How autotune changed my life with science

Science is something I wasn’t a big fan of in school. I thought physics was ok, especially when we were talking about planets, but chemistry bored me to tears and biology wasn’t much better unless we were watching some sex-ed video, or looking up breastfeeding in the text book. Ultimately I left school without much scientific knowledge, or much interest in the subject that spans everything from sub-atomic particles, to the creation of the entire universe. Whether that was because of the way I was taught, my age and maturity, or simply because at the time I much preferred fiction to the real world, is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that I just wasn’t interested in science. Until autotune came along.

You wouldn’t think it, but autotune, despite its ability to turn a lot of popular music into the same-sounding, near-perfect note, boring tripe, has its uses. One of them is of course to make Lil Jon’s voice sound funny, but it’s also great for songifying things. That is, taking audio (and often video) of people discussing something and turning it into a song with clever manipulation of their voices.

But while many people have taken it down the road of making others look silly, one person took it in an entirely different direction: turning scientists into poets. It was about four years ago that I stumbled upon John D. Boswell, who goes by the nameĀ MelodySheep on Youtube, a musician who took the words from famous physicists, biologists, humanists, astronauts and many others, and turned them into songs about a wide variety of topics. The first one ever created and the first one I heard, was titled “A Glorious Dawn,” featuring mostly the ever laudable and now sadly deceased, Carl Sagan.

The first shot of him is on a large ship somewhere, blowing into the air with eyebrows askew, having a go at singing a song. While the next few shots are cut together to help build the basis of the tune with Sagan’s own breath, it’s actually a great introduction to the man, someone who was willing to do something silly to explain basic scientific concepts. But it was the very next shot and line that sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole of scientific interest:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

It’s a profound thing to say and of course is entirely true. Without matter there is no way to create an apple pie and without the universe, we would have no matter. Whether I would have been as struck by this sentence if it had been merely said, as it was in the original documentary series it comes from, I don’t know, but this song grabbed me from the get go and made me fall in love with science.

And from there I was off, watching every scientific based song MelodySheep could come up with. I was learning amazing facts, figures and concepts I’d never even considered before. In the Milky Way galaxy alone, there’s 400 billion stars. 400 billion! In Quantum Physics, particles can be in two places a once, the brain can imagine things bigger than all reality and yet you could hold it in your hand. And then there’s big one, the one that’s changed the way I look at life itself: we are all from stardust. Every atom on this planet came from exploding stars. That dust collected and formed our world and eventually us.

One day we’ll go back to being star stuff, but not for millions of years – hopefully.

With these thoughts brimming in my mind, I went to the sourcee material. I watched through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (an 80s documentary series that still (mostly) holds up today), Stephen Hawking’s Universe, every Nova Science Now episode I can find, Bill Nye the Science Guy and TED lectures (my god the TED lectures).

Now this isn’t my way of expounding my own in-depth knowledge of science or my own capacity of learning, far from it – I’m just a guy that watches documentaries about this shit – but it’s amazing to think where this came from. Sometimes we do things that at the time seem entirely inconsequential, but the knock on effects can be enormous. I’m a different person today because I watched MelodySheep’s videos. It’s led me to books and TV shows, games, it’s changed my writing, the way I look at the world, at myself. It’s helped me better understand my own mortality and think of what it might be like to die one day and know that far in to the future particles that make up my body will help fuel a star bigger than anything within millions of miles of us.

Science is an awesome discipline and something I hope to study more throughout my lifetime. It’s fascinating, mind boggling and humbling in one breath and it’s changed my life in innumerable ways. While I may have stumbled upon this interest in some other way eventually, I can draw a line back to my earliest flickers of interest in the universe, dark matter, the brain and all sorts of other wonderful concepts, theoretical and otherwise – back to MelodySheep.

So thank you sir, for changing my life and thank you to the men and women of the scientific world. Not only are you helping push the human race forward, but you help provide amateurs like myself with endless sources of inspiration and wonder.