An Uncommon Musical Treat

As part of Georgia Tech’s year-long celebration of 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (#IYPT2019GT), the College of Sciences and the College of Design’s School of Music have partnered to present a performance of original music inspired by the periodic table.

Avneesh Sarwate, a student in the Masters of Science in Music Technology program, has composed music for #IYPT2019GT to be played by the School of Music’s laptop orchestra. The orchestra comprises first-year music technology majors enrolled in MUSI 2015 Laptop Orchestra, a required music technology course. They will play the composition using electronic devices, mostly laptop computers and mobile phones.

Technology allows musicians to access a wide palette of sounds, way beyond what traditional orchestral instruments deliver. Electronic sounds can be eerie, out-of-this world. With computer-aided manipulations of harmonics and other sound properties, the possibilities for unique musical experiences are endless.

When Sarwate explored using the periodic table as inspiration for new music, what resonated most with him was structure: how structure is so defining for both music and matter. From various analogies, including carbon allotropes, he selected the physical states of water – because of how familiar a phenomenon it is for water’s macroscopic structure to change before our very eyes.

“Water, in Three Movements” is inspired by the physical assemblies and dynamics of water molecules. The three movements correspond to water’s three phases: gas, liquid, and solid.

In the first movement, corresponding to the gaseous state, performers each control a program that plays the melody in a loop at incredibly high velocity, rendering the notes almost indistinguishable but creating a hazy sonic texture reminiscent of steam clouds or fog. The conductor’s gestures will control the movements of the aural cloud.

In the second movement, the liquid phase, the performers slow down the melody to where the notes are distinguishable, but still at different speeds. Like liquid water molecules, the melodies will slip and flow in and out of coordination as they move at different tempos. Again, the conductor will control the waves of sound.

The final movement, ice, will see the performers slowly coalesce to the same tempo and align their rhythms in lock-step, reminiscent of the freezing of a pond, with a single unified melody concluding the performance.

Sarwate is a multimedia artist, software engineer, and musician specializing in interactive art. He graduated with a B.S. in Engineering, major in Computer Science, from Princeton University in 2014. After stints as a software engineer with Applied Predictive Technologies and Yext, he came to Georgia Tech in 2017 for graduate studies, focusing on audiovisual improvisation.

The College of Sciences thanks School of Music Professor and Chair Jason Freeman for making possible this special collaboration to celebrate #IYPT2019GT.  

“Water, in Three Movements” will premiere in February 21, 2019 at the atrium of the Klaus Advanced Computing Building, 266 Ferst Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30332. The performance will begin at 11 AM. Stay for a chance to win Georgia Tech's popular periodic table T-shirt.