mirror sky

The Exchange: Tex Crick and Rana Adhikari discuss time travel using a mirror and listening to music in 4 dimensions.

The Arts and Sciences used to share much of the same intellectual space. Only recently have they diverged to the degree that they seem diametrically opposed. The Exchange is our attempt to rekindle some of the dialogue that occurred between the two fields.

In this installment, we’ve brought together recording artist Tex Crick and California Institute of Technology’s Rana Adhikari.

From the small coastal town of Coledale on the south coast of Australia comes Tex Crick. Since appearing on the scene in 2013, Crick’s versatility as a keyboardist led him far and wide, making a name for himself as a cult figure amongst alt-music fanatics. With a modest reputation for performing alongside a diverse array of international artists, Crick has played with Kirin J. Callinan, Weyes Blood, Connan Mockasin, and Iggy Pop. While Tex Crick is best known as an adaptable collaborator, his full-length debut, ​Live In… New York City​, presents his own fleshed-out, piano-driven sound. It’s also the first time Crick introduces his own voice, a signifying turn in his music.

Taking a leaf from piano-driven pop records of a bygone era, Tex Crick’s Live In… New York City​ is a homage to sentimentality, merging classic songcraft with a naturally delicate approach on instrumentation. From misty-eyed love ballads to janky-edged rock spectacles. ​Live In… New York City unfolds a cloyingly sweet campaign of softhearted classics.

Rana Adhikari (@RanaXAdhikari) is an experimental physicist with interests in fundamental physics including tests of gravity and quantum mechanics. His group focuses on techniques for precision measurement as related to gravitational wave detection, measurements of short scale gravity, and bounds on quantum mechanics at the macroscopic scale using precision opto-mechanics.

According to Prof. Adhikari, “Our group’s aim is to study fundamental physics, by whatever means necessary. Much of our research takes place as part of the LIGO Laboratory, making more sensitive instruments to better measure gravitational radiation from distance astrophysical sources.

“With recent developments in our understanding of quantum measurement, the boundaries of how far we can reach should extend out to the edge of the observable universe and include, in high fidelity, the structure of spacetime at the horizon of black holes.”

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TEX CRICK: This has been on my mind for some time. If I shot a mirror into space and watched my reflection through a telescope as the mirror hurled millions of light years away, what would I see?

Let’s assume nothing ever collides with the mirror and it’s moving so fast it reaches the outer limits of the universe with ease. Also, I’ve somehow acquired the most powerful super-telescope ever imaginable and it has no problem viewing the mirror in perfect detail at any distance. I understand light takes longer to travel back to earth the further the mirror moves away.

So basically, could I see what earth looked like billions of years ago (or more) by looking into the mirror? If not… what would I see?

RANA ADHIKARI: Yes, you’re right. We could use this idea to peer back into the “past”.

For example, if we were to have already put a mirror at the orbit of Pluto (~4 light-hours), then we would see our own past 8 hours ago. We could do lip reading and find out who really said what during that argument last night. With an array of such mirrors spaced at different intervals, we could just aim our telescopes to different mirrors and effectively have a dial to zoom in onto any moment in history post-giant-mirror installation.

An astronomer standing with eye to eyepiece might look out into the night sky and spy their own eye.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we hurl our mirrors, we can never look back to a point in time before the giant mirrors were installed. Einstein’s Special theory of Relativity describes how it would take infinite energy to accelerate any object to the speed of light.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, however, to find out that another civilization has already constructed these mirrors for us? They may have spied on our ancestors with their solar system sized telescopes and guessed that we would also build telescopes some day. If so, in less than 1000 years we may have telescopes large enough to look back into our deep history.

RANA ADHIKARI: Physicists struggle with visualizing the concept of 4 dimensions of space. Although we are able to connect 1D, 2D, and 3D using the types of analogies found in Flatland, or the film Interstellar, it still escapes our imagination. So we only have our mathematics to guide us in imagining the true nature of reality.

When we listen to music or natural sounds, we can often tell what kind of space we’re in by the echoes: singing in the shower, a narrow hallway, a room with a low ceiling, or an open field. These are examples of waves propagating in 0, 1, 2, or 3 spatial dimensions, respectively.

Is it possible for humans to conceptualize 4 dimensions of space with suitably processed music?

