Field recordings at the TRIUMF Muon Beamline last month uncovered more than just acoustic phenomenon. In their capture, they revealed behaviour towards something strange, the previously-never-heard-of muon. This behaviour appears to derive (I am still in the process of uncovering its roots through analysis, synthesis and processing) from the simple human desire to be in relationship to an environment, and specifically sound in that space.

My science partner in this project, Jess H. Brewer, a muon specialist, shares various resources to help my understanding of the scientific activities taking place at TRIUMF. His life’s work in physics was mainly using positive muons, which he explains are technically “anti” muons. And here the connection to antimatter, the stimulus for creation in the larger project for all artists and scientists involved.

We’ve been writing each other since January. As a sound artist with a special interest in the thresholds of sound, one of my first questions was around his personal sonic connection to his work: have you imagined what your research subjects (tiny as they may be) or their processes/activities might sound like if their frequencies could be amplified? Jess replies: Sorry, I envision my little muons doing their job quietly, almost secretively – that’s because we imagine them as “gentle probes”, which of course they really aren’t, or are only until they decay…

The idea of the gentle, secret particle planted itself in my mind. It found reference in Gaston Bachelard’s chapter on Miniature in “The Poetics of Space,” where he describes the world of the miniature as a potent invitation to the imagination. The sound world of the muon grew into “an entire cosmos that speaks softly” (175), just on the threshold of silence to human ears.

On the human scale, we may not sensuously engage with a muon. Muons exist at the picometre level, equal to 1×10−12 m, or one trillionth (1/1 000 000 000 000) of metre. Invisible to bare eyes, untactile, neither tending towards bitter or sweet – yet, as I discover, able to affect sentiment – the muon asks for specialized instruments to be in conversation. I want to hear what they have to say as human consciousness to fundamental particle. I put myself in relationship to their sounding, however and whatever that might be, free of expectation that I might,

treat it as a message not yet decipherable from some alien culture,

as Robert Ashley suggests for engaging with his artwork on American experimental composers “Music with Roots in the Aether” (1975).

I send them sine waves in four cardinal locations within the Muon Beamline area of TRIUMF. A frequency sine sweep of 50-20,000 Hz passes through space, bouncing around objects. Listening to these recordings later, they then go through early analysis and processing, taking shape in a first stage composition: https://soundcloud.com/alana-mcfarlane/muon-experiments.

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