by Panos Charitos. Published: 16 November 2013

Domenico Vicinanza is the Arts & Humanities manager of DANTE (www.dante.net), the organization that operates GÉANT. He is also coordinating a project called ASTRA, working on the reconstruction of ancient music instrument from archaeological relics and computer modelling. Following a long career with ALICE, where he was involved in various R&D activities, Vicinanza is now working to support international projects that use the GÉANT network; a European network for research and education, providing connectivity to 50,000,000+ researchers and students in Europe (http://www.geant.net/Users/ArtsandCulture/Pages/Home.aspx).

Digitising content, whether it is a high definition artistic performance, an electronic archive of historical records or a virtual model of a long since vanished object creates extremely large computer files. Sharing these between researchers and students across the globe consequently requires high bandwidth and high capacity research and education networks, such as GÉANT, as they are simply too large to be cost-effectively transmitted across the commercial internet.

Vicinanza says: “Together with being personally involved and passionate about writing music from science, my job is about supporting universities and research centres here in Europe bridging science and art”. A professional music composer himself, Vicinanza works closely with schools of music, conservatories and museums around the world in building and running projects that bring together arts and science.

Combining his strong background in particle physics and mathematics with his talent as a musician, Vicinanza works in a branch of physics called sonification. This technique is based on producing sounds from raw scientific data and in a sense is the acoustic counterpart of data visualisation. It transforms scientific data from different sources and different fields (i.e. from the LHC to a set of seismic data) into audible sounds and melodies. Sonification can be employed in a diverse array of fields, from science and engineering to education, surveillance and medicine. As he explains in a recent interview for the Financial Times: “The power of sonification lies in the fact that the ear is naturally able to hear data and detect anomalies, while simultaneously recognising abstract patterns, structures and sequences as a function of time (see First Person)”.

Vicinanza has worked with some of the biggest research centres including NASA and CERN as well as the sonification of data from a set of volcanos' seismographs. As he says: “I used musical notes to overlay the actual graph of the seismic activity. The melody was then inheriting the richness and the whole "spirit" of the vibration of the volcano”. In addition, last year he collaborated with NASA on the sonification of data coming from the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. “I took magnetic field measurement from 18 billion kilometres and converted them into a music piece I then orchestrated”. You can listen to his piece: here

The discovery of the Higgs’ boson at the LHC provided another source of inspiration for Domenico Vicinanza. In the blog “LHC Open Symphony” that Vicinanza and his team (Mariapaola Sorrentino and Giuseppe La Rocca) created to describe how music can be created from the microscopic world of particles, they wrote: “Listening to the melody could, in fact, be useful for many reasons. For example, it would allow a blind researcher to understand exactly where the Higgs boson peak is and how big the evidence is. At the same time, it could give a musician the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the high-energy physics by playing its wonders”.

Last year, Domenico Vicinanza was invited by the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome to organise an entire concert based on sonified data. “In that occasion, I created music starting from different sources, for example converting the position of the stars in the constellations into music or the list of the European countries and some data coming from the ALICE experiment at CERN”. Vicinanza used data provided some time ago by the collaboration taken during the 2010 Pb-Pb collisions at the LHC. The data sonified in the audio clip below is a series of measurements collected by the ALICE experiment at CERN and used by physicists to identify the particles produced at the Large Hadron Collider. By assigning musical notes to numerical values, a sonification algorithm translates the numerical data into a piece of music, mapping its symmetries and structures.

Listen to the sonification of ALICE data by Domenico Vicinanza: https://soundcloud.com/geant-sounds/sonification-of-lhc-data

Read an article on Financial Times discussing the relation between music and science. Readers had the chance to listen to the sounds of ALICE: here