Order & Chaos was written for Lady Maisery’s third album ‘Cycle’ (reviewed here), an album that draws on themes such as life’s journeys, birth and death, our connection and disconnection with the natural world, and the turning of the seasons. I’ve had an amateur interest in science, particularly in physics, from years of watching documentaries and dipping in and out of books*, but it was always something that I thought would be very separate to my musical interests. However, when we were creating and assembling material for ‘Cycle,’ I began to think how viewing life and death in terms of physics, is to me, quite a comforting way to think. We are so much a part of the world and the universe, in life and in death, we are so connected to our environment and the people in it.
We have many traditional songs with religious perspectives on death or magical, folkloric perspectives on death, so I wondered if it would be possible to write a song with a scientific, physics perspective on death? Could this be a branch of the folk tradition? To me, the beauty of science and physics sometimes doesn’t feel that far away from religious or folkloric beliefs about death. In many ways, these are all just frameworks that help us understand things we can’t immediately explain within the world and our lives, and I think folk songs are often records of the ways that we have tried to understand and deal with our lives over time.
So Order & Chaos was written as an attempt to convey some of the beauty of physics in a folk song, and to voice a reassuring, atheist perspective on death:
Order & Chaos
Gather round, for time is turning.
This part of my story is closing.
As the hour draws near, I wonder, not fear
At the journey that I will be taking.
I might be in the beat of a wing,
I might be in the rush of a river,
But as year turns year, I’ll always be near,
Through springtime to wintery weather.
Lay me down,
Set me free,
Oh, part of this world I’ll still be.
You’ll not find me in order but chaos,
As I follow the path, that time makes us.
I’ll leave you the light from the sun.
Every beam that fell on my face.
Photons and waves, the paths that we’ve changed,
They have all left a mark on this place.
And I’ll leave you the warmth of my skin,
That flowed to our soaring hearts.
Nothing’s lost, nothing’s found, it all just moves round
And keeps us from falling apart …
I’ll leave you the stars in the sky,
Both our future and past yet to come.
But as all things must, turn back to dust,
Then I’ll glint in the afternoon sun.
We’re all made from the same as the earth,
And some day we’ll roam it together.
Particles gliding, dancing, colliding,
We’ll wander, entangled, forever …
The Science Behind the Song
Elements and Particles
If you look at death scientifically, everything that has made us, that is part of us, is still here somewhere after we are gone. This also serves as a metaphor for everything we have given in our lives: the impact we have had on those around us, the love we have given, the relationships we build, none of this simply disappears. We are primarily made from the 11 elements that are found most commonly on earth** and all elements we either formed during the big bang or are created by nuclear fusion in the intense heat and pressure of a star. Lighter, simpler elements are made in stars like our sun (Hydrogen becomes Helium, then Beryllium, etc.) and heavier more complex elements (anything heavier than Iron or Nickel) are made when larger stars explode. The very heaviest elements are made in supernovae, the massive explosion at the end of the life of the largest stars. So most of the elements that make up our bodies, our planet, and everything in the entire universe have come from stars. We are literally stardust. The elements that make us have been part of many things before us, and will be part of many things after us. I think this is such a beautiful idea, and it doesn’t feel so far away from reincarnation. We are so connected to the world, even in death.
The Conservation of Energy
No energy is ever lost or gained within systems in the universe. According to the law of the conservation of energy, it just moves around and transforms into different kinds of energy or into matter itself. And so the energy of us, of our lives is never lost but is still in the world. The kinetic energy of every movement we make, every action, every heartbeat, and the chemical and electrical energy stored in us, our particles, cells and molecules – this all eventually transforms into heat energy. Heat ultimately leaves us through our skin and does not disappear, but goes into the atmosphere, and the ground that we lie on, it is never gone. Even the light that falls on us is not gone, but just reflected off us or absorbed by the vibrations of our molecules. Photons are the fundamental particles of light (which are strangely both a particle and a wave at the same time), and when they hit us, they bounce off in another direction. Their paths are changed by our presence, just as our lives changes the paths of those around us in life.
Stars and the Skies
There are many stories and beliefs about us being part of the skies in death, whether it is the idea of becoming a star, or of travel to some kind of heaven above, and this connection to the skies also rings true from a scientific perspective. There are many ways in which stars and the skies are linked to us, our past and our future. As mentioned above, we are made up from elements that were created firstly during the big bang and later inside stars. Eventually, all stars die, and all the matter and elements within and around them spread out into their universes again. So our elements will one day become new stars and planets. Even the stars we see in the sky are in the past; it’s always fascinated me that when we look at the stars, they are so far away and it takes so long for their light to reach us, that we are seeing them in the past, even thousands or millions of years in the past. Even the light from the sun is from 8 minutes in the past by the time it reaches us. Who knows what humans will do in the future, but it’s quite possible there may be a time when we can venture much further from our planet than we do now, so the stars may be part of our future in that way too.
