In Brief

Putting Dan Dennett to Music

A new work inspired by the words and ideas of the philosopher and University Professor will be performed at a concert coinciding with a symposium in his honor
March 2, 2016


University Professor Daniel Dennett lends his provocative ideas to music this week when a new music ensemble performs a work based on the natural melodies and rhythms of his recorded voice.

Alarm Will Sound, a 20-member ensemble championing experimental music, will perform “Mind Out of Matter” on Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m. in the Distler Performance Hall in the Granoff Music Building on the Medford/Somerville campus. The concert is free and open to the public.

Scott Johnson, known for his pioneering speech music, was commissioned to compose the piece. Johnson used samples of Dennett’s voice, taken from interviews and a talk about his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006), to weave together an instrumental score that captures the “sense of awe and wonder that lies at the heart of Dennett’s scientifically informed philosophy,” he says. Musical references range “from baroque recitative to retro funk grooves, framed by passages of lush orchestral density.”

Earlier that afternoon, the Tufts Center for Cognitive Studies is sponsoring the New Ideas Symposium in Dennett’s honor. Dennett, co-director of the center, has invited five of his favorite thinkers to talk about their work: Steven Pinker, professor of psychology, Harvard University; Dan Lloyd, professor of philosophy, Trinity College; Ruth Millikan, professor of philosophy emerita, University of Connecticut; David Haig, professor of evolutionary biology, Harvard University; and Nancy Kanwisher, professor of psychology and brain sciences, MIT. The symposium will be taped and posted online later.