Ex/Noise/CERN, the experimental/noise music performance initiative inside CERN, notes that the Large Hadron Collider “now operates at the highest energy in human history, 13 trillion electron volts.” By running at these insane energy levels, physicists believe they’ll discover dark matter, supersymmetry, quantum black holes, and extra Higgs bosons (“god particles”) within the walls of the 17-mile long circular tunnel.
But since particle physicists are really exploring the scientific unknown, Ex/Noise/CERN founder and ATLAS physicist James Beachem is now inviting musicians to, in turn, explore the musical unknown.
First up is San Francisco noise quartet Deerhoof, known for their highly experimental brand of indie rock. On August 20th, the band created instrumental noise to parallel the noise generated in CERN’s magnet hall test facility, SM-18, to celebrate the LHC’s ramp up to 13 TeV collision energy (it has a capacity of 14 TeV).
Deerhoof’s John Dieterich tells The Creators Project that given how large the LHC’s “many machines” were, they weren’t as loud as the band thought they would be. Instead, the “battle” was intentional in that they wanted to interact with the space and its sounds.
“We were faced with these incredibly stone-faced collaborators just going on with their business as we invaded their space for a short time and tried to engage with them in one way or another,” Dieterich says. “Of course, the larger ‘battle’ was actually with our understanding of what the place is, what it does, what that means to us, how what we do relates to it, if at all, and so on.”
How Deerhoof generated their noise and interacted with that of the LHC was completely up them. At one point during Dieterich’s solo, he cranked up the amp to a level at which the hums and screeches from the collider’s machines were present and almost indistinguishable from his own sound.
“Some of the high-pitched, almost-but-not-quite-feedback sounds are actually just the machines interacting with the circuitry in the guitar and amplifier,” he says. “I have never had as much fun interacting with a space as I did there. It was funny because I had 20 or 30 minutes of actual preparation time, playing around with the sounds in the space, exploring things, and then the actual taping was so short and I had to limit what I did to this very small taste of what was possible.”
Dieterich says that the band was more affected by CERN—from the facility and the work, to the performance space—than they had anticipated. He admittedly knew almost nothing of the project before arriving. They were particularly inspired by the particle physics work—the “open-source nature of it”—and its collaborative international vibe.
“The work itself which is so close to an artistic project that it is almost indistinguishable,” Dieterich says. “I found the people involved some of the most dedicated and genuinely warm people I've met anywhere, and they worked very hard to connect with us and to help us connect with the work, the space and the project in general.”
“I think the most striking thing to me was simply the fact that they don't know what they're going to find, and they're looking because of that,” he adds. “They're looking further than what they can understand, which is something that I find very inspiring and relates very much to how I think about making music.”
Apart from performing at CERN, Deerfhoof visited The Synchrocyclotron, had a look at the ATLAS Experiment Control Room, and sat down for a chat with ATLAS physicists Tova Holmes and Larry Lee for their In Particular podcast. For that episode, Deerfhoof spoke about their LHC performance and what they learned about particle physics.
“Ex/Noise/CERN is about exploring the unknown,” said Beacham in a public statement. “During Run 2 of the LHC, we’re not sure what we’ll find—extra Higgs bosons, dark matter, cracks in the Standard Model—and when we brought Deerhoof to CERN, we weren’t sure what they’d do in SM-18. But like the best scientists, they were curious, daring and embraced the unknown—with spectacular results.”
Click here to learn more about Ex/Noise/CERN.