what those shadows were for several years), and Sara Camnasio’s enthusiasm for the fact that the sonification had revealed something about the structure of the detector itself.
• Playing a symmetric duet on the LinnStrument with choreographer Gilles Jobin (choreography of the hands).
• Making eye contact with astrophysicist/dancer Sara Camnasio across the room and somehow both knowing that we thought the gauge symmetry should be a vector field associated with the space, rather than associated with each dancer’s body.
Theoretical particle physicist Ananthanarayan “Anant” Balasubramanian, Choreographer Filipo Armati, CERN physicist Nicolas Chanon placing labels on the floor and conferring on the concept of gauge symmetry
• Being on a tour underground at the CMS experiment and seeing on a computer screen that they had stabilized the beam and were starting to gather physics data at that very moment!
As the group assembles in an elevator at CERN to descend 300 feet down to the circular tunnel where the Large Hadron Collider nudges clumps of protons into each other’s paths to collide at nearly the speed of light, Gilles Jobin snaps a photo ...
and once again the group experiences the observer-effect.
• Franz Danksagmüller’s metaphor of “the two staircases” leading to the same place, and feeling that each of us was trying to get at the same truths through different means.
• The counter-to-stereotype joviality with which engineers, Martin Schneider and Martin Shied, approach software and hardware engineering. At GVA Sessions 2015, the engineers and scientists participated in the movement workshops, just as the dancers participated in the physics seminars, deepening the understanding and respect for each others’ expertise.
Here is Berlin engineer Martin Schied participating in the symmetry exercise
• Daniel Siemasko, director of Cinéma Spoutnik, asking us to provide some ambient background sounds and images as people were arriving ... and somehow, spontaneously (and nonverbally) agreeing with Peter Mettler to take things in a decidedly non-ambient direction by creating images of Archimedes clock and sound models of self-synchronizing pendulums that built up to an ear-shattering climax at precisely 9 pm when the show was to start. (We still don’t understand how we agreed to do that, without even looking at each other).
Peter Mettler mixing animations of Archimedes’ clock at Spoutnik
Carla Scaletti, with Kyma 7 & LinnStrument, and Peter Mettler, TouchDesigner image-mixing instrument, at Cinèma Spoutnik in Geneva
With GVA Sessions 2015, Gilles Jobin and Susana Panadés Diaz successfully managed to bring together a group of individuals who are nearly uncontrollably curious — natural-born artists and scientists who pursue their curiosity where it leads them, following paths that don’t always have assured outcomes, because they are simply unable to stop asking “Why”.
We discovered that, despite our differences in backgrounds and approaches, each of us — choreographers, physicists, engineers, musicians, journalists, sociologists, observers and observed — is driven to try to better understand the universe in which we find ourselves.