Starmus IV, is a festival that gathers together some of the most intelligent, creative and artistic minds on the planet for 6 days of lectures, panel discussions, and concerts.
Astronomers, Astronauts, Cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, musicians, artists, biologists etc. who have made significant strides in their fields come together to share interests and ideas about our origin and evolution, the human brain, society, technology and global issues in our world and the Universe in general.
This year’s programs opened with a fascinating conversations between two of the last surviving lunar astronauts from the historic Apollo mission, Charlie Duke and Harrison Schmitt. It also included such diverse people as Oscar winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, Larry King, economist Jeffery Sachs, and 11 Nobel laureates from across the globe discussed The Role of Science in the 21st Century. There has never, in the history of festivals, been so many Nobel Prize winners taking part in one panel discussion. The line up was: Edvard Moser, Adam Riess, Chris Pissarides, Finn Kydland, George Smoot, May-Britt Moser, Robert Wilson, Stefan W. Hell, Susumu Tonegawa and Torsten Wiesel. Carlos Moedas, the EC Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, opened the debate with a keynote address.
Stephen Hawking was scheduled to appear and give the keynote speech on “The Future of Humanity” but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. But he did deliver his keynote speech via SKYPE.
This year introduced the second Stephen Hawking Medal Ceremony and this was accompanied by various musical performances, and this is where I came in.
Brian May, one of my all time guitar heroes, is part of the founding team of Starmus and for the first 3 festivals he was able to attend and contribute with performances and talks. This year he was on tour with Queen and he and the other festival founders reached out to me to put together some performances for the festival.
Of course I saw this as a great honor and opportunity to meet with some fascinating people. I was also excited to get a chance to spend some time in Norway. The phrase “Clean and Green” comes to mind.
The festival was scheduled for June 17-23. My wife (Pia) and I arrived on Saturday the 17th .
One of the perks of having the responsibility of pulling together a few of the musical segments of the festival was the opportunity to invite some special guests. Being that Nuno Bettencourt and Brian May are such close friends, and Nuno and I are like brothers, he was an obvious invite.
Devin Townsend and Grace Potter, who both have great interest in the sciences, reached out to the festival and were invited to participate too.
Sunday the 18th : I gave a speech entitled “Creative Manifestations” that can be viewed here.
That night there was a dinner with all the various attendees invited and we had an opportunity to meet many of these brilliant minds. Even thought the collective IQ among the guests was perhaps in the millions, these folks were very down to Earth, interesting, interested and just charming.
Monday the 19th: This was rehearsal day with the Trondheim orchestra. The orchestra was scheduled to perform a piece by Phillip Glass “Icarus at the Edge of Time” (narrated by Brian Greene) and two pieces by a lovely Norwegian artist named Ane Brune.
Originally I was going to do an orchestra arrangement for “The Moon and I” and have Grace Potter sing it. We did a re-edit on the video that was used in “The Space Between The Notes”, but the vocal range was a little low for her. She did some research and realized that Stephen Hawking’s favorite song was Rod Stewarts version of “Have I Told You Lately” so we thought it would be very special if she did a performance of the song with the orchestra, and it worked out fantastic.
Up Next was Devin. It’s no secret that he is one of my favorite artists and it was great to get to spend some time with him this week. He’s still as funny as ever, and BUFF! When He was first invited to the festival I wanted to figure out a way to get him a performance with the orchestra and his song “Truth” is about as close to the voice of God in metal music that I have ever heard, so we decided that would be the piece we played with the orchestra and it was about as epic as one could imagine.
Then we rehearsed “For the Love of God” with the Orchestra” and lucky for us all, the Trondheim orchestra is a good one and can read music well. I wanted to figure out a way to end the show with all and somehow include Brian May in it, who was not there.
In 1991 I performed at “Guitar Legends” in Seville Spain and it was the premier of the performance of the song “Liberty” and Brian and Joe Satch played on it doing the beautiful harmonies so I thought it would be cool to end the show with Brian on the screen from the Seville performance and myself, Nuno and Devin on melody guitars. It was exceptional.
After rehearsal, Pia, Devin, Marty Schwartz, Nuno and myself all went out to dinner. One of the odd things about Norway at this time of the year is the sun actually never fully sets. It drops down below the horizon for an hour or so, which creates a very long and beautiful sunset, and then rises again shortly after midnight or so. So you can be out until 4am and think it’s still 7pm. Pretty dangerous!
Tuesday the 20th.
This was a big day. It started with a 9am run through of all the tracks with the orchestra. The Stephen Hawking medal Ceremony took place at around 4pm and the concert started at around 5pm.
