For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been laying down the soundtrack for Butch Perez’ Birthplace, a film that compresses 4 and a half billion years of terrestrial history into 12 minutes of stereoscopic 3D animation (ie 3D, the kind where you wear glasses). It’s scheduled to show at the Mind Museum in Fort Bonifacio, sharing the Nature’s Hourglass theater with Simula, — ABS-CBN’s own stereoscopic 3D ode to the Philippine archipelago — starting mid-April. Making the soundtrack has also caused me to think about science and the arts of its communication. In between finding, recording, processing and sequencing sounds, coordinating with the theater technicians, the scorers, the mixers (we’re doing the sound in 5.1 surround, plus bass shakers embedded in the viewing platform, yeba!) and designing the global approach for the film’s sound design, I’ve had a bit of time to wander around the museum, during which various concerns and obsessions have had time to collide and combine, rather like molecules bumping around in primordial soup, back before DNA was invented.
There’s a difference between doing science and presenting science. It’s about as well as you can put into words the idea that came to me as I walked around the Tyrannosaurus skeleton exhibit. The ‘idea’ was actually more of a sense of contrast between the dramatic, caught-in-the-act, saurian kung-fu pose of the skeleton, — jaws agape, massive tail vertebrae floating in the air — and videos I’ve seen of fossil digs, which are slow, hot, dusty affairs, emphasis on ‘slow.’ Bones are excavated with brushes, not picks, or spades. Pails of dirt are picked over, shard by shard. Bone fragments the size of pebbles are separated from actual pebbles, then labeled, catalogued and packed, sent to a lab, where they are unpacked, studied, compared to other pebble-sized specimens and then possibly relabeled. No floating vertebrae, no jaws open to emphasize the meat-ripping functions of its six-inch canines. The work is meticulous, janitorial and contemplative. It’s monk-like work, the kind of work done by repairmen, librarians and accountants, as opposed to the kind done by dancers, drummers and the martial artists that the Tyrannosaur’s pose reminded me of.
The contrast between the fossil dig and the dramatized dinosaur attack is expressed by the contrasting words Apollonian and Dionysian. Apollonian is Leonardo daVinci’s Vitruvian Man, perfectly proportioned inside his square and circle, surrounded by Leonardo’s notes on architecture and proportion. Apollonian comes from Apollo, the god of the sun, and is a word used to describe daylight things, daylight disciplines: reason, charts, grids, geometry, order, restraint, and contemplation. Dionysian comes from Dionysius, the god of wine. Dionysian is all about action, excess, immediacy and chaos. Ecstasy and disorder. Kerouac is Dionysian. Fireworks are Dionysian. Dance music is Dionysian.
Interestingly, Greek mythology has it that Apollo and Dionysius are brothers, a detail which makes you wonder how these stories started. Did a wise man think that up to express a deep observation about the nature of things, or did it bubble up from a kind of unconscious and possibly collective awareness of their deep interdependence? Do both descriptions describe the same process?
Graduate students labeling bone fragments sifted from dirt with screens and brushes, brothered to Tyrannosaurus bones posed in an imagined attack. Sound technicians laying cables to amplifiers, measuring sound pressure levels and signal voltages in a dim and empty room brothered to screaming white noise to dramatize the asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Electronica DJ/producer Deadmau5 in a giant, grinning, LED-encrusted mask, urging crowds to communal abandon from above flashing banks of electronics. This brothered to his livestreamed channel, where the same man can often be seen unmasked, seated, alone and almost motionless, composing at the computer for hours at a stretch.
I would express the contrast that I sensed in front of the Tyrannosaur by saying that a science museum is a place where science is danced, rather than a place where science is read. Science is an Apollonian pursuit , but modern science exhibitions are Dionysian affairs, as is attested by the screaming that makes up the Museum’s soundscape when students are loose inside it. Now, this emphatically does NOT mean that students going there won’t learn anything. But it DOES admit that the exhibits that are most effective are built to communicate a flash of nonverbal insight in under ten, — maybe under five — seconds. I remember that an exhibit of Chldani plates in the Singapore Science Museum was effectively invisible to the kids, simply because it took over 20 seconds for the patterns to become visible.
It might be asked: what can you learn in five seconds? I’m thinking the question can be better asked as “what can you see in five seconds?” And my answer to that would be “a clue.” Something out of the ordinary, sticking in the mind long enough to be googled, asked about, investigated in a quiet place after the dance is over.
Tad studied Zoology in the University of Hiroshima, and graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the University of the Philippines. He was a founding member of the seminal sound art band The Children of Cathode Ray and is a leading media artist who uses sound, video, programming and electronics in the creation of his films and installations, which have been exhibited in numerous local and international festivals and galleries. Email Tad at firstname.lastname@example.org.