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'[Im]permanence' conference features Alan Lightman

Time, music, and art were highlighted topics of this week?s Center for the Arts in Society?s ?[Im]permanence: Cultures in and out of Time? conference. Participants could make the most of that time over the weekend by attending over 15 panel discussions, a number of gallery exhibits, and dance and musical performances.

The Center for the Arts in Society, which hosted the weekend conference, is a center of ?inquiry? and ?creativity,? according to Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences John Lehoczky. Specifically, it is a conglomeration of the College of Fine Arts and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences that explores relations between art, social change, and history.

The conference?s events varied in content, including panel discussions on various perceptions of time, a photography presentation by Martin Prekop, and a talk by filmmakers Jeffrey Martin and Stephanie Maxwell on their experience in the Center for Fine Arts. Robert Escot and Pozzi Cogan explored links between sound and music. In particular, Escot talked about spatial relationships in music, noting that nearly every song had one high point and one low point. High and low points, as well as different areas of density, can be perfectly represented pictorially in the ?Rabatman? ? a particular kind of musical notation.
Cogan believes that the musician should ?create and re-create? certain fragile sounds. He employs ?scientific analysis? of pitch and time to convey particular music pieces. The graphs have various shapes, colors, and shades. The colors represent loudness, while boldness represent how pronounced certain features are.

Cogan points out that just as scientists have new, contemporary views of information, so, too, do musicians have a ?new view? of music that will hopefully ?open sounds of many places and many expressions.?

In the conference?s keynote address on Friday evening, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman set the conference?s tone and spoke about the differences and similarities between artists and scientists. In particular, Lightman praised math for its ?shining purity.? ?You?re guaranteed an answer clean and crisp as a $20 bill,? said Lightman.

But people aren?t as logical and precise as mathematical answers, Lightman cautioned. Personal experience and emotion are important factors in, for instance, interpreting a novel.

According to Lightman, artists and scientists are similar in that they both invent worlds of their own. He gave the example of a physicist who must consider theoretical situations to test ideas. For instance, scientists hypothesize about the ?String Theory? ? that all matter, even atoms, is composed of tiny strings. The novelist, too, creates a unique world by allowing the reader to use his or her ?head and heart? to connect with characters.

An astrophysicist who gradually moved into writing novels, Lightman has had experience in both situations.

According to Lehoczky, the tech-oriented community at Carnegie Mellon benefits from having a broad-based thinker like Lightman as a speaker. Such events, he said, help to create new dialogue ?between humanists and artists.?