Thursday, June 24, 2010

Large Hadron Collider goes to Glastonbury

Have you ever had one of those mornings when inspiration refuses to come?

When words – never mind whole sentences –  flow from your brain to the tip of your typing finger with all the grace and alacrity of Emile Heskey chasing a through ball?

When ideas are as rare as English women tennis players after the first round at Wimbledon?

(And yes, we know the men won’t do much better either. So don’t bother writing in.)

When your vvv is as www as an xxx’s yyy in the middle of a zzz with two qqq’s? (Fill in gaps later.)

If you’ve ever tried to get words on to paper for a living, the chances are that you know the feeling.

So what do you do to get the creative juices flowing again, to lubricate the brain/paper interface, and to ensure that the remaining two legs of this week’s outpouring are at least half literate?

Well, whatever you might think after this week’s Budget from the Black Lagoon, the answer is not cider. Especially not at 9.15 in the morning, mister Osborne sir.

No, if you need a dose of inspiration, just look eastwards, to the Franco-Swiss border, under which runs the giant torus that is the Large Hadron Collider.

Yes, we’ve been there before. Usually when the good old LHC has inexplicably broken down because a pigeon has dropped a chunk of quantum baguette into its insides.

This time though, it’s different.

Because a radio news report earlier this week suggested that the boffins in charge of the LHC are trying to get it started on the road to musical superstardom by converting its heretofore silent subatomic womblings into sounds.

It’s rather like when you buy a new computer. It comes with all sorts of fancy toys that you never get round to using – film editing software, website creation tools, the first level of a game that stretches the graphics card to its limit and crashes just as you’re getting the hang of the controls.

Instead you use it as intended – for emails, web browsing and writing to the bank explaining how you’re going to pay back the money you borrowed to buy it in the first place.

But one lazy day your discover that hidden away under the bonnet is a full 32-track recording studio, with instrument samples, graphic equalizers, flangers and other  incomprehensible sonic effects.

A few minutes fiddling – a cowbell here, a horn stab there – and you’ve got a hit on your hands.

Or nor. What you’ve actually got is an out-take from Hot Chip.

But what does all this have to do with the LHC? Well, its everyday work (renormalising Higgs bosons, mixing quark-gluon plasma) was  getting a bit dull, and it needed its own creative outlet.

And now the LHC has found that outlet: the music within itself.

So be warned. If you’re at Glastonbury  this weekend, and 1,600 superconducting magnets appear on the Pyramid Stage, then you’re about to hear the sound of protons colliding at the speed of light.

A bit like Kraftwerk, by all accounts. But without the tunes.

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