Canticles from a far-away galaxy are reaching our planet through an exceptional Italian composer and astrophysicist whose exquisite sensibility and love for the Universe surrounding us are reflected in her work, intertwining her two specialities - the scientific one and the musical one - with the aims of transmitting her two great passions to us.

Fiorella has been defined by some as a cross between Madonna - given her provocative beauty, in rare occasions to be found in combination with such an exceptional intelligence as the one Fiorella has, according to already outdated stereotypes of a male chauvinistic nature that unfortunately still pervade certain areas, and certain countries - and Carl Sagan, because of her work in the scientific field, especially because of her efforts to promote the divulgation of the sciences of the universe for the general audience, as seen in her lectures and performances, where the Arts and pure Science, entertainment and knowledge, are superbly combined so as to awaken in the public eye the interest in the cosmos that surrounds and contains us.

Fiorella's love of the stars started in her early childhood, as she remembers, when she was about five or six years old. Her grandmother used to take her stargazing, and both of them used to talk about themes concerning the Universe in the starry summer nights. Fiorella also developed her musical tastes then, when she sang at the local choir in the parish of her hometown. Later Fiorella would study at the University of Milano, in the mornings, where she would get her Doctorate in Physics, specializing in Astrophysics and Radioastronomy, at the same time pursuing her musical studies - musical composition, opera and piano - at the Conservatorio Di Musica Verdi of the same city, where she attended evening classes.

As she was preparing her doctorate in Astrophysics, Fiorella had a chance to get to know some of the most important astronomical observatories in the world, among them the largest radiotelescope on our planet, the one at Arecibo, in Puerto Rico. Her natural curiosity and her thirst for true research would lead her to explore the cosmos as she intended to find some unusual phenomenon, with the help of the advanced technology that these observatories had to offer, making extensive use of their very sophisticated computers. When she came across the UGC-6697 galaxy, some 180 millions of light-years away from Earth, a complex spiral galaxy with an orbiting companion which was trapped by it as a result of a galactic collision, Fiorella would find in it a very peculiar source for inspiration both for her scientific work and to develop her creativity in the musical arena.

When Dr. Fiorella Terenzi completed her studies at the university of Milano, she started a teaching career on Mathematics and Physics, before she moved on to the United States, where she would carry out some research at the Computer Audio Research Laboratory, at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). During her research an idea occurred to her, to combine her two specialities, music and science, and she began to develop certain techniques that would allow her to convert the radiowaves received on the Earth from distant galaxies into audible sounds for the human ear, what was to become a peculiar use of Audioastronomy. Starting from these emissions received by the terrestrial radiotelescopes, and after a patient selection of the most adequate sounds, combining them in a suitable way, she succeeded in creating a truly innovative cosmic music, to the delight of all lovers of this genre.

Dr. Terenzi would release the result of her efforts in her first CD Music from the Galaxies, under the label Island Records. However, it was not that easy to make this album. Each second in the recording took from eight to nine hours of computer processing of each one of the received signals, furthermore requiring a far more complex technology than the one usually available for conventional musical recordings. To release this album, Fiorella, in a first stage, collected numerous readings from the UGC-6697 galaxy in several astronomical observatories all over the planet, and worked with the largest available radiotelescopes, so that in a second stage she could record them in a digital form, later processing them to an audible frequency and moving them on to an oscilloscope which would then generate the corresponding sound for each signal. Fiorella used the VAX workstation from the San Diego Center for Musical Experimentation, besides the CMUSIC software packet to synthesize sounds, so that she could then turn the emissions she had filed from UGC-6697 into audio digital information, storing them in DAT, hard disk and other conventional formats. In a last stage, Fiorella listened to several hours of the sound thus obtained, to select and combine the most suitable fragments, and using then her Atari Mega-4 together with the Notator program, thus giving a definite form to her musical pieces.

Besides this most special album that brings us echoes from a distant galaxy, Fiorella has prepared a program of astronomy in CD-ROM format, Invisible Universe, in which she provides us with information, images and video about the universe, in this occasion including sounds from the rings of Saturn and other deep space galaxies. The universe that Dr. Terenzi shows us is precisely the one beyond our sight, the one we cannot perceive with the naked eye, and her presentation is at the same time educational and entertaining. For instance, we can see how a supernova explodes, an enormous nebula spreading its spectacular beauty in the night sky, how stars and planets vibrate in frequencies beyond the human ears and eyes, we can have a walk along the galaxy of Andromeda, visit Alpha Centauri, witness the evolution of stars and black holes, and even approach what the Big Bang could have been, what the origin of the universe as we know it could have been, besides the numerous starmaps we can consult, and even listen to some poems read by astronauts, scientists, and other famous characters which intend to convey for us the immense beauty of the cosmic lanes, all that accompanied by a music that creates a spectral, unearthly atmosphere that seems to be coming from the deepest reaches of sidereal space. In a word, this CD-ROM is a masterful combination of Art and Science which no doubt intends to transform the night sky giving it a new dimension in the eyes of those of us who love the stars, no matter our age.

Besides all this, Dr. Fiorella Terenzi has participated in the soundtrack for Thomas Dolby's video Gate To the Mind's Eye. Dr. Terenzi also has her own Web page, which by the way has received a well-deserved award given her magnificient quality, besides having written a book, I Hear the Universe Singing (Avon, Spring), where the author brings the universe near us, to our daily lives. Dr. Terenzi has likewise participated in numerous lectures and discussion panels about multimedia technology, as for instance Intermedia, Digital World, and Digital Hollywood. Also a number of articles have been written about her and her scientific-musical work in such media as Time, Glamour, The Wall Street Journal; her image has appeared on the cover of Mondo 2000, and mention must be done of her appearances on the American TV channel CNN. Her participation in conferences, lectures, discussion panels, television and planetariums, in America, Europe and Japan, always includes a skilled combination of art and science, always aimed at awakening in her audience this fascination for the universe that Fiorella wishes to transmit to us, so that we become aware of the cosmos in which we are immersed.

With respect to other musical projects, Fiorella has considered using the emissions coming from a pulsar (a sky body whose characteristics place it in an intermediate stage between those of a star and those of a black hole) in her untiring, peculiar way to bring us the eternal, mysterious cosmic melody. Hopefully, this versatile artist and scientist will continue to contribute to the task of abolishing the frontier that traditionally has been imposed on us between the Arts and the Sciences, and that she will continue to tread the path in those two fields that up to recent times has always been the private land for men only, most particularly whatever refers to technology and electronic music, where women rarely appear, or if they do so, it tends to be in a very sporadic way, where the media, the general public, alas, do not usually consider the feminine element, either. Dr. Fiorella Terenzi is therefore a suitable example of what talent and effort can achieve in this sense.

By: Montse Andreu.

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