Aspen Science Center



he Science of Music is a series of lectures and demonstrations on the science of music; a collaboration between the Aspen Science Center (ASC) and the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS). All programs are at the “enthusiastic novice” level, with no previous knowledge of physics or music theory assumed.

The Science of Music will Return Summer 2024

The 2022 Science of Music series was fantastic. Thank you to all who joined. 

Harris Concert Hall – Monday, July 18th, 2022, 6 pm – 7 pm – Harris Concert Hall Acoustics with Alan Fletcher, Harry Teague, and Dr. Elizabeth Cohen

Harry Teague – AIA is President, founder, and principal designer of Harry Teague Architects. Teague grew up in Alpine, New Jersey, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966, and has lived in Colorado since receiving his M.Arch. from the Yale School of Architecture in 1972. He began his architectural practice in 1975 as a designer/builder, and personally constructed his designs for the first seven years of his career. Since 1975 HTA’s diverse practice has produced many significant buildings for educational, cultural, and scientific institutions, as well as numerous award-winning residences. Teague was named AIA Colorado Architect of the Year in 2000, and Harry Teague Architects was named Firm of the Year by the AIA Colorado and the AIA Western Mountain Region in 1994 and 1995. In addition to working closely with many non-profits as their architect, Teague has served on several boards including, as board president, the International Design Conference in Aspen, Aspen Science Center, and Aspen Journalism. His work has been included in exhibitions and published internationally in magazines and books. He has lectured and taught throughout the country, served on numerous professional design award juries, and has received numerous local, state, and national design awards.

Dr. Elizabeth Cohen – is a Brooklyn-born California-based acoustician and engineer for the arts. She is known as a scholar of music perception, digital archiving, and advocate for music therapy. She was not only the first female president of the Audio Engineering Society, but also the first woman to serve on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Technology Council. As an Acoustician, Elizabeth has made fundamental contributions to architectural acoustics and pitch perception. She led Cohen Acoustical Inc. for over 25 years providing acoustical design and technology assessment for clients including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, CBS Television, Dolby Laboratories, Fraunhofer Labs, The Grateful Dead, NASA-Ames, Paramount, Sony, and Walt Disney Imagineering. She served for 5 years as the acoustician for the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and as the lead acoustician for the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall in Aspen, Colorado. She has designed numerous critical listening facilities for scoring, mixing, and screening. Cohen received her BA in Music and Physics from Bennington College studying instrument building with Gunnar Schonbeck and composition with Otto Luening, an M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering and Ph.D. in Acoustics from Stanford University. During in college and early years in graduate school she interned and subsequently worked with Max Mathews and John R. Pierce in the Acoustical and Behavioral Research Center at Murray Hill.

Harris Concert Hall – Monday, August 1st, 2022, 6 pm – 7 pm – Music and Mathematics: similarities and differences with Alan Fletcher, Andrei Ruckenstein, and Chris Theofanidis

Andrei Ruckenstein – is a co-founder of the Aspen Science Center and a past President of the Aspen Center for Physics. He holds a B.S. from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell. He is trained as a theoretical condensed matter physicist and is known for his work in strongly correlated quantum systems. He later redirected his interests towards biology-driven research. His research primarily focuses on three key areas, statistical mechanics models of classical computation, strongly correlated systems, and new models for higher education. He was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and a Humboldt Foundation Senior Prize. Dr. Ruckenstein served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (ad-interim) at University of Lancaster, UK. He is currently Professor Department Chair at Boston University and is a passionate pianist!

Aspen Community Church – Monday, August 8th, 2022, 6 pm – 7 pm – Organ Acoustics with Alan Fletcher, Hirosi Ooguri, and Joel Bacon

Hirosi Ooguri – Finishing his graduate study in two years, Ooguri became a tenured faculty member at the University of Tokyo in 1986. He was a member the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1988-89 and was appointed an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago before receiving his Ph.D. in 1989. After serving as an Associate Professor at Kyoto University for four years, he returned to the United States as a Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley in 1994. He moved Caltech in 2000, where he is the inaugural holder of the Fred Kavli Chair. At Caltech, Ooguri served as the Deputy Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy, equivalent of a Vice Dean of Physical Sciences. He led the establishment of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics in 2014 and has been its Founding Director since then. Ooguri also helped establish the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) of the University of Tokyo in Japan in 2007. After serving as its Principal Investigator for 11 years, he became the Director in 2018. Ooguri has been a member of the Aspen Center for Physics since 2003. He served as the Scientific Secretary (2010-11), a Trustee (2011-16), and the President of the Center (2016-2019). Since 2021, he has been the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Ooguri has received the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon from the Emperor of Japan, the Eisenbud Prize for Mathematics and Physics from the American Mathematical Society, the Simons Investigator Award from the Simons Foundation, the Hamburg Prize and the Humboldt Research Award in Germany, the Benjamin Lee Distinguished Professorship in Korea, and the Nishina Memorial Prize and the Chunichi Cultural Award in Japan. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Mathematical Society.

