The Symphony of Science with John Boswell

Unlike many musicians, Bellingham resident John Boswell isn’t in the business for fame, notoriety or money. Rather, the drive for Boswell’s work, including Symphony of Science, Terra Lumina, his YouTube channel melodysheep, and numerous other projects, comes from a desire to introduce others to the wonders and marvels of science. Boswell’s musical career began in Spokane, where he played in a number of metal bands.

“It was pretty terrible, but that was my modest start,” he said. “I got interested in piano when I was trying to learn the keyboard and I took a year of piano lessons at age 18. I was really interested in music theory at that point and the production side of things, so after that I came to Western and thought about majoring in music but I was turned off by how competitive it was and I just wanted to do my own thing. So I kept going on my own, doing electronic compositions and learning piano and doing my own thing. And that developed throughout college.”

Boswell decided to become an economics major, and that didn’t stop him from broadening his horizons.

“I became a huge fan of science after taking my [General University Requirements] at Western, actually,” said Boswell. “I took a bunch of interesting classes that really sparked my interest in science and introduced me to Carl Sagan. As a kid obviously I was really interested in space and dinosaurs, maybe more than average, but it’s strange how a lot of that stuff falls by the wayside for most adults, they don’t retain that fascination.”

A year after graduating, Boswell had amassed a decent library of electronic music. After seeing The Gregory Brothers’ “Auto-Tune the News,” a series of music videos created using sound clips from various news networks, Boswell was inspired to create his own science-based version.

“I was blown away by how creative and fun and unique it was. So, having a little experience with Auto-Tune myself, I decided to give it a shot and in the fall of 2009 I came out with a couple videos, one of which was “A Glorious Dawn.” About a week after I released it, it went viral, which was totally unexpected. So that was kind of the onset of the Symphony of Science project and where I am today.”

Since then, Symphony of Science has been steadily gaining in popularity, garnering features from multiple well-renowned publications, including Scientific American. Boswell said he gets the most satisfaction from his fans.

“It’s been amazing to get feedback from the teachers and students that e-mail me and say, ‘Oh , you’ve inspired me to go back to school, or you’ve inspired me to become an astronomy major or my kids love your videos.’ I would never have expected that but it’s a great side effect of making these videos. It’s really important, I think, for people growing up in future generations to be well-versed in science because it’s going to be a huge part of the 21st century.”

While Symphony of Science has been incredibly rewarding for Boswell, he admits that there are limitations to working with voices you did not record yourself, and that the constant manipulation and production work can be frustrating. So he approached his friend and fellow musician, Will Crowley, with an idea.

“I’ve been making music with my buddy Will for a long time and he’s really interested in science and everything, so I came to him and proposed this album of original science music that would be aspiring to the same kind of inspiration factor that Symphony of Science has, but with more original and traditional music. We decided that’d be fun and went for it on Kickstarter, and it was a huge success.”

The project, Terra Lumina, is far removed from much of the work featured on Symphony of Science. While both projects have similar goals, Terra Lumina is more conventional and folk-based, with real instruments and vocals (provided by Crowley and Cara Alboucq, with additional contributions from Zach Brown, Jordan Vessels and Peter Pearsall).

“When we were writing the songs, I felt like some of them were more deserving of the electronic treatment, but some of them needed that homely folk vibe you wouldn’t get from an electronica song,” he said. “It depends on the concept you’re trying to convey.”

Ultimately, the goal of Symphony of Science and Terra Lumina is to bring science to a broader audience. Boswell hopes to be able to release a box set of DVDs or CDs with all of the material released through Symphony of Science so far, a box set that can be marketed towards schools. In the meantime, he is working on a stop-motion video for the song “Tree of Life” off of the self-titled Terra Lumina album that was released in December. Additionally, Boswell says there will be new Symphony of Science material forthcoming, including a Steve Irwin-themed remix.

“I just want people to be as inspired as I am about these concepts,” he said. “It’s really incredible some of this stuff. It’s like a gateway drug, once you’re hooked you can’t help but be fascinated by all the stories and ideas.”

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