John Boswell of Bellingham, WA, also known as “melodysheep,” creates musical remixes of science lectures and documentaries to create the popular Symphony of Science videos. Using Auto-Tune technology, he samples clips from Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and other familiar PBS names to craft songs with science-based messages that have gone viral, reaching millions of online viewers. Proving that scientists can also be rockstars, in 2013 melodysheep released a single featuring Steven Hawking and Carl Sagan, A Glorious Dawn, on Jack White’s record label.
QUEST Northwest coordinating producer Katie Jennings spoke with Boswell about his inspiration for making these musical mash-ups.
Q: How did you decide to start doing these kinds of videos?
It was 2009 and I was just out of college and I saw these videos called Auto-Tune the News. They take the technique and apply it to newscasters in online videos. I was just blown away with what they were doing. I started off doing some goofy stuff, but I fell in love with Carl Sagan when I was in college when I saw Cosmos for the first time and I said, well, I’ll just try it on him. I put [the first video] online not knowing if anyone would like it. It blew up on the first week and it was a total shock.
Q: Why have you focused so much on science?
There are so many incredible revelations and insights that scientists give you that are really mind-blowing. I’m really interested in taking those ideas to the public in any way I can.
Q: How do you make choices about what you include in your videos?
I learn something every time I go through these things. I watch a lot of documentaries to learn about what’s going on, and I try and summarize everything I learned in the videos without cutting out important pieces of information or [putting in] things that would mislead people. I try to stay true to the original point.
Q: Why did you choose the subject of climate change?
Ever since I started the project climate change has been on my mind. It’s part science, part call to action, raising awareness about the issue. I think it was important to do and I’m glad I did it.
Q: How do you make someone’s voice go up and down?
When you hear someone talk, in a way, they’re singing. Their pitch is going up and down, it’s rhythmic, and it’s got its own flow to it. You tweak the rhythm of the speech first, and once you have something rhythmical and catchy out [of] the original speech, you can go change the pitches of each word they say. You can format to a melody you have in your mind or create a new one of your own.
Q: What’s important about songs?
I think music reaches out to people on a deeper level than words. When I hear a great piece of music, it reaches down to my core. Not many people have [made popular songs] with science before, which is why I’m in the game.