String Theory Show at The New England School of Design

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Lou Cohen


Lou Cohen has composed music since age twelve. He studied mathematics at MIT, and has studied music privately. Composition teachers include John Cage, Ernst Levy and Alan Kemler. He studied harpsichord and early music performance practice with John Gibbons. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Readings that have influenced him a great deal: Joseph Schillinger’s “The Mathematical Basis of the Arts” and “The Schillinger System of Musical Composition”; and Iannis Xenakis’ “Formalized Music.”
In the early 60s Cohen promoted new music in the Boston area by producing concerts in collaboration with Christian Wolff, in which the New York School was heavily represented. For a long time afterwards he composed in isolation. In April 2004 he produced his first concert in more than forty years, in collaboration with the electro-acoustic group ONDA.

Concert Performance
Lou Cohen
Concert Performance
Rhode Island 2007

Graphic User Interface
Graphic User Interface of Cohen’s Improvising Software

Since then he has appeared as a laptop Improviser in numerous concerts in the Greater Boston area. He is co-director of Open Sound, a concert series featuring electro-acoustic experimental improvisation. His collaborations with video artist Bebe Beard and his own computer animations have been shown in many galleries throughout the United States, and in film festivals around the world.


Artist Statement
     The world of theoretical physics seeks to explain how the observable universe works. Physicists do so by putting forward a number of theories. Despite the success of many of these theories, some important gaps in the theoretical understanding of the universe still exist. String Theory attempts to resolve some of these fundamental gaps.
      String Theory requires that the length of a “string” — the most basic of all entities in the universe — should be about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter, much too small to be seen by any scientific instrument inexistence. “Strings” also have tension, and the rate of vibration of a string depends on its length and its tension, much like the strings of a piano or guitar. Finally, “strings” have excitation modes. Varying excitation modes of strings are supposed to result in the many fundamental particles (such as electrons, positrons, and photons) which have been discovered by physicists in experiments over the last hundred years or so.
      For me the musical analogy to “strings” is the “grain” – a very short pulse of sound, which has a duration (corresponding to the string’s length,) a frequency of reoccurrence (corresponding to the string’s tension) and a pitch and waveform (corresponding to the string’s excitation mode.) These grains, individually barely audible, can produce a very wide range of sound (in theory, ANY sound) when played in rapid succession.
     Thus, my chosen method of producing sound (called “granular synthesis”) provides a concrete and audible analogy to the manner in which the invisible and theoretical “string” of String Theory accounts for all the matter and energy in the universe. You can hear samples of Lou’s work at Ruccas.
String Theories
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