Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Yo La Tengo Performs the Sounds of Science

This past Saturday I was lucky enough to attend a rare screening of the curious nature films of Jean Painlevé.

Painlevé was a French naturalist turned filmmaker, who created a series of beautiful, avante garde, and highly informative short documentaries. The films' focus lied with marine invertebrates, perfectly capturing their beguiling beauty, and perplexing nature.

The screening was the closing night gala of the Toronto Underground Film Festival, and the culmination of an eight-year effort to put the event together. The Sounds of Science, as the performance is called, featured live accompaniment by Yo La Tengo, who had been commissioned to compose and record the soundtrack for a selection of Painlevé's most popular films.

It was a beautiful night, and for me, a childhood dream come true. The place was sold out, and I know the majority of the audience was primarily there for Yo La Tengo. But it pleased me to see such a large crowd of (presumably) non-scientists sit through two hours of marine biology lessons.

There was laughter, cheering, oohs and aahs, and even head-shaking in disbelief at the alienness of the otherworldly creatures. At the end, a standing ovation overtook the sold-out theatre.

I always love so much to see the melding of art with science, especially when it results in somebody learning something new. Science has become a marginalized component of human culture. This is why I found it particularly inspiring to witness these obscure water-breathers brought to light by a well-known group of artists.

I believe we are on the brink of a revolution in the way science is communicated. Increasingly, researchers are becoming frustrated with traditional publishing methods, which continue to alienate and intimidate the public.

It may pose a challenge to make science accessible and entertaining—but it is not impossible. It would be nice to see this challenge taken up by more scientists, that is, if they want to be heard.


Nicholas said...

The quality of both the films and atmospheric sounds were outstanding!

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