Maciej Lowenstein, the physicist who loved jazz

When he was 11, his father took him to the Warsaw Philharmonic to listen to his first jazz concert, a quartet with Charles Lloyd on sax and Keith Jarrett on piano. Fortunately, this musical style is no longer taboo, although it is still poorly regarded in his native Poland, where everything from the West was seen as “propaganda of capitalism”. The same thing happened with rock, pop or even tennis, “which is a decadent sport.”

Maciej Lowenstein (Warsaw, 1955) recalls: “My father, an electronic engineer, received a good faith, and he taught me and my brother in music and sports, as well as in sciences.” It was in those years that this Polish physicist began to collect jazz albums, at a time when it was impossible to buy Western records in his city. “You can have money, but you can’t buy anything with it. It was another kind of poverty. Fortunately, my aunt Lee lived in England and sent me some very interesting LPs,” he explains. Today this collection consists of more than 9,000 CDs and about 1,000 vinyl records.

For his contributions, particularly in the quantum field, he is considered one of the major physicists of the twenty-first century

Alex Garcia / Special

In addition to being a well-known expert and critic of jazz, Lowenstein is Professor of Icrea Research at the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), where he directs the Theory of Quantum Optics group of thirty scientists. In the past fifteen years he has devoted himself to exploring the relationships between music specifically — and specifically free jazz and free improv — and physics.

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Lowenstein explores the relationships between free jazz, free improvised music, and physics.

“In science, to make models that allow us to understand and describe phenomena, we have to put the details aside and move on to the substance. The same thing happens in contemporary music: it forgets harmony and has complete freedom in compositions”, explains Lowenstein and continues: “I know I can make a new Mozart piece.” Using artificial intelligence, because their structures are predictable.But what about free improvised music, can I find something specific or is it random?

In fact, this question also arouses a lot of interest in the field of musical composition. In this sense, Lewenstein recently co-directed a film The framework of Sonar Festival 2021, a multidisciplinary project with Japanese pianist Rikko Yamada To explain quantum randomness, a field in which the Warsaw physicist is a world-renowned expert.


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Although if there is one thing about this world it is its curiosity. “Everything matters to me,” he admits. Author of more than 600 scientific publications and six books, four on quantum physics and two on jazz, for more than 40 years research in the field of theoretical physics and its application in very diverse fields, from mathematics to cognitive sciences and social psychology or biology. His contributions—particularly in quantum simulators, to understanding phenomena such as superconductivity, and in attosecond science, which he can apply to lasers that allow us to see and manipulate what is happening at the atomic scale—made him one of the major physicists of the twenty-first century.

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After he began his Ph.D. in Warsaw in 1980, and while in Germany for six months, a period of martial law was imposed in his home country. “I was afraid to go back because they would force me to join the army, so I stayed at the University of Essen (Germany) until 1984,” he recalls. When the danger of conscription ended, he returned to Warsaw, where he worked at the Polish Academy of Sciences for two years before transferring to Harvard University along with Nobel laureate in physics Roy J. Glauber. From there he jumped to the Commissariat for Atomic Energy in France, and then to the University of Boulder, Colorado (USA). This was not his last destination: from Texas he went to Hanover, to the Institute of Theoretical Physics. And it was there, at a meeting with his friend and colleague, also physicist Ignacio Cerac, in 2002, between jokes, that the idea of ​​​​creating an ICFO was conceived.


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“That year in Hanover, we had one sunny day and decided to set up an institute on the beach in Spain,” Lowenstein recalls. This proposal was taking shape in subsequent meetings, in which Lluís Torner, professor at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) also participated, until in 2003 the ICFO began shooting in the Nexus I building, belonging to the UPC, in Diagonal of Barcelona. “My then partner Anna Sanper and I jumped into the pool and came to Catalonia. They made us Icrias. It was a difficult decision because at that time it was not clear what the ICC would be. With time, I realized that it was the best decision I could have made” , said Lowenstein, joking: “In the end, Ignacio stayed in Germany and ended up on the beach!”

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