With the vast Lovell telescope as its backdrop, the first ever Bluedot festival will take place later this month, in and around the Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire. The three-day event will combine a weekend music festival with an interdisciplinary scientific symposium, scheduling big-name musicians alongside prominent scientists and technologists. Taking its name from the Pale Blue Dot photograph of Earth made famous by Carl Sagan, Bluedot’s unusual programme hopes to inspire the sense of curiosity and wonderment suggested by its surroundings. “Bluedot offers an experience unlike any other,” says festival director Ben Robinson, “with over 300 cutting-edge artists pushing the boundaries of live performance.”
The festival will be divided into several different areas, each one programmed according to different themes. The Nebula stage, “where new stars are born”, is the arena for up-and-coming musicians; the Roots stage, situated in nearby woodland, covers folky and acoustic acts; and the Lovell stage, directly behind the famous telescope, will host the headliners, all of whom have a certain scientific flavour. These include French electro-pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre, famed for his majestic, hi-tech concerts; the shape-shifting Canadian innovator Caribou; and the brainy, maths-flecked Manchester rockers Everything Everything.
Music aside, Bluedot will assemble dozens of individual experts and speakers. “Arts and culture, space, science and technology,” says Robinson, “all with the same appreciation for innovation, creativity and exploration”. Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince will be bringing their science radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage to the Lovell stage, with physics enthusiast Charlotte Church as a guest panellist, while the neurologists Professor Vaughan Bell and Dr Tiffany Watt-Smith will grace the Close Encounters venue nearby. Many of the leading astronomers who work at Jodrell Bank will be giving talks at the dedicated Space Pavilion, and there will even be late-night stargazing demonstrations from astrophysicist Tim O’Brien and TV astronomer Pete Lawrence. The cosmic atmosphere extends even to the festival’s food and drink. At the theatrical Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Michelin-decorated chef Aiden Byrne has created a menu inspired by “astronomy, the cosmos and futurism”. Elsewhere, the creatively named G’astronomy Village offers space-age street food and irreverent lectures on culinary science.
At the Mission Control area, an exhibition will be devoted to the astronaut Tim Peake’s recent mission to the International Space Station, with discussions and workshops, while a digital artwork commissioned from Brian Eno will be projected on to the face of the Lovell telescope at night. Meanwhile, in a venue known as Contact, speakers including Helen Keen and Tim Burgess will approach the space theme with more levity and the famously reclusive fantasy author Alan Garner has agreed to conduct a book-signing. An admirer of Jodrell Bank, Garner set sections of his 2000 novel, Boneland,at the observatory.
As part of the festival, the Observer has been invited to programme a series of talks at the Close Encounters stage on Sunday 24 July. The lineup, which focuses on alternative, grassroots approaches to science and communication, is detailed below, and we are also offering a pair of VIP tickets to the entire weekend, including luxury camping, a “galactic banquet” and a unique tour of the Lovell telescope’s control room (see below).
Win an exclusive VIP weekend at Bluedot
The first Bluedot festival takes place from 22-24 July 2016. Brought to you by the team behind the Live from Jodrell Bank concert series, Bluedot’s mission is to entertain and inspire through a weekend of stellar encounters, live music, DJ sets, comedy, talks, workshops, installations and live experiments. The Observer science and technology team will be hosting a stage at Bluedot on Sunday 24 July, and to celebrate, we have an exclusive VIP Bluedot weekend up for grabs.
The prize includes VIP tickets, a galactic banquet for two at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe devised by Michelin-starred chef Aiden Byrne, plus posh glamping for the weekend (a bell tent with a proper bed and all the trimmings) and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the control room of the Lovell telescope. To enter, go to hlcarpenter.com/members-bluedot.
For more information on the festival or to buy tickets, see discoverthebluedot.com.
The Observer at Bluedot: the line-up on the Close Encounters stage, Sunday 24 July
Six years ago, Simonne Jones was on course for a steady scientific future. She had graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in biomedical research, she had worked for three years in a laboratory studying the genetic behaviour of HIV and was on course to study medicine at St George’s, London. After her research into HIV awareness earned her funding for a trip to Ghana, however, she came to a surprising realisation. “I was living in the bush, proctoring my research,” she says, “and I had this awakening that there are more similarities between science and music than one would think.”
Jones had been writing songs for years and studied music production on the side at university. When faced with the decision between a career in science or music, she chose both. After moving to LA and, subsequently, to Berlin, she began to make music inspired by her scientific expertise. While this may seem an eccentric decision for a promising young scientist, Jones sees very little distinction between her twin spheres. “I realised I was doing them [science and music] for the same reason,” she says, “to explore unanswered questions: who are we? Where do we come from? What does our existence have to do with the universe on a greater scale?” After her aunt, the provocative electronic artist Peaches, got her a job as a studio producer, she began applying the same diligent rigour to her music as she had to her research.
The result of this transformation is the EP Gravity. The five songs are studded with references to quantum entanglement and astronomy, while one track is entirely built from sounds recorded during a trip to the Amazon. She may have abandoned mainstream science, but Jones has, in her own words, “made up for it with my own little musical laboratory”, where she builds and modifies instruments, and hones her skills as an engineer. “The more you dive into it,” she says, with the conviction of a convert, “the more art and science seem united.”
Maths teacher Kyle Evans won this year’s FameLab UK – a competition that rewards the most engaging three-minute presentations about science – with his cheerful and punctilious maths-themed folk songs.
Along with fellow former UCL undergraduate Bethan Wolfenden, Boeing has designed, crowdfunded and marketed a portable, state-of-the-art biology laboratory, giving researchers with fewer resources the opportunity to conduct sophisticated genetics experiments.
Maguire was last year’s FameLab UK winner, schooling the judges on the neurological chemicals associated with love. A part-time musician and comic, she is a student of clinical anatomy at Queen’s College, Belfast.
GCSE student Nithiyanandam won the Scientific American innovator award at last year’s Google Science Fair for his research into the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Now 16 years old, his TEDx talk earlier this year received a standing ovation.