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When physics meets biology there is poetry and music

2017/02/01

Most of us working in the area of biological ice nucleation are intensely fascinated by and in love with this subject. Fascination drives research. And love for this subject does what love does: it can inspire art. Throughout the past decade of interacting with the various disciplines and persepctives about biological ice nucleation and how it could impact clouds, I have listened to expressions and explanations about mechanisms and processes in clouds that have sent me dreaming. This dreaming led to lyrics that emerged spontaneously in my mind as I was riding my bike to work in the countryside near my lab trying to avoid stray dogs and an occasional wild boar and her piglets. The lyrics were set to the melody from Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, a song that begins with her impressions of clouds. After receiving positive feedback about the lyrics and encouragement to record it and share it online, I succumbed to this advice – as an experiment and as an opportunity to witness all of the “materials and methods” involved.  I suppose that this is ultimate interdisciplinarity.

You can read the lyrics are at the end of this posting, below. I was encouraged to copyright them, so I did. Likewise, a professional musician recommended that I obtain permission to publish what is known as a “cover”, i.e. my version of an existing song. This can be done via an agency that centralizes such requests and obtains permissions from the original author/artist. This is important if one intends to charge listeners for downloading – which is not my case. But I wanted the full experience of producing a cover, so I sought out the permission.

 

You can listen to the song Clouds: When Physics meets Biology via streaming on the Sound Cloud website (the name of this website is a nice coincidence).

This song could be a sort of educational tool, especially if it were accompanied by a video. I was afraid of only being able to conceive something full of cloud clichés that did not have the same artistic quality as the music and lyrics – so I did not even attempt to make a video.  If anyone has ideas for an artistic and informative video to accompany the song, please let me know.

 

Here is how the audio file of the song was produced:

The recording consists of 16 audio tracks managed with Logic Pro X software. Fifteen of the tracks were audio files (drums, organ, bass, guitars and voice) and one track was the “cloud impulse” program from a synthesizer pad. The main accompaniments were played on a 1991 Martin D41 acoustic guitar, a 1960 Fender Jazz master electric guitar, a handmade (“Elvis Presley Graceland” model) bass and a Hammond B3 organ. The guitar solo interlude between the second and third verses was played on a handmade (“License Plate” model) electric guitar. Guitars, bass and organ were played by Danny Mangold, a guitarist, guitar-maker and producer from Seattle, Washington, who also crafted the handmade guitars. The drum accompaniment was a track produced by looping a drum sample from a recording of Aaron Comess, drummer for the Spin Doctors band. Lyrics were sung by Cindy Morris and recorded with an ADK Hamburg microphone. Production of the audio file required 2 hours for production of an original demonstration version of the bed tracks and 5 hours of recording of the voice tracks and mixing. Lyrics were copyrighted by C.E. Morris on 30 Jan 2017 and permission for publication of a cover version of the original Both Sides Now song by Joni Mitchel was obtained on 28 Jan 2017 from the Harry Fox Agency before the .mp3 version of the audio file was uploaded to Sound Cloud. The .wav version was saved for use where listeners are likely to use excellent speakers beyond what their cell phones, computers and tablets permit. This file can be obtained from Cindy Morris.

guitars

 

The lyrics

Clouds: When Physics meets Biology

[cover version of Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell]

Lyrics (except for first 4 lines of the first verse) by Cindy Morris, copyright 2017.

 

[Verse 1]

Rows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere,

We’ve looked at clouds that way.

 

But are they blankets or albedo shields?

Or lakes of rain for crops in fields?

Impressions in the painter’s dream

Meet a science theme.

 

[Chorus]

We’ve looked at clouds that come and go

That surge or fade, or rain or snow

How can we hold them in our hands,

In hopes to one day understand?

 

[Verse 2]

Particles and drops so small

That billow in the clouds so tall.

Nucleate and aggregate

Will make the great rains fall.

 

They say that microbes are at the core

When crystals splinter and thunder roars.

When physics meets biology

Imagination soars.

 

[Chorus]

We’ve looked at clouds superficially

But now we want to really see

The complex web of processes

Do we really know clouds at all?

 

[Verse 3]

Proteins in the dance of ice

Hold water bonds that they’ve enticed.

With such appeal, their fate is sealed

Encased in falling rime.

 

Leaf blades spring as drops rebound

And trickle deep into the ground.

To be absorbed and launched again

For yet another round.

 

[Chorus]

Aerosols in masquerade

Take fleeting shapes in a white parade

Where Gibb’s free energy is king

We really shall know clouds someday.

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