CERN, Physics and the “Cosmic Piano”

I’ll admit it: one my nerdier interests is cosmology and quantum mechanics. In fact, I’m trying to convince my wife that we should take a tour of Europe that includes a trip to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider where they’re actually breaking the laws of physics.

The boffins at CERN have been conducting other experiments, including something called A Large Ion Collider Exerperiment–known as ALICE, of course–which has resulted in the creation of a musical instrument that’s played by using particle data.  From Tech Times:

The instrument has a detector pad that transforms passing particles into musical note. The charged particles are produced with the interaction of cosmic rays and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. The piano also has a plastic scintillator that transforms particles into optical signals that are converted into bleeping notes and synchronized flashes of light.

“The Cosmic Piano has some features like producing light and sound only when n (n= 2, 3,…8) modules are hit at the same time ( coincidence events, technically named “cosmic showers”) or generate a “random musical noise” when any of the eight detectors is impacted by a charged particle,” the CERN website explains.

The instrument has been described as something that looks a bit like a fancy staircase. It also sounded like the robot R2-D2 from Star Wars. On its own, the piano may produce an odd sound but when it is played along with a pro jazz musician, the sound it produced was described as something more avant garde.

They’re actually selling these things, too. The cost? About $2500 US, or about the price of a decent synth. Collider not included, of course.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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