2022 Best in Audio – Katja Foreman-Braunschweig



Musical composition

This composition represents the formation of the universe, as we understand it, from the big bang until reionization (when light from the first stars re-ionized the neutral fog that permeated the universe and created the transparency that we take for granted today). By progressing through sections that represent inflation, nucleosynthesis, recombination, and reionization (with other concepts such as matter-energy imbalance and structure formation embedded within the timeline), the composition creates a musical narrative of events that are difficult to parse simply because of the enormous scales involved. My hope is that it also conveys the inspiration that I feel when trying to understand the ways in which the universe evolved from quantum-scale fluctuations to behemoth clusters of galaxies, of which everything that I touch each day is an impossibly miniscule (but even so, important) part.

My submission is a composition, using electric keyboard, representing the formation of the universe from the big bang until reionization. I was inspired by the concepts of the matter-energy plasma and the cosmic microwave background, and I wanted to figure out how to represent them musically somehow. It made sense to create a musical narrative from the big bang through inflation, nucleosynthesis, and recombination, until the reionization of the universe. 0:08 represents the very beginning of the universe—dense, hot, extremely energetic—through the volume, static, and fast-moving notes that are in the same area on the keyboard. 0:38 is when gravity broke away from the other three forces (strong, weak, and electromagnetic) and sent out gravitational waves (hence the distortion and the wobbles in sound (done by a dial at the side of the piano!)). At 1:11 is inflation, the loud and expanding (spreading out over the keyboard) sound, and at 1:29 the notes shift towards the right side of the keyboard just slightly to represent the matter-energy imbalance (the reason why we exist today). From here, the continual movement of notes and chords represents the universe’s continual change in terms of forces and interactions, and its slight expansion. At 4:02 begins the nucleosynthesis section, represented by the individual, plaintive notes outside the sustained chords (such as the high G note at 4:09 and the high E-flat note at 4:12). The next section (4:54 to 6:29) represents the matter-energy plasma, with lots of movement and continual change (both in the plasma and on the keyboard (notes, area of keyboard, chords)). At 6:28 is the recombination event, and the cosmic microwave background is represented by the sustained (but still in motion within it) chord. The distortion and wobbles in this section (6:56 to 7:24) represent the seed perturbations (originally tiny quantum fluctuations that were stretched out during inflation) that were frozen in the CMB and became the large-scale structure of galaxies. Finally, the section from 8:07 to the end of the piece represents the gradual reionization and lighting of the universe. 8:07 to 9:57 is the slow gathering and gravitational attraction of matter (represented by the clustering of notes closer to one another, such as at 8:40 and at 9:22) and the formation of stars (and accompanying transparency and light streaming out) is 9:58 to the end, represented by the high, clear, slightly oscillating notes, trills, and chords.