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May 2020

Composition of the Symphonic poem SEIS, InSight No.1, PhiloGaïa Orchestra

From IPGP Orchestra to PhiloGaïa Orchestra

“Don’t try to integrate yourself to this house. You have to bring your own culture that you have acquired in Tokyo and Toulouse” said Claude Jaupart, the Director of Institut de physique du globe de Paris (IPGP, title at that time), on my very first day as an Associate Professor in 2012. He continued, “I am not only talking about the science but indeed, the culture.” I might not have gotten this right and answered, “Sure, I will invite my colleagues from all over the world for seminars.” He nodded, saying “Good, but not only the science, I said. Think a bit.” When I left his office, Claude just winked and said, “Ah, but you play bassoon, right? There are some musicians in this house by the way.” The message was now rather clear. I started a small chamber orchestra for some occasions like PhD thesis parties playing Japanese and French pop songs. The musicians (Figure 1) changed from one concert to another and we also recruited semi-professional level musicians, mainly from a Parisian orchestra named COGE. Our interest in spontaneous musical creation to random images brought us to the idea of PhiloGaïa Orchestra project (Fuji & Meschede 2017). The series of projects have been successively supported by IPGP communication team and by Festival des Idées Paris run by USPC university consortium (now Université de Paris).

Peter and the Earth (2017/2019)

I first had an idea of composing classic music with some improvisation parts that accompanied videos of mantle convection, seismic wave propagation, landslides, and more. I thus wrote the piece “Peter and the Earth” (Pierre et la Terre) for a small orchestra of ~15 musicians in 2017. When Alik Ismail-Zadeh, as its secretary general, asked me to perform this piece for the 100th anniversary of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics at UNESCO Paris (Figures 1-2), I asked Jordan Gudefin, a young talented conductor, finalist of Besançon concours in 2017, to i) “clean up” my messy music writing; and ii) to polish the musicality. The ‘master class of composition’ given by Jordan lasted for two heat-wave summer days with a piano in my office and resulted in a more efficient and technically advanced music composition! Unfortunately, we have not recorded this prestigious concert but we plan to make a recording with Jordan once all the musicians come back to Paris. 

InSight project and the new piece “Symphonic poem SEIS, InSight No.1”

Being a seismologist at IPGP with its first seismometer SEIS on the red planet for the NASA InSight project (led by Philippe Lognonné), I am actively involved in the project to analyze marsquake seismograms. During a science team meeting in Pasadena just after the landing (November 26th, 2018 my birthday!), we were impressed by a video made by Andrew Huang who started to make music on instrumental noise sent from Mars. At the end of my talk, I said “challenge accepted” and promised to write a small music for the upcoming science team meeting in Paris on June 2019 featuring the seismic noise from Mars. InSight Suite No. 0 or later the third movement Seismic noise on Mars of the symphonic poem was recorded during the Paris Internationale Festival 2019 (thanks to Performance Agency Production). Subsequently, I asked Thomas Ferrand (UCSD postdoc and professional poet) and Pauline Bonnet (IPGP PhD candidate) to write poems for InSight. These became the second movement, Poems that Vibrate, Pauline and Thomas, of my symphonic poem - the first classic music on martian seismology!  The first movement Pictures of Dream is accompanied by images drawn during several famous Friday beer ateliers in IPGP, organized by Aurélie Coudurier. The first full performance took place Fall 2019 (Figure 3).

The first movement ends with anthem of InSight, written by Sarah Niblack. My versions in French, German and Japanese are also included below. You are invited to sing it with us and send your video by August 31st 2020 (sing with this video and send yours to us). In order to keep the musical solidarity during these strange times, we are preparing a video of the first movement as in "musiconfinée" series with superstars and amateurs! Stay tuned!

Elysium c’est là où on va  Écoutons les ondes de volume 
La vie est cachée là-bas
Au-dessous des écumes 
Épluchons cette planète jusqu’au bout 

Seismograf über dem roten Planeten 
Glückliche Tochter aus Elysium 
Wir sind schon feuertrunken 
Dort finden wir Wasser 
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum 
(Sarah Niblack)

Go InSight, window to mystery 
Perplexing regolith strange and unknown 
Peregrine, trembling quakes 
Dance more than a hundred times 
We seek in peace to learn your rare song 

エリジアム そこに行くよ


Contributed by:

Nobuaki Fuji
Université de Paris,
Institut de physique du globe de Paris,
CNRS, F-75005 Paris, France


N. Fuji and M. Meschede, 2017. The PhiloGaïa Orchestra Projects: we love our planet! It lives, it sings!, The Double Reed, 40-2, 23-27.



Figure 1.  Members of the PhiloGaïa Orchestra.



Figure 2. Performance of Peter and the Earth for the 100th Anniversary of IUGG, 29 July 2019.


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Figure 3.  First performance (2019) of Symphonic poem SEIS, InSight No. 1.