The 2018 Science of Music summer performances were a hit! Thank you to all who came to these events.

  • The Science of Acoustical Design In 1900, Symphony Hall in Boston became the first auditorium designed specifically to reflect the scientifically derived principles of acoustics. Using the physics of sound movement, control, and vibration, architects can create a space that produces the rich but clear sound we hear in modern concert halls and auditoriums. Acoustic engineer Dawn Schuette of Threshold Acoustics sits down with architects Harry Teague and Carl Giegold to discuss the science of acoustics and its role in designing buildings and concert halls. Teague designed the AMFS’s Harris Concert Hall and collaborated with Kirkegaard to ensure world-class acoustics in the 2,050-seat Benedict Music Tent.
  • Music and Memory. This program features the performance ofMusics of Memory, a new work by Bruce Adolphe, Composer-in-Residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute (USC), that explores the connection between music and how memory works. Researchers believe that the area of the brain that processes music is closely related to the area that stores memories, which is why hearing a certain song can instantly remind you of past events, locations, people, and even emotions. Following the performance, there will be a discussion of music and memory with Adolphe and neuroscientist Assal Habibi. The piece will be played by a quartet featuring: Andrew Zhou, piano; Bokyun Byun, guitar; Justin Doute, marimba; Adam Phan, harp.
  • The Science of Percussion. Percussion instruments may be our oldest musical instruments, but they have never been the subject of scientific study until recently. Recent studies strive to understand how these instruments vibrate to produce different sounds and how listeners perceive these sounds. Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, speaks to the unique timbres of percussion instruments and the science behind the creation of those sounds. This event continues Science of Music’s series of discussions focused on different musical instruments, the fascinating science underlying them, and a discussion of the quality of various instruments. 

Science of Music is on hiatus for 2020

Past Events and Videos

Harmony and Harmonics, Part II

Building on his very informative discussion from last year, Andy Cohen continues to discuss the physics and math behind music.

Harmony and Harmonics, Part II

Evolution of the Flute and Engineering of the Horn

In this installment of The Science of Music, Nadine Asin describes how the flute evolved into its current form, and John Zirbel explains the intricacies of playing the French Horn. Hosted by AMFS President Alan Fletcher.

Evolution of the Flute and Engineering of the Horn

The Musical Brain Born or Made

In this episode of The Science of Music, Dr. Robert Zatorre discusses the inner workings of the brain, and what happens when you listen to music.Hosted by AMFS President Alan Fletcher.

The Musical Brain: Born or Made?

Harmonics in Music and Science

Alan Fletcher and Andrew Cohen, Professor of Physics at Boston University, introduced the science underlying music: how waves work and how waves forms determine the tone color of different instruments; the ‘harmonic series” and how it affects tuning; acoustics, and more.

Evaluating Musical Instruments

Alan Fletcher interviewed noted violinist Robert McDuffie, in a comparison of the instruments, including Guarneri, Stradivarius, and contemporary violins. Consideration was given to current studies analyzing the properties of great violins, both modern and historic. Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn brought her renowned Stradivarius, known as “The Red Mendelssohn,” which inspired “The Red Violin,” as well as a copy of it made by a modern master. McDuffie and Pitcairn played the various instruments, and led the audience in an appreciation of their differing sounds.

Neuroscience of Music

Music-lovers already know how music can affect the soul, but its impact on the brain may seem like murkier territory. Dr. Robert Zatorre of the Montreal Neurological Institute joined Alan Fletcher for a lecture that revealed the complex relationship between music and our cognitive functions. Zatorre’s research is in the forefront of insight into the mechanism by which music can produce neurological responses. The interview was illustrated with musical examples.

Pianos: How They Work

Perhaps no instrument is as universally beloved as the piano–but what, exactly, goes into creating this magnificent apparatus? Peter Sumner, the AMFS’s head piano technician and master technician for Steinway & Sons, explained the art of piano-making and explained how these instruments make their glorious sound.