TEX CRICK: Okay. I’ll try to come to some sort of conclusion here by starting with some very basic things I understand about dimensions and then kick around the notion of multi-dimensional sound. Keep in mind I’m no scientist and barely graduated high school… I’ll just spitball.

When I think of 3-dimensions, I imagine: Up, down, left, right, forward and backward. This is the dimension we live in. If you include time as its own dimension, then we have 4-dimensions, right? 

Like you said, in open air, sound waves propagate in 3-dimensions from its source. Then when you introduce the distance the sound would travel from its source over a period of time, (e.g. down a long tunnel), it would take some time to reach the end of the tunnel, so would that make sound 4-dimensional? I’m not sure, but let me talk a little about audio recording.

Music we listen to today is recorded in stereo. Two speakers, left and right. When you compare pre 1960’s monophonic recordings to modern stereo recordings, it’s kinda like the equivalent of looking at a shape drawn in 2D and 3D. A mixing engineer has the ability to pan each instrument wherever they like between the left and right speakers instead of everything just sitting in the middle. It feels like you’re adding a whole new ‘dimension’ to a previously ‘flat’ monophonic audio signal. You’re sort of creating this pseudo-3D space between your ears where you can map out individual instruments, e.g. drums in the middle, piano to your right, guitar on the left etc. 

Depending on how loud these instruments are in the mix, it’s almost as if they are positioned at different distances from you too. If you close your eyes, it’s like the music whirls all around you. Each band member is positioned in an imaginary 3-dimensional space within your mind.

Saying this, I’m not sure I’d consider monophonic recordings to be 2-dimensional, or stereo recordings as 3-dimensional. I’m not sure there is even 1-dimensional sound, but I assume 1-dimensional sound might move on a single axis, forward (and backward?). Something like a guitar cable, maybe. The sound travels in one direction from the electric guitar to the amplifier.

Then again, time comes into play with different lengths of cable, the longer the cable the longer it takes for the sound to travel from one end to another. Even if it is a very small amount, it’s still something to consider. Also the cable itself is a 3-dimensional object. So, I’m not quite sure what to think now.

There were some audio effect units made in the 1970’s which claim to add ‘spatial dimension’ to your Hi-Fi system (Victor Sound Composer, Technics SH8030 or the Technics SH3040 Ambience Controller). 

I’ll try to talk about this briefly, but they use BBD (Bucket-Brigade-Device) chips to slightly delay certain frequencies in the signal path to create this pseudo ‘spatial’ feel… It’s hard to explain… It feels like you’re in the music, like the band is surrounding you. They fizzled out of production because they’re notoriously noisy and a bit of a gimmick.

A few of these units combined quadraphonic HiFi with BBD spatial control…Wacky… Also, the early BOSS pedals used these BBD chips and, hot dog, they really did sound better. The sound was warm, noisy & gritty.

These BBD circuits are pretty good at further shaping the ‘image’ of a sound in our minds beyond the standard stereo field. Still, not quite enough to conceive ‘4-dimensional sound’…  Whatever it may be… I think we’d need something more.

If we had an extra ear on top of our heads and another under our chin (four ears total) then maybe we could pan the audio up and down instead of just left and right. And what about turning the volume left and right, instead of just up and down… It’s difficult to conceptualize what that would sound like at all, but I’d love to hear it. Again, I’m not sure what ‘dimension’ of sound we would perceive from that but I like the idea of it.

I imagine we’d also need bigger brains to take in all that information. Then there is the whole thing about humans perceiving sound differently, similar to the way we all could be seeing colors differently and never even realize. My red is your blue. Could your major be my minor?

Coming back to the question. I’d say it’s possible to conceptualize only if you’re capable of perceiving it. And back to what I was saying about stereo vs mono, we are only able to perceive these stereo recordings as ‘3-dimensional’ sound because we have two ears and a brain to conceptualize it. The fact that one extra ear can make all the difference in terms of spatial awareness compared to just having one…

Same goes for eyes and depth perception too. Each eye takes in a 2-dimensional image; it’s the brain that calculates that data into 3-dimensions.

Like you said, it’s difficult to visualize a 4th dimension when we can only really use analogies to conceptualize it. 

If I was going to attempt to perceive 4-dimensional sound, I think I’d need a larger brain, an ARP 2500 hooked up to my cochlear nerves, triggered by my brain waves, and maybe a float tank capable of total darkness with no trace of the physical reality we live in. 

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