Science songster interview #13: John Boswell

John Boswell, of Symphony of Science fame, has already been interviewed quite a bit — for example, by the Daily Dot, Joanne Manaster of PsiVid, LA Beat, Nat&Marie, Richard Smith, and Under The Gun. But I wanted to ask him specifically about his latest project, the just-released Terra Lumina album, and John was kind enough to accommodate me.

John D. Boswell

SAS&M: YOU ARE BEST KNOWN AS THE GUY WHO AUTO-TUNED CARL SAGAN, AND THEN OTHERS, IN THE SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE SERIES OF MUSIC VIDEOS. YOUR NEW ALBUM, TERRA LUMINA, BEARS ONLY A MODERATE RESEMBLANCE TO THE SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE WORK. I ASSUME YOU WANTED TO MAKE SOME SCIENCE-RELATED MUSIC THAT DIDN’T INVOLVE AUTO-TUNING, BUT WHAT WERE YOUR OTHER MOTIVES FOR MAKING THIS ALBUM?

JB: With Terra Lumina, I wanted to create science music that is more likely to stand the test of time. The remix techniques I use in Symphony of Science are fun and can be very uplifting, but there’s a good chance they will be seen as tacky by most people not too long from now. Terra Lumina is something much more traditional and natural, and while it is a completely different undertaking, shares the same underlying sense of fascination about the world.

SAS&M: IN SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE, THE SCIENTISTS ARE YOUR VOCALISTS; IN TERRA LUMINA, THAT ROLE BELONGS TO WILL CROWLEY. WILL’S VOICE IS GREAT, BUT I HAVE TO ASK: DO YOU NOT ENJOY SINGING?

JB: I have a terrible voice, otherwise you probably would have heard me sing by now! Will is a great singer and we have similar passion for science, so he was a great fit for the project.

SAS&M: CAN YOU MAKE YOUR OWN SINGING VOICE SOUND GOOD VIA AUTOTUNING? OR ARE THE RESULTS STILL NOT PLEASING?

JB: I can make it sound better — but not great, and I can be something of a perfectionist at times which prevents me from ever going that route. Auto-tuning is no magic bullet for just plain bad voices. :)

SAS&M: THE SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE WORDS CONSIST ALMOST ENTIRELY OF PITHY, WISE QUOTES BY ELOQUENT SPEAKERS. IN CREATING TERRA LUMINA, DID YOU FEEL A LOT OF PRESSURE TO CREATE LYRICS THAT WOULD BE SIMILARLY STIRRING? (OR DID WILL, IF HE WROTE THE WORDS?)

JB: Writing the lyrics for Terra Lumina was a huge learning experience that gave me newfound respect for the scientists whose words I have been borrowing for the Symphony of Science series. It is remarkably hard to put the beauty of the natural world into concise and meaningful phrases that do justice to its magnificence, and this project helped me realize how great the greats really are.

SAS&M: IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE FOR TERRA LUMINA ANY DIFFERENT THAN FOR SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE? I’M PARTLY WONDERING WHETHER ONE PROJECT IS MORE CLASSROOM-FRIENDLY THAN THE OTHER. ON THE ONE HAND, THE FLASHY SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE VIDEOS SHOULD BE GREAT FOR ENGAGING STUDENTS. ON THE OTHER HAND, TERRA LUMINA IS NOT A BIG MASH-UP OF DIFFERENT SCIENTISTS’ QUOTES, SO THE NARRATIVES MAY BE EASIER TO FOLLOW.

JB: We’re not targeting any specific demographic with Terra Lumina, just as I didn’t set out to please a certain set of people with Symphony of Science. There will be fans from a wide range of age groups for both I suspect, and where it gains the most popularity is fairly uncertain at this point.

SAS&M: YOU SEEM TO HAVE A DEEPLY FELT SENSE OF WONDER ABOUT THE WORKINGS OF THE UNIVERSE. WHERE DO YOU THINK THAT COMES FROM? IS IT MOSTLY TRACEABLE TO YOUR COLLEGE SCIENCE COURSES, WHICH YOU REALLY LIKED, OR DOES IT GO BACK FARTHER THAN THAT?

JB: As a kid, like most kids, I was really into space, dinosaurs, and the like; as adults we tend to get desensitized to how awesome those concepts are. I think every adult would carry the same sense of wonder I do if they were exposed to the same information as I was, both as a child and as I grow older.

SAS&M: LISTENING TO YOUR MUSIC, AND HEARING THAT PERVASIVE SENSE OF WONDER, I’VE BECOME CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT YOUR RELIGIOUS VIEWS MIGHT BE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO ADDRESS THIS, BUT … ANY COMMENTS?

JB: I am not religious, but I respect religious people and I think there is room for science and religion to co-habitate.

SAS&M: I REALLY ENJOY HEARING THE STORIES OF WHERE SPECIFIC SCIENCE SONGS CAME FROM, INSPIRATION-WISE. CAN YOU TELL US ONE OF THOSE STORIES? HOW A TERRA LUMINA SONG GREW OUT OF A PARTICULAR BOOK YOU READ OR LECTURE YOU HEARD OR DREAM YOU HAD OR WHATEVER?

JB: Inspiration for the songs comes from many different places – one of the coolest concepts in my eyes is the journey that a photon takes from massive distances just to reach a person’s eyeball and register as starlight. That inspiring concept became the basis for the song “If I Were A Lowly Photon,” and every time I stargaze I can’t help but be amazed at the idea.

SAS&M: TERRA LUMINA WAS FINANCED IN PART THROUGH A KICKSTARTER CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN. PRESUMABLY YOUR CROWDFUNDING SUCCESS WAS PARTLY DUE TO THE LARGE FAN BASE YOU’VE BUILT THROUGH SYMPHONY OF SCIENCE. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ON CROWDFUNDING FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T AS WELL KNOWN?

JB: My crowdfunding advice would be to create something unique and identifiable that hasn’t been done before, and work on presenting it well — think everything through before you undergo the campaign and make sure your presentation isn’t shoddy, and you should have a solid chance of success.

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One Response to Science songster interview #13: John Boswell

  1. Very nice interview about a neat project, right here. Mr. Boswell is a dedicated artist and craftsman – and a cool guy who shares insight into his process. I discovered his PBS remixes and was blown away, along with the millions of other YouTube viewers, and he was generous enough to answer my own questions about his music while fielding interviews from Forbes, NPR and CNN. Thanks for the link back to my blog!

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