The entire event was stupendous and the orchestra and guest artists all delivered beautifully. But that night we had rock band rehearsals for the concert the next day. Directly after the concert Pia and I were invited to a private dinner at the royal palace with the Prince and Princess of Norway and the speakers at the festival. Yup! I can’t believe these things happen to us.
This was a trip. It was a very formal event and I almost pulled out because I did not even have time to change my cloths after the show but they said, “No problem, you’re a rock star. You can get away with what you’re wearing”. I didn’t want to be disrespectful but I also didn’t want to miss this event so I went wearing my stage cloths. I guess the rest of the black tie guests didn’t get the rock star attire memo, ha.
But the Prince and Princess didn’t seem disturbed about it. As a matter of fact they were as charming and royal as one could imagine.
The dinner at the palace was quite surreal and was a great opportunity to mingle with some tremendously interesting people. One of the guys I got to talk quite a bit with was Adam Riess who won the Noble Prize for discovering that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.
I unfortunately had to leave early, which is quite rude when you’re invited to a royal palace, but the band was waiting to rehearse and it was getting very late. I caught the eye of the prince and mouthed “thank you”. To my surprise he got up out of his seat and came over to me and walked us out. While walking he said, “Weren’t you in that movie Crossroads? When I was a young boy learning the guitar that movie was a big inspiration to me”.
I told him it was me and if he would like we could change places for a few days just for kicks. (You guys would love it if I did something like that wouldn’t you).
So back to rehearsal for the rock show. I wanted the show to have my band performing for about 1 or so hours and then the guests.
For the guest segment Nuno came out first and did an unbelievable version of his solo acoustic track “Midnight Express”. I’m always fascinated with the way he plays that song. Then Grace Potter came out and they did a truly lovely version of “More Than Words”. Then we did one of Grace’s songs “Stars”.
She is just something else folks. I highly recommend checking her out.
Next up was Heavy Devie. I wanted to do one of his tracks that has a female voice on it and we picked “Super Crush”. Devin is such an exotic bird. I don’t know anyone who can write so heavy and so beautifully melodic. I never get a chance to play this kind of chugga-chugga guitar pounding and man did I enjoy it. It’s got a fat eight-note laid back pocket that gives a new dimension to Djent! And both Devin and Grace sang gorgeously together.
And then something that hasn’t happened for 25 years, Devin and I did a track from “Sex and Religion”… “Here and Now”. It was really good to hook up that way with him again and hear his voice and feel his energy.
After all my obligations were done, Pia, myself and one of our best friends, Marty Schwartz, hung out for a few more days and really got a chance to check out the charming little town of Trondheim and take in the little walking streets, lovely eateries, canals, and of course all the inspiring talks that these scientific giants were giving for the final 2 days.
The last event was the night of Friday the 23rd when all the remaining speakers attended an exclusive black tie dinner at the hotel’s ballroom.
By that time it seemed like we were all good friends. There was a lot of mutual appreciation, admiration and love in the room. We sat next to one of the bankers that helped fund the event, (and his lovely wife), Also the mayor of the providence, (who turned me onto a traditional type of Norwegian music called “Joik”). We also were sitting with the absolutely remarkable Dr. Sandra Magnus who is the Executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She’s an astronaut. To hear her speak about what it was like to live in space and to see the Earth from the view from the heavens was mesmerizing.
Her and I had an opportunity to get pretty philosophical too, and even broche the spiritual dimension, which is relatively taboo in the scientific community.
I got to bond a bit with May-Britt Moser who is a Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Neural Computations at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. She is a Nobel prize winner and one of the most endearing, warmest and lovable people you could ever hear speaking passionately about their work.
Rubbed shoulders a bit with Neil deGrasse Tyson, and was very moved by Torsten Nils Wiesel who is a Nobel prize Swedish neurophysiologist. He was in a panel discussion with Larry King moderating. Oh, and he’s 94 years old and hard to keep up with.
There were so many engaging and brilliant speakers, but just as if you were to hang out with one of your guitar heroes for a while, the fascination of their achievements takes a back seat to the quality of person that is there. And I’m happy to report that every person I met, even the cute couple that was helping to book our transportation, to the doormen, to the geniuses that are discovering exo-planets, alternative Universes, Black Holes, and alien life in the Universe, were all unassuming and delightful.
All in all this was one of the most extraordinary events Pia and I have ever taken part in. I did say, I can’t believe such cool things happen to us.
And that was the last show of the tour and now I’m going home and burying myself in the studio until I feel like I have something special for you. So goodnight for now my friends. See you when I wake up from my studio slumber.