Darcy J. Gentleman
December 6, 2007 In music these days, melodies packed with lyrics addressing philosophy, religion and love are a dime a dozen. But rarely are these themes accompanied by science. I know, I know, science in music? Sounds dry. Who would want to listen to that!? Well it sure caught the attention of Rolling Stone when reporter Jenny Eliscu profiled the topic in her recent “Breaking” feature on the hit Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez.
That Gonzalez’s music has a scientific theme is no accident. When his first album Veneer came out in 2003 (North America in 2005), Gonzalez was working on a Master’s degree in microbiology - or biochemistry, depending on the source. Regardless of the speciality, Gonzalez’s plan was to become a professor or work in pharmaceuticals.
But finding that a world tour and grad school were hard to time-manage, Gonzalez decided to dedicate his days to writing music. His second full-length album, In Our Nature, came out in September 2007, Canada included.
Did You Know?
In August 2007, Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, submitted his Ph.D. thesis in astrophysics to Imperial College London. He put his research on zodiacal dust (floating dirt of the solar system) on the back burner in 1971 so as to become a rock god with Freddie Mercury.
Gonzalez was born in 1978 to Argentinean parents in Goteburg, Sweden. While a teenager, he began to take guitar lessons. He remarks in an online interview at La Blogotheque that he wanted to learn jazz guitar, but his teacher only knew classical. Despite deviating in his late teens into punk, hard core, and electronica, Gonzalez’s sound is distinctly a mix of classical guitaring skills and the South American rhythms that he was raised on.
Well received in Europe, but largely an indie word-of-mouth star, Gonzalez had two big breaks starting in 2005. One was the use of his cover of “Heartbeats” by The Knife, another Swedish band, in a TV ad for Sony’s “BRAVIA” televisions. The second was the use of his song “Crosses” in a third season episode of The O.C.
Did You Know?
Thomas Dolby featured noted British science popularist Magnus Pyke in “She Blinded Me With Science” Dr. Pyke also appeared in the 1982 video.
In Our Nature is described by many reviewers as “hypnotic”. On a first listen, it sounds much like other artists of the folk singer-songwriter genre, including Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, and the oft-mentioned Nick Drake. But listening to it again, which doesn’t take long as the album clocks in at just over 30 minutes, the catchy beats of the South American sound with Gonzalez’s floating voice really start to become addictive. The songs “Teardrop”, “Cycling Trivialities”, and what appears to be the lead single, “Killing For Love” will echo in your mind for hours.
Gonzalez’s lyrics are both relevant to current events and human behaviour. In interviews, Gonzalez cites evolutionary biologist/geneticist Richard Dawkins? recently controversial The God Delusion as a source of inspiration. Perhaps someone who one minute watches E. coli fighting in a petri dish then the next minute watches the news, sees nothing but battles for cultural supremacy!
Did You Know?
Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), a composer and violin, oboe, and organ player, discovered the planet Uranus (which he named “George” after his boss King George III) and several other celestial objects. He worked during the American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars.
For certain, Gonzalez’s use of the scientific method by slowly working on his songs has brought him to a level of musical performance that captures listeners. Although he may no longer be in a lab, many of his fans would agree that Gonzalez has the power to produce large quantities of the pleasure-molecule dopamine in their brains by singing his lilting melodies.
Eliscu, J. (2007) ?Folk Gets Scientific,? Rolling Stone, #1036, pg. 22.
Mitton, J. (1991) A Concise Dictionary of Astronomy. Oxford, New York.
Thain, M. and Hickman, M. (2001) The Penguin Dictionary of Biology, 10e. (Based on 1e by M. Abercrombie, C.J. Hickman, and M.L. Johnson). Penguin, Toronto.
Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" video
Brian May's website has a lot of astronomy news:
Darcy J. Gentleman is a Toronto-based science writer. In a previous life as an astronomy student, he remembers needing lots of coffee to calculate the switch from Gregorian to Julian. Fortunately, he now knows how to use the magical internet(http://www.csgnetwork.com/juliandatetime.html) to figure out that 02:29:08 on February 29, 2008 is 2454525.6035648147 in Julian time.