Computers and digital technology are central to the modern music industry – but what could quantum computers bring to the party? Philip Ball tunes in to an avant-garde band of musicians and scientists who are exploring how quantum computing can be used to make and manipulate music
The Goethe-Institut, opposite Imperial College in London, is not the kind of place you would expect to encounter cutting-edge avant-garde art. With its Neoclassical façade and a history of providing German language classes, it hardly seems the type of venue to host an event that includes musicians like Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno, along with a number of quantum physicists. But the sounds emanating from its lecture theatre last December were rather unexpected: drones, bleeps and bursts of wild beats more akin to the soundtrack of an experimental underground movie.
This was, in fact, the sound of quantum computing.
The event was attended by about 150 people, who were listening to an improvised musical performance orchestrated by the Brazilian composer and computer scientist Eduardo Reck Miranda, who is currently based at the University of Plymouth in the UK. In one piece, Miranda and two colleagues were each using their own laptops, which were connected to a quantum computer over the Internet, to control – via hand gestures – the state of a quantum bit (qubit). When the state of the qubit was measured, the result dictated the characteristics of the sounds created by synthesizers back in London.
If that sounds bizarre – well, yes it truly did.
Another option for overcoming the technical barriers will be for musicians to embed themselves in the quantum research community. That’s the approach taken by the American composer Spencer Topel, who in 2019 was artist-in-residence at Yale Quantum Institute, home to quantum-technology experts such as Michel Devoret and Robert Schoelkopf. During his stint at Yale, Topel created a live performance in which the music was produced from measurements of the dynamics of the superconducting quantum devices used as qubits in most current quantum computers.
- Philip Ball, Feb 28, 2023