Towards the end of the song, entanglement is mentioned, which is a strange but beautiful quantum phenomena. I’m not sure I’m really qualified to attempt to explain the peculiar and complex world of quantum mechanics, but I suppose you could say that it’s the area of physics that explains how light and the components of atoms work. It is full of rules and laws that seem totally bizarre and seem to go against the rules that the rest of the world adheres to. Entanglement is a phenomenon whereby two or more particles are connected and able to communicate with each other from great distances, even to the extent that they cannot be described independently of each other despite being separate. These particles always have something opposing about them e.g. one will spin clockwise and the other anticlockwise. When the particles are entangled, we don’t know which direction either is spinning in. But if we measure the spin of one, we immediately know that of the other particle, and this has been shown to happen still when the particles are as far as 500km away from each other. Einstein called this ‘spooky action at a distance.’ Despite its weirdness, entanglement has emerging industry applications in new computers and ways of communicating – the so-called Second Quantum Revolution, which is set to surpass the microchips and laser light produced by the first one.
Some of the details and limits of entanglement are still being investigated, but there are hypotheses that entanglement enables birds to migrate by surfing the Earth’s magnetic fields and perhaps, may be connected to the way that twins seem to be able to sense what’s happening to each other when they are separated. I think it’s a beautiful idea that even when are particles are separated they can be connected, perhaps in death, we could still be connected to the people we are closest to.
Entropy is a measure from thermodynamics, which helps us chart the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. It is also a measure of the number of possible arrangements of particles in a given formation. For example, when the seeds of a dandelion clock form a spherical head, they are ordered and in a low entropy state, but when the clock is blown and the seeds disperse, they can arrange themselves in many more ways and so their entropy increases. The seeds become disordered and follow chaotic paths. Eventually, everything will break down and spread out until the entire universe is as high entropy as it can be, with particles and energy spread evenly. So ultimately, just like everything in the universe, we are all just on this path from our ordered selves, to disorder, or chaos.
Creating a music video for Order & Chaos
We had thought that Order & Chaos had potential for making an animated music video, but the idea only became a reality after meeting animator Minha Kim through a mutual friend. We had many discussions about what a music video should be and how we didn’t want it to take away from the song and the role of the lyrics, or create a visual representation of every line word for word. Instead, we wanted it to compliment the ideas of the song, to add another dimension to it and the ideas behind it. We came up with the idea of using simple black and white hand drawn ink illustrations, with lots of variation in background texture. We wanted there to be lots of ambiguous and abstract images that were open to interpretation and possibility. In Physics, very small and very big things can strangely look very similar (like floating atoms and stars in the sky, or heat, light and supernovae) and in nature many different things can have similar structures (e.g. the path of a river and the veins of a leaf), so Minha beautifully worked lots of these ideas into her illustrations as well as creating the simple image of the bird rising and falling, which leads us through the song.
Thanks to Professor Mark Fromhold from the University of Nottingham for his assistance with this article.
Cycle is Out Now via RootBeat Records
Lady Maisery UK Tour Dates
TUE 1 NOVEMBER – The Guildhall, Leicester
FRI 4 NOVEMBER – Norwich Folk Club, Norwich
MON 7 NOVEMBER – Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester
THU 10 NOVEMBER – Arts Centre, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
FRI 11 NOVEMBER – Nunnington Hall, York
SAT 12 NOVEMBER – Victoria Hall, Settle
SUN 13 NOVEMBER – Rose Theatre, Chesterfield
MON 14 NOVEMBER – The Greystones, Sheffield
TUE 15 NOVEMBER – The Greystones, Sheffield
THU 17 NOVEMBER – Artrix Centre, Bromsgrove
FRI 18 NOVEMBER – Downend Folk Club, Bristol
SAT 19 NOVEMBER – The Artshop, Abergavenny
SUN 20 NOVEMBER – Halsway Manor, Taunton
MON 21 NOVEMBER – Nettlebed Village Club, Oxford
WED 23 NOVEMBER – West End Centre, Aldershot
THU 24 NOVEMBER – The Barn in Baston, Peterborough
FRI 25 NOVEMBER – Milkmaid Folk Club, Bury Saint Edmunds
SAT 26 NOVEMBER – The Hothouse, Morecambe
SUN 27 NOVEMBER – Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Halifax
TUE 29 NOVEMBER – The Met, Bury
*Further reading that inspired the song: Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials which weaves scientific theory into a fantasy world to beautiful effect, Mary & John Gribbin’s The Science of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials which delves into the science behind the stories in more details, Aaron Johnson’s speech you want a physicist to speak at your funeral for its beautiful telling of death and the conservation of energy, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time for an overview of many key ideas in Physics.
** Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Chlorine, Magnesium, Sulphur with very small traces of other elements