22 May 2020
#AGURocks: Physical Geography (i.e. Bohemian Rhapsody)
Posted by Shane Hanlon
#AGURocks is a series of posts by musicians who create science-inspired music and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. The views and lyrics expressed in this post and song do not reflect those of Sharing Science and AGU. This week, Rob Storrar.
Back in March I woke up with, for no discernible reason, the opening lines to Queen’s epic Bohemian Rhapsody in my head, although “is this just fantasy” was replaced by “Physical Geography”. The original then goes on to mention landslides, and at that realisation it became inevitable that I would rewrite the whole song with a geoscience focus, spurred on by my wife’s encouragement (and my novel mental state after a few weeks of quarantine with two energetic young children). By lunchtime it was written and I had posted it on Twitter, thinking nothing of it but that it might make a few like-minded people smile during a challenging time.
By the next day it had gone viral on Twitter (at least by my standards), and people were asking me about recording it. It was written in such a way that it goes from one geoscience theme to another (i.e. a rhapsody), so I thought it would be nice to try and get a range of specialists to each sing about their area of expertise. I certainly didn’t want to do it all myself. The initial plan was to record a live performance of the song via Zoom. Two weeks later, arranged through a lot of Twitter pestering, about 50 geoscientists assembled for the strangest 30 minutes I have experienced this year. The result was a predictable connection-delayed shambles, but a lot of fun. We decided the best way forward would be to assemble clips into a montage. It was at this point that the project became more outreach-focused and instilled the collective desire to make the most of our confinement. We would put our names and credentials to the film, and include relevant geoscience imagery alongside our attempts at singing.
I have relatively little musical experience, except for a bit of guitar strumming, and I think my main inspiration for the song and the video is my love of comedy. I have always enjoyed parodies exemplified by Weird Al Yankovich, and was keen to echo the playful nature of the song in the video. It was amazing receiving emails and Twitter messages from colleagues around the world, most of whom I have never (yet) met, containing these nuggets of joy. Excellent singing, fairly terrible singing, a bassoon solo, piano backing and a wooden spoon air guitar solo. Relevant beautiful and entertaining images came flooding in. I had never edited a video before but had fun learning as I stitched these diverse materials together into what eventually became the video uploaded to YouTube. For me the video brings together my passion for the geosciences, a hint of comedy and, most importantly, the amazing community of talented and passionate people who surround us. I hope it conveys to the wider community that combined sense of passion and fun which I think is pervasive in our field.
–Rob Storrar is a glacial geomorphologist at Sheffield Hallam University. Find him @rob_storrar.
This is the real life, Physical Geography.
Caught in a landslide, no escape from topography.
Open your eyes, look up at the sky and see.
Maritime air mass, moderate humidity.
And the pressure gradient causes flow.
Pressure’s high, then it’s low.
Katabatic wind blows, really really matters to me. To me.
A’a, just killed a man.
Lava bomb against his head, pahoehoe now he’s dead.
A’a, eruption’s just begun.
And now you’re pyroclastic all the way.
A’a, ooh ooh, didn’t mean to bake your eyes.
If the sky’s not black again this time tomorrow,
Tephra’s gone, tephra’s gone. Really really matters.
Too late, the ice has come.
Made drumlins in a line, eskers winding all the time.
Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go.
Got to raise the sea and leave behind the proof.
A’a, ooh ooh (anyway the wind blows).
I like the striae, I sometimes wish moraines were all there was.
I see a little ventifacto of a rock.
OSL OSL will you dig the crescent dune, oh?
Megadunes and yardangs, lovely lovely barchans, eeh!
I’m just a porphyry, nobody loves me.
He is just a porphyry, from an old orogeny.
Spare him his quartz from this lithology.
Rivers come, rivers go, will you let me flow?
N.F.M. no! We will not let you flow!
(Let me flow!) N.M.F. we will not let you flow!
(Let me flow!) N.M.F. we will not let you flow!
(Let me flow!) Woody debris no!
Oh leaky dam oh oh oh oh no no no no no no no.
(Meander me-ah meander me-ah) Meander me-ah let me flow.
Alluvium has been dredged from the riverside for me, for me, for me.
So you think you’ve got sandy silt facies up high?
And a stratified diamict down by your thigh?
Oh baby. Get some clast fabrics baby.
Just getting’ my trowel [radar in the video], just getting’ my trowel [radar] into here.
Oooh yeah, ooh yeah.
Science really matters, anyone can see.
Science really matters, science really matters to me.
(Any way the wind blows).