Strings and String Theory
March 6, 2008 6:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm after violin sheet music that has been inspired by physics - any suggestions or recommendations?

I've been reading about superstring theory lately, and was curious if anyone knew of composers who had/have written music inspired by aspects of physics.

I don't mind if it's not specifically for violin (though that would be great) as I am happy to adapt/transpose it. Having said that, I want to emphasise that I am just a dabbler, so my knowledge of contemporary/historical composers is very basic - my apologies if I've missed the obvious.
posted by sleep_walker to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The only vaguely physics-inspired works that come to my mind are Philip Glass's The Light and Einstein on the Beach, but the former's a symphonic piece & the latter's an opera.
posted by misteraitch at 7:10 AM on March 6, 2008

"The Planets" by Gustav Holst?
posted by Jahaza at 7:31 AM on March 6, 2008

Best answer: Check out Sun Rings, written by Terry Riley and performed by Kronos Quartet, it's based on sounds from space collected by an University of Iowa prof.
posted by Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific at 7:32 AM on March 6, 2008

Iannis Xenakis?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:58 AM on March 6, 2008

I don't think this is exactly what you're looking for, but check out Violin Phase by Steve Reich.

I mean, its violins . . . and phasing . . . . and hard to listen to . . .

But an interesting concept
posted by jeffderek at 11:55 AM on March 6, 2008

You might want to investigate the music from the movie Pi. I don't know if it is available in sheet music form, and it's not really violin music, but it might give you some inspiration. Electronic music based around Pi, and circles, etc.
posted by Area Control at 2:51 PM on March 6, 2008

How about Flanders and Swan - First and Second Law?

It's only really about physics when it's sung, though.
posted by kg at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you so much for your suggestions! I had a look around online to see if I could hear some samples of some of this music, and thought I'd link it back here in the event that it might be useful to someone else.
I couldn't find an online recording of Phillip Glass's The Light, but the score is (sort of) available here.
An excerpt from Terry Riley's Sun Rings is hosted at youtube here. The Kronos Quartet site has some great information about it, and the sheet music is available at their online store.
A catalogue of works by Iannis Xenakis (.pdf) is here, and a worldwide list of stockists is here, although unfortunately the embedded audio at the original site isn't working. has a little to listen to here, and there is quite a lot on youtube (and also on rhapsody but it's US only).
There is also a snippet of Steve Reich's Violin Phase on

Gustav Holst's The Planets suite definitely falls into the "obvious ones I knew I'd miss" category - thanks Jahaza! All seven movements are up at you tube if anyone is interested, and the sheet music I imagine is quite easy to come by (and something I will likely buy in the next few days).
Area Control - That's a great idea - I love the soundtrack, and would be interested to see if there have been any adaptations for strings/sheet music put out by the bands or their fans (kind of the same way NIN fans have with Know the Score) and will post back here if I find anything. It's a nice way of extending my original idea - which was simply to encounter concepts in physics in a new way.
kg - I'd thank you for your suggestion but my boyfriend won't stop singing it since I mentioned it to him and he's driving me crazy...
posted by sleep_walker at 6:29 PM on March 6, 2008

A long time ago, I ran across an old school DOS exe that ran a program called Balls or Drop, or Balldrop, I don't exactly remember. The balls would fall from the top of the window at regular intervals and bounce off flat or slanted barriers that you built, and bounce according to the laws of two dimensional computer screen gravity. The pitch of the tones as each ball hit a barrier would vary according to it's altitude in the play area. With a little effort, you could create a unique and unexpected repetitious melody based on gravity, and there would be balls bouncing all over the place in a weird synesthesiac pattern. You could also manipulate the barriers as the program ran.

Also, there's Dr. Fiorella Terenzi who translates radio signals from stars into audio waves for the human ear. She seems somehow relevant here.
posted by Area Control at 11:03 PM on March 15, 2008

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