Scoring the Big Bang: Music and science help alumna examine the universe’s opening chords

Choir singers performing inside Richmond's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Ander Mikalson’s “Score for the Big Bang” is performed at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

There are some who describe the start of the universe as a cosmic hiss, at a pitch lower than the human ear can register. That primordial sound built up over time, becoming louder and deeper as the universe expanded. Denser patches of dark matter pulled light in, creating sound waves. The peaks and valleys of those waves formed the structure of the universe, eventually becoming the stars, galaxies and empty spaces we observe today.

It’s a sound that slowly unfurled for 400,000 years. Or — in the mind of Ander Mikalson (M.F.A.’12/A) — about eight minutes.

As a first-year graduate student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts Department of Painting and Printmaking, Mikalson re-created a phonautograph, the earliest sound recording device, and wanted to use it to replay the sounds of the very beginning of time.

“That’s when I realized that I needed to work with that sound, directly,” she said. “That sound actually preceded the structure of the universe that we see today.”

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