Higgs boson metal song creator not a fan of Megadeth’s Super Collider either

Posted by on May 11, 2015


The Higgs boson is an expression of a field that permeates all of space, one that gives normally massless particles the heft and substance that makes up all the matter we see and are made of. And it sounds like progressive metal. That’s according to particle physicist Piotr Traczyk, who’s been playing guitar since age 14 and was one of the 3,500 scientists working at Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) when the experiment tentatively confirmed the Higgs’ existence in 2012. Now Traczyk has combined his two great loves, music and science, to extract a song from that data.

“If I just take it straight out of the plot, what melody do I get?” Tracyzk wondered.

The plot he’s referring to is a graph of decay products, what’s left over after the Higgs boson deteriorates. The boson itself is extremely short-lived – a trillion trillion consecutive ones would almost fill up a single second.  So rather than observing the Higgs directly, the physicists at CERN had to count everything that remained after smashing two streams of particles together, to see if the results matched up to what the theory predicted.

They did, and the amounts of each individual decay product correspond to the notes in Tracyzk’s sonifcation. The more particles of a particular energy observed, the higher the note. Some energies were “empty,” corresponding naturally with rests.

What Traczyk got out of this was, as he said, a bunch of “weird notes that make no harmonic sense.” Fortunately for him, that coincides with his favorite style of music, going back to Dream Theater in the ‘90s and continuing on to Pain of Salvation today. “It’s probably going to be something like a progressive riff,” Tracyzk said.

The song that Traczyk composed repeats that chugging, progressive riff a few times,while a second guitar plays another data set from the Higgs discovery, a noodly, descending run fit for a solo. Traczyk then added bass and drum parts to fill out the metallic sound, creating about 40 seconds of physics turned sonic.

When conceiving this song, Traczyk was undeterred by the fact that Megadeth beat him to the punch on the subject matter, with their 2013 album title track, “Super Collider.”

“The song is, well … I wouldn’t say it’s very captivating,” Traczyk said.

Nevertheless, Traczyk still reached out to Megadeth after the record’s release, while the band was touring Europe, to see if they’d like to visit the experiment they referenced. He didn’t get a response. “Apparently they didn’t want to do that,” Tracyzk said.

With the Higgs boson firmly in the textbooks, and following this year’s upgrade to the LHC, Traczyk will soon resume work on even headier topics. His usual research looks for particles that could confirm the existence of extra spatial dimensions, beyond the three we’re used to. I wonder what that would sound like.

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