On Tuesday at a concert I found my mind drifting to physics. No criticism implied of the music, which was stunning.
In fact, when stunned, my mind often wanders off. It considers the fact that the LSO logo does in fact look like a conductor with a baton. It admires my wife’s cheekbones. It wonders what Szymanowski did with the rest of his vowels, and what it felt like to be Bartok, creating beauty while Europe headed towards horror.
And, very often, it wonders about physics.
Waves are possibly the best bit of physics. They pop up everywhere. Music is of course a particularly patterned arrangement of pressure waves in the air.
The orchestra had two harps. Beautiful sweeping things, nearly triangular but with a distinctive curve in the top side. Why is that curve like that, I wondered? Maybe because it looks nice, but since the curve affects the length of the strings, and the length of the strings affects the note played, probably not just ornamental.
Four quantities characterise a wave. Speed, frequency, wavelength and amplitude. You could add a fifth maybe, the shape of the wave, which is where all the tone and other subtleties come in. That’s where Stradivarius made his cash. But being a physicist I want to keep things simple. Think spherical cows.