Quantum music

One quirk of reporting that the best stories you get when interviewing people often don’t fit the story you’re writing. I had that happen recently, as I reported a piece on the potential quantum computing cluster emerging in Waterloo, Ontario. Near the end of an interview with Raymond Laflamme, the director of the Institute for Quantum Computing, he started talking about the vibrant community in the Waterloo area, and how that helped him in recruiting. Little things like how he was able to circumvent Waterloo’s physician shortage because his doctor found out what he did, and told him to just send over any of his quantum team, and he’d see them. How 600 people show up for a theoretical physics lecture once a month.

My favorite involves his meeting with the conductor of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, who wanted to do something with the IQC. The two brainstormed and decided to do a quantum concert, or really the history of physics in music.

“If you look at the history of science and music, they are concepts that seem to appear roughly at the same time, seem to be related,” Laflamme said. Newton, for instance, and Mozart were contemporaries. “They are well-defined, you can predict what’s going to happen.” But, when the 20th century arrives, music was in upheaval, and the same was true for science. Later, the randomness of quantum mechanics will emerge at about the same time as John Cage.

Fun as it was, I couldn’t work it into a 750-word piece. So I’m writing it here.

Here’s the program for the quantum concert:

Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science  


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)  

Symphony No.29 in A major, K.201 (186a) *  


I. Allegro moderato




Anton Webern (1883 – 1945) / Transcribed by Gerard Schwarz, from an early work for string quartet.

Langsamer Satz     



Charles Ives (1874 – 1954)  

The Unanswered Question, S.50     



Anton Webern (1883 – 1945)  

Excerpt from Symphony, op.21  

 I.  Ruhig schreiten  II.  Variationen



John Cage (1912 – 1992)  

Atlas eclipticalis


Henry Brant (b. 1913)  

On the Nature of Things (After Lucretius)  



Yannis Xenakis (1922 – 2001)  




Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Symphony No.29 in A major, K.201 (186a) *

I. Allegro moderato



John Cage (1912 – 1992)

Atlas eclipticalis– will be performed simultaneously with Mozart Symphony 29   

I don’t know quite about that last bit, with the reprisal of the Mozart and the Cage, only played simultaneously. I guess that’s quantum superpositioning, orchestra-style.
Here’s a blog with some video of the concert.

Laflamme told me as we were parting that when he was in high school, he’d been able to spend a day with Zenakis, and it was one of the highlights of his life. Gotta love that!

Leave a Reply