INDIUM - an interview with Chemical & Engineering News
conducted by Celia Henry, C&EN Washington)
A couple of years
ago, composer Richard Bone was approached to present a piece at an electronic
music festival in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"I hadn't performed in 20 years, but for some unknown reason
I said yes," he says. He was afraid that getting his equipment to St. Petersburg
would be a "nightmare," so he decided to compose a "minimal piece of slow-moving
music and use a video to accompany it."
Bone found inspiration for that piece in the most unlikely of
places -- the Periodic Table of the Elements. The combination of music and
video is known as "Indium," a 30-minute composition of three distinct section.
In the accompanying video, the scene changes every 10 minutes to match the
changes in the music. It falls into the genre of experimental music known
as ambient music.
Bone got his start in pop music and says that he is still something
of a pop song-writer, because most of his pieces are only three or four minutes
long. "This was the first time I had ever attempted to compose something
that was 30 minutes long and try to keep it interesting and moving," he says.
It was written as three separate pieces that Bone then had to flow into each
other to make one continuous piece of music.
Interestingly, although indium ultimately provided the inspiration
for the finished piece, the idea was originally planted by another element.
A fan of the Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro, Bone visited the Fundacio
Joan Miro in Barcelona, where he saw the "Mercury fountain," which was created
by Alexander Calder for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. In this sculpture,
liquid mercury is piped from a pool and flows down a series of curved metal
pieces back into the pool. The sculpture was created a political statement
against the seizure of the Almaden mercury mines by Francisco Franco during
the Spanish Civil War.
"I could watch that mercury flow forever," Bone says. "I came
back and wanted to do a piece that slowly evolved like flowing mercury."
But he didn't want to call a piece "Mercury" because that had
already been done, so he looked elsewhere for an appropriate name. I somehow
stumbled across a periodic table and saw the word indium," Bone says. "I'd
never heard of it, so I looked up the description of it. The description
almost perfectly described the music and the video that I wanted to do."
Indium is a soft, lustrous, silvery white metal. It is useful
for making alloys with low melting points. For example, an alloy of 24% indium
and 76% gallium is a liquid at room temperature. The element was discovered
spectroscopically in 1863 by Ferdinand Reich and his assistant Hieronymous
T. Richter while they were searching for thallium in zinc ore. The element
was named for the brilliant indigo line in its spectrum. The pure metal was
first isolated in 1867 by Richter. Until 1924, about a gram represented the
entire world supply of the isolated metal. Indium was originally thought
to be rare, but it is actually about as abundant as silver.
The definition of indium that Bone found "evoked in me the music
I was creating." He printed the definition and taped it over the keyboard
where he could see it as he worked on the piece. "There was something about
the description of that element that seemed to capture what I wanted to create
in the music," he says.
He took the definition to Jim Karpeichik, a local videographer,
and told him that he wanted to create a visual that evolved and moved very
slowly. Karpeichik filmed ocean scenes at the beach in Rhode Island, slowed
them down, and colorized them.
Bone's approach to composing "Indium" was unusual for him.
Typically, he improvises on the keyboard, looking for an unusual sound that
he hasn't worked with before that can inspire him melodically. The work slowly
starts to evolve from there. Often, he doesn't have a title for a work until
he's done. "This was going to be a live performance piece, originally," Bone
says. "I needed to have some very clear concept of what I was going to do."
The music festival fell through when the Russian government
declined to fund it, but the festival producers also owned a record company.
The Russian record company Electroshock Records released the album "Indium"
in December 2002. In the U.S., it is exclusively available from the online
ordering sites http:www.eurock.com and http:gemm.com. Another interesting
tidbit, given that this is C&EN's 80th or "mercurial" anniversary; The
second track on the album is called "Mercurial Wave."
Celia Henry is an associate
editor for science, technology, and education at C&EN. A music lover
with broad-ranging tastes, Celia discovered a new musical genre while writing
& Engineering News website for other elemental links....