Tools & Technology


Sound is often thought to be a science of physics, but on today’s show we consider its chemistry.

Episode 21 | May 2, 2008

Episode 21: Sound by Distillations Podcast

Sound is often thought to be a science of physics, but on today’s show we consider its chemistry. When we hear sounds, we’re really encountering waves. The frequency and amplitude of these waves are largely determined by the kinds of materials that produce them, or that they encounter on the way to our ears. And when you’re talking about materials science, you’re talking about chemistry. Modern stereo speakers, for example, depend on magnetic alloys based on an ironically abundant rare earth metal. We also get behind the truth underneath the myriad urban legends surrounding Pop Rocks, a candy that sizzles when you eat it. Finally, producer Catherine Girardeau takes us to the studios of Bart Hopkin and Oliver DiCicco, two artists who make experimental sonic art. Element of the Week: Neodymium.

Show Clock

00:00  Opening Credits
00:31  Introduction
01:11  Element of the Week: Neodymium
03:03  Chemistry in Your Cupboard: Pop Rocks
05:43  Sonic Art: Experimental Musical Instruments 
10:43  Quote: Ludiwg van Beethoven
11:08  Closing Credits

Resources and References

On neodymium: Information on neodymium was taken from The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 85th Edition (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2005).
On Pop Rocks: Marvin Rudolph, Pop Rocks: The Inside Story of America’s Revolutionary Candy (Specialty Publishers, 2006).


Special thanks to Chi Chan for researching the show.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music was provided by the Podsafe Music Network. The music for the Element of the Week is “Cracked Smiles,” by Chaos Device. At the beginning of Chemistry in Your Cupboard, you’re hearing “Candycane Pain,” by B.I. The music at the show ID is “How Blue,” by The Last Call Brawlers. The feature includes a number of pieces by Bart Hopkin and Oliver DiCicco/Mobius Operandi. In order, these are: “Now Only” (Mobius Operandi); “Embert, Rumel, and Frumentus,” “Robinson,” and “Plousch” (all Hopkin);  ”Oovulation” (Mobius Operandi); “Aquavina and Cowbells,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” (Hopkin).

The image of Savart’s Wheel is taken from Bart Hopkin’s Web site, Experimental Musical Instruments.