A synthesis of science and song comes from Stockton.
Stockton University biology professor Matthew Bonnan is releasing a new album this month entitled Once Upon Deep Time.
The album focuses on Bonnan’s specialty of paleontology to explore how sound connects humanity to the past. It will touch on a variety of topics and is designed to stimulate interest in learning.
“There’s some scholarly content, but it’s not meant to be a K-12 lesson,” Bonnan said in a Stockton press release issued Wednesday. “It’s supposed to make people stop for a moment and say, ‘I didn’t know that. That is interesting.’ Maybe that encourages some people to look further into the matter.”
There are 12 tracks on the album. It begins with “Dinosaur Songs”. which explains how birds are classified as a type of dinosaur and provides an overview of the unique anatomical structures shared by birds and other extinct dinosaurs, such as B. wishbones. The piece will help demonstrate how bird songs and sounds are echoes of their evolutionary heritage.
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The album as a whole will attempt to show how biology unites people over time and builds a sense of connection.
“As a scientist, I try to do my part to remind people that we have a lot more in common than we don’t, and that it’s kind of magical when you look around and realize that all living things have something in common with our ancestors,” said Bonnan.
Bonnan took a sabbatical that fall to produce the album. He said in the press release that he was grateful to the university for accommodating his requests and recognizing the value of multidisciplinary work.
He collaborated on the album with physics professor Neil Aaronson, who runs the Stockton Acoustics Lab and is the music director of a student a cappella recording group. Art professor Michael McGarvey and his Design for Community Partners class helped create animated music videos for the album.
The partnerships help Bonnan connect with non-academic students and bring art students on board for the project. Aaronson had Bonnan recorded in the lab, with different groups performing on different tracks. The a cappella group sang backing vocals on the song “Storytellers. His daughter Quinn, 17, sang on one track and his son Max, 14, played guitar on another.
“It’s just a very different perspective, a very different way of involving students and talking about things,” says Bonnan. “I know that when I start teaching again this will come back into my classes in a really good way.”
Ruby Rodrigues, a Stockton senior from Egg Harbor City, is one of the students working on the album.
She designed humans and prehistoric animals for the Into Thin Air video using computer software, which were then animated by Bonnan and other students on the team. Rodrigues, who is enrolled in the Accelerated Dual-Degree Program for Business Majors and Mining in Digital Literacy and Multimedia Design, said working on the album provided her with new experiences.
“It’s very cool. I’ve never been able to work on a music video, so I think it’s a really great experience,” Rodrigues said in the release. The coolest thing is when they take the characters I made and see them come to life.”
Samantha Giancarli, who graduated from Stockton with a degree in biology and geology in 2016, was hired to perform a saxophone solo on the song “Distant Touch” at Bonnan’s request. She called the experience “great” and fun, but also important. She said in the release that using novel methods to educate people is especially important today because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its changing landscape of scientific communication.
“Science outreach has always been an important thing, but especially now since the pandemic and since we’re in some kind of scientific misinformation,” said Giancarli, a native of Ewing Township, Mercer County, who is studying for her Ph.D. at Drexel University .
For Bonnan, music was a hobby he developed due to COVID-19. He said he was feeling isolated in early 2021, near the peak of the pandemic so far in terms of deaths, and was looking for a way to connect with others.
He started recording music, studying it through books, YouTube and taking lessons from his son’s music teacher. He soon learned to play the piano and was inspired to write his debut album.
The reverberations of isolation and the trauma of the pandemic are reflected in the album.
“My world was definitely a lot of walls and screens,” Bonnan said. “A lot of what came out on those screens wasn’t good, a lot of anger. I wanted to reconnect, talk to each other. let’s be human again So there are definitely references to the pandemic in those songs.”
The album is slated for a December 16 release and will be available from Bonnan’s pages on HearNow at https://matthewbonnan.hearnow.com/once-upon-deep-time, Bandcamp at https://matthewbonnan.bandcamp.com/music and his YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/@MBonnan. Some singles have already been pre-released on the YouTube site.
“I like to be inspired by art,” Bonnan said. “Art is just as important as science because it’s all part of what makes us human and it’s all part of what brings us together.”
Contact Chris Doyle