A preview of the Tower Dancers per­for­mance based on the physics research from outer space. Jordyn Pair | Col­legian

There may not be sound in space, but Tower Dancers is bringing to life the song of the stars.

Hillsdale College’s dance and physics depart­ments col­lab­o­rated this year to create a visual and dance per­for­mance to music com­posed with the tones of pulsars, a neutron star pro­ducing pul­sating radio emission, for the Tower Dancers’ spring concert running Friday and Sat­urday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 Markel Audi­torium. High­lighting not only the talent and teamwork of the dancers, the dance also spot­lights the research being done in the basement of the Stro­sacker Science Building.

“I work with ideas that can be abstracted,” said Holly Hobbs, vis­iting assistant pro­fessor of dance and chore­o­g­rapher of the modern-dance piece. “The pulsar is the dis­tilling of some­thing into the essence of an idea — what does it do? How can we ref­erence that through music? Dance is a metaphor; we’re using movement to convey an idea, mood, and feeling.”

Created by Dawn Erb, an astronomy pro­fessor from the Uni­versity of Wis­consin Mil­waukee, the music com­po­sition “Light­houses II,” named for the mech­anism that pro­duces the radio waves, uses the infor­mation from pulsar signals to create tones that form a non-metered com­po­sition.

“It’s very creepy, dark space music,” said Timothy Dolch, assistant pro­fessor of physics at Hillsdale who worked with Hobbs on the per­for­mance. “I think that’s kind of appro­priate.”

The tones were col­lected with the radio tele­scopes in Puerto Rico and West Vir­ginia that physics stu­dents at Hillsdale can control from a com­puter in Stro­sacker through the North American Nanohertz Obser­vatory for Grav­i­ta­tional Waves. Stu­dents use pulsar timing infor­mation to search for grav­i­ta­tional waves, which come from black holes.

Hobbs said she used the char­ac­ter­istics of pulsars in her dance, from ripples to rep­resent pulsar waves to slower move­ments at the performance’s end to rep­resent the slowing down of a dying pulsar.

“I think the idea is a point of light and the rotation of it,” Hobbs said. “I used a lot of rotation from the dance itself, based on the pulsars.”

Hobbs said she also used weighted movement to rep­resent how pulsars are 100 trillion times denser than the sun.

While the music is not a typical com­po­sition, Hobbs said she thought the music was easier to use.

“I haven’t used non-metered sound for a large group before,” Hobbs said. “It made things quite easy. The dancers were able to take cues from one another rather than the music. I think it’s pro­moted lis­tening to each other.”

Senior Corianna Baier said the dance excited her because she learned more about pulsars and it is some­thing dif­ferent than what she would nor­mally perform.

“It’s more normal than I thought,” Baier said. “The sounds aren’t out of this world sort of sounds, so it’s kind of sur­prising to me that it sounds like noises you could recreate here but they’re actually from way out there.”

Addi­tionally, the per­for­mance includes back­ground optical and X-ray images of pulsar wind nebulae that add bright color and light to the showcase. While the pic­tures and videos come from a variety of places, one image in par­ticular has a con­nection to Hillsdale.

A photo depicting the Guitar Nebula, which is pro­duced by a pulsar, was taken by a group of sci­en­tists of which Dolch is a part. Dolch’s post-doc­toral super­visor, Jim Cordes, at Cornell Uni­versity dis­covered the nebula in the 1990s. Images of these celestial bodies are uncommon, and this one has been seen by only a small number of people, he said.

This summer, he and some stu­dents are trav­eling to Arizona in the hopes of cap­turing similar images in their research.

The project evolved from a con­ver­sation Dolch and Hobbs had last year fol­lowing an event held by the Alpha Rho Tau art hon­orary on dif­ferent per­cep­tions of beauty. Dolch spoke about pulsars and shared “Light­houses” with the group.

Hobbs said John Bohannan, a pro­fessor at Harvard Uni­versity, has long inspired her. Bohannan started an annual com­pe­tition that seeks doc­torate degree can­di­dates to turn their sci­en­tific theses into dance per­for­mances.

“I think this is a prime example of the liberal edu­cation,” Hobbs said. “I feel thankful I can col­lab­orate with someone in the physics department. That ben­efits me artis­ti­cally and the stu­dents.”

That col­lab­o­ration has also attracted interest from col­leagues at other insti­tu­tions, as well, Dolch said, adding that Hillsdale’s smaller campus offers the oppor­tunity for depart­ments to interact and work together.

“I hope people get a sense of wonder, expe­ri­encing not just the abstract but the images, the music, and the dance all in time to really get a little piece of what’s out there,” Dolch said. “It’s an unusual way to present that, but it really encap­su­lates, on the one hand, being made to feel small and feeling insignif­icant in front of nature…and the radical oth­erness that’s out there and, at the same time, the beauty of the uni­verse that shines through in all of this.”

Dolch and Hobbs will speak more on their col­lab­o­ration before Friday’s per­for­mance at 7:30 p.m.