Science, music mingle for musical masterpiece at Hancher

Composer and UI assistant presenter Jean-François Charles will present Science on Tap: The Scientific Concert, highlighting a musical collaboration between the arts and sciences.


Miranda Meyer

Naomi Hofferber, Senior Reporter

Music will take a scientific twist at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 with the Science on Tap: The Scientific Concert in Hancher Auditorium’s Stanley Cafe.

Using everything from slabs of stone to chimes made of glass, composer and University of Iowa Assistant Professor Jean-François Charles will present his collaboration with geologists, chemists, and physicists to create a concert rooted in science.

Charles said the current concert was a long time in the making. Starting as a collaboration between him and UI glassblower Benjamin Revis, the original idea for the concert came to fruition in April 2018. After the initial performance, Charles and Revis received additional funding from a Creative Matches grant to expand across more sciences and create what it is presented as today.

“I was blessed to have great and very involved scientists,” he said. “They were really involved in making the whole thing come together. It was really a team effort.”

Revis, who worked with Charles on the initial concert, created each of the glass pieces used in the performance, which include an Udu, an African instrument Revis formed from a glass flask, and a water clock designed after those made by French physicist Bernard Gitton. With the water clock, the focus for Revis was creating a visual centerpiece.

“It’s one thing to go to a concert and just watch a musician play and kind of close your eyes and listen to the sound,” Revis said. “It’s another thing to be engaged on stage with some visual appeal.”

In addition to the visually appealing instruments, Charles said slides will project what some of the stone slabs looked like under a microscope.

“There’s a level of whimsy and enjoyment that can go along with it,” Revis said. “Even from the areas of whimsy, there’s still quite a bit of science that is in the background. We enjoy it for what it is, but think of the complexity of musical instruments, from as simple as a whistle to the more complex instruments that everyone enjoys. There’s a lot of physics and a lot of aesthetics.”

Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said that since the Science on Tap program began four years ago, it has been a wonderful experience.

“Sometimes we get a café full of people,” he said. “Some of them are smaller audiences, but some of them, it’s a full house. We love that — using Hancher as a way to get to show the largest classroom on campus and how we connect across all of the disciplines.”

Swanson said that the Stanley Café — where the presentation takes place — creates a casual environment for people to come together and learn.

“What I love too — that’s in our spirit — is the collaborative nature of this university; working across campus and working together,” he said. “I think that it is one university, and when we make things like that happen, the more we do that sort of thing, the more we get to know each other.”