World Music Festival – Can You Imagine Science With Music?

The World Music Festival, Womad, entertained a science pavilion this year. It’s the latest effort to reach non-scientific audiences by connecting the gap with the arts.


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According to the science presenter, comedian and self-described ‘geek songstress’ Helen Arney, ‘There is surely a science to running an arts festival. There is some really impressive physics going on here in the fluid dynamics of crowds. Giving certain people can get from one stage to another in the least amount of time,

She’s speaking backstage at the Physics Pavilion, the freshest addition to Womad, the world music festival, in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, where artists like funk singer George Clinton and sitar player Anoushka Shankar are appearing.

Womad Festival, Charlton Park, 2011

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The pavilion’s inauguration follows judgment by some, such as science writer Simon Singh, of the charge and effectiveness of some public science engagement.

Womad’s chief operating officer Mike Large, who, along with Prof Roger Jones, are the people behind the pavilion to make this event happened.

They say they want it to bridge the gap between science and entertainment and stand out in a new way to a non-scientific audience.


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The weekend before Womad, the Bluedot festival première at Jodrell Bank and sold itself as a festival of music, arts, science, culture, and place, but Jones and Large say the pavilion is the 1st time ‘real’ science has been done at a music festival.

Prof Jones said. ‘There are a lot of intellectually interested people here; apparently not coming to learn about science, but it’s a fabulous way of talking to them. Many of them are taxpayers who finance what we do and it’s important that they know what their taxes are giving.’

Mr. Large stated.’ What we do is help people connect that gap themselves by inciting them. The trick is language. Music is about expressing emotion. Science is about uncovering facts, but if you can’t communicate them there is little point in discovering them.’

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One of the events over Womad’s 3 days was a live video link to the Atlas control room next Geneva and the engaging American physicist Steve Goldfarb. As well as revealing that they are ‘ seeking to learn the fundamental building blocks of matter’, he takes questions from the audience.

Matthew Tosh brought smoke, flashes, and bangs to the platform for the Physics of Fireworks session. Even his specifying of the ‘C word’- chemistry, doesn’t look to put people off.

Michelle Wooldridge, along with her 5-year-old son Cassius, had travelled from Lewes in Sussex, where they have yearly bonfire processions. She said, ‘It’s very interesting to find out how it’s all put together. Cassius adds, ‘The gunpowder was my favorite,


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Helen Arney sings, discussions and jokes about science and uses a pun on Uranus, although she says she did not down her show for a Womad audience. She said, ‘You don’t require knowing a ton of science. I let the audience elevate themselves and discover and laugh.’

But it is not just the trained comedians who can raise a laugh. When Jones takes on stage he says: ‘We don’t all look like Brian Cox, some of us do look like tedious, middle-aged, balding scientists.’

Perhaps the best-attended event is the Q and A with Steven Moffat on the science and sci-fi of Doctor Who, with the audience flowing onto the grass outside the pavilion. Despite this, Moffat, who is the BBC series’ lead writer and executive producer, tells he knows nothing about science.


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He tells the BBC, ‘Putting science alongside music is the right and proper way to apprehend science; It’s not a separate subject. They’re not for various kinds of people. They’re for specifically the same kind of people.’

At the Jamming with the Universe session 2 scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and were accompanied by jazz pianist Al Blatter. Showed how they convert data from the LHC into music.

Simon Singh refused to comment on the Physics Pavilion, but Mr. Large and Prof Jones answer it cost less than 30,000£ with the majority coming from Womad, and the rest from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Lancaster University, and Cern, the Institute of Physics.


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Up to 40,000 people visit Womad and Jones says: ‘This is a much efficient use of resources. He tells most of those concerned gave their time for free, many of the props will be re-used and they expect to return in 2017.

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