This summer Elbow (23 June) and Paul Weller (24) will play outside the Jodrell Bank Observatory. We spoke to astrophysicist and Associate Director Of The University Of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory Dr Tim O'Brien about why their temporarily swapping stars of the stellar variety for music ones.
What made you decide to stage a music event at Jodrell?
"Obviously we're a scientific research centre and that's got to be at the heart of everything we do. We strongly believe that science is as much a part of culture as music. Both require creativity and imagination. Our aim is to bring science and music together, to enjoy the music of course but also to showcase the latest science. While developing our new Discovery Centre, which opened in April 2011, we'd been thinking about a range of events including a music festival. Then we were contacted by Andy Smith of Kendal Calling about the possibility of the band British Sea Power playing a gig at Jodrell. Turns out Kendal Calling were the ideal people to work with for what we wanted at Jodrell, something high quality, not too big but also a little quirky. With Ear To The Ground also on board, this eventually turned into Transmission 001, Live from Jodrell Bank in July 2011."
What makes Jodrell work as a live venue?
"It's a unique . The site and the Cheshire countryside is dominated by the giant Lovell Telescope, an icon of science and engineering. One of the largest telescopes in the world, 90 metres high with a dish 76 metres in diameter, it looms over the stage, constantly moving as it picks up signals from space. There's also the added spectacle of having the telescope to bounce amazing projections off."
Talk us through the acts you've booked for this year's event? Did they have to have a space connection or interest at all?
"We work closely with the Kendal Calling team during the process of booking the acts. Although they don't particularly need to have a space or science connection we want to make sure they understand our aims in putting on the event and showcasing science. In particular, we look for opportunities to bring aspects of science into the show, whether it be in the visuals or even in the music itself. Actually all the bands have been really up for it, although it would be pretty hard to ignore a 3200 tonne telescope looming over your shoulder when you're on stage! Elbow are obviously a local band so know all about Jodrell Bank. Guy Garvey has even named his cat after Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, the woman who discovered pulsars - the collapsed cores of exploded stars which Jodrell Bank is famous for studying."
Does gazing at stars help you with dealing with them?
"Ha. No, not really. Actually the bands have all been really up for getting involved with the astronomy. Last year, we took British Sea Power and The Flaming Lips on a look behind the scenes in the Control Room. Wayne Coyne was very interested in what we were doing, particularly the possibility of picking up signals from extraterrestrials, so we let him have a walk around the Telescope in his Space Ball.
Will you be able to work while the event's on? Or will amps and such cause interference?
"Our big telescopes are collecting radio waves arriving from space. Some of these have been travelling for billions of years so you can imagine they're pretty faint signals by the time they get here. That's why the Lovell Telescope is so huge - it's powerful enough to pick up your mobile phone if you went and made a call from Mars! So any nearby source of radio interference can cause us a problem. During the gigs we will have issues with lighting rigs, amplification, visuals, etc. Normally we ask visitors to switch off their mobile phones whilst they're on site but during the music events we have an amnesty so that will also challenge the radio astronomy. However, we plan to keep observing during the afternoon and right up to the headliners - as the crowd grows and the on-stage activity increases then only the brightest objects will end up being visible, in exactly the same way as only the brightest stars or planets are visible from cities because of light pollution. But as soon as the show is over and the audience heads for home, the telescope will head straight back to whatever's next on our target list."
If you discover anything while the shows are on, will you name it after who's playing at the time?
"I think if that happened the band might end up in a fight for naming rights with the astronomers who were running the telescope at the time! Actually, most astronomical objects end up with pretty boring official names based on catalogue numbers. But a few famous ones get special names. A few years ago we discovered PSR J0737-3039A/B - more commonly known by astronomers as the Double Pulsar - two dead stars which we're using to provide the best ever test of Einstein's theory of gravity, General Relativity. So if we did discover something new during a show then maybe it could end up being known as the Elbow Pulsar or the Weller Nebula."
What's the best way to get to the observatory and how will facilities compare with other outdoor events?
"The major difference from a more normal music event is that we are running a science festival alongside the music. The Discovery Centre will be open all afternoon and, as well as finding out about the latest developments in our research and meeting Jodrell Bank scientists and engineers, you can also hear about other fascinating research from across the University of Manchester and beyond. There'll be updates on particle physics from CERN, celebrations of the Alan Turing Centenary, with the Olympics in mind we'll be looking at the science of sport, and lots more! We're encouraging people to book coach travel to the venue to cut down on car travel. We've got coaches coming from Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Crewe and many other locations. All of which can be found at Livefromjodrellbank.com."
As it's space, music and Manchester have you roped in Professor Brian Cox at all? He played in a band once you know...
"I know Brian very well of course. He's a colleague of mine in the University Of Manchester's School Of Physics And Astronomy and I work closely with him on the BBC's Stargazing Live programmes broadcast from here at Jodrell Bank. He's been concentrating on particle physics so I think it's some time since he got his keyboards out in anger, but we're certainly looking forward to future projects with him. Watch this space!"
For more information, line-ups and the latest ticket news, head to Livefromjodrellbank.com.
10:06 AM | 13/04/2012
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