On the same wavelength | Matthew Agius

He’s one half of U-Bahn, Malta’s most enduring dance music duo. But tonight we will be seeing a different side to Matthew Agius, as the DJ-turned-seismologist tells us how his two disciplines of choice are interlinked in a talk forming part of Evenings on Campus.

Matthew Agius.
Matthew Agius.

The moment DJ-seismologist Matthew Agius sits down for an interview at our offices, his self-consciousness about the seemingly 'schizophrenic' nature of his interests becomes immediately apparent.

"Maybe I was born with some kind of freakish disorder, I don't know," he says jokingly when I ask him about how he first realised that he wanted to juggle both music and science simultaneously.

"At the end of the day, it's mostly down to my personality. I've always felt like I was 'divided' into two people, one of whom was more musical, while the other was scientifically inclined."

Though the music came first - eventually culminating in him helping form enduring dance act U-Bahn with his friend Mark Grima - Agius's introduction to the world of science happened almost entirely by coincidence.

"I was playing music since I was six years old, and eventually even ended up studying at the London College of Music. But then at one point, and entirely by chance, I took a few credits within the Physics Department while I was at the University of Malta and became immediately attracted to that world."

But really, the connections between the two disciplines - particularly Agius's area of specialisation - are far more obvious than we may think, and the talk he will be giving tomorrow aims to show just how an appreciation of "waves and oscillation" is intrinsically tied to the very nature of music - and, indeed, many other facets of our daily life.

"Not many people would have this at the forefront of their minds all the time, of course," Agius says with a smile. "But waves are all around us, all the time. The fact that I'm talking to you right now means that waves are being transferred, even though we can't see them. You can see them when you go to the beach, of course, but they're there even if they're not forming visible waves in the sea. Nowadays we've learned to employ technology to make use of waves - as is obvious in things like microwave cookers, and even ultrasound: where waves are used to create an image of the baby..."

To describe how seismology ties into all this, Agius makes a wry joke.

"The thing is, the waves generated by earthquakes help seismologists visualise how the inside of the earth looks like. So I guess deep down, seismologists will be at least a little bit happy whenever an earthquake happens..."

Joking aside, Agius describes how, in the event of an earthquake, locating the source is the first priority - also the remit of seismologists.

Okay, so how does all of this tie into music, apart from the obvious natural connections?

"When you're analysing waves, you have certain software and equipment that analyses wave form which is actually quite similar to the kind of equipment and interface used by DJs and electronic musicians. When you're looking at an earthquake you're zooming in and looking at the waves - in the same way that you would approach electronic music if you want to manipulate certain sounds.

"The connections to me are obvious," Agius adds, hoping that his approach to the subject during tomorrow's talk will make it obvious to others too. The devil - as is often the case - is in the details though, and this is where the talk is bound to get a little more convincing.

"Music runs at a frequency range that we can actually hear, whereas earthquakes run at a lower frequency: that is, at around 1Hz when we're trained to hear a range from 60Hz to 20,000Hz.

"In the talk, I will be considering some of these details, and then move on to demonstrate how they also related to music in particular. Hopefully,  if anything... it'll attract more people to science."

Science of Music and Earthquakes will take place tonight at Atriju Vassalli, University of Malta, at 20:00. It is organised by Malta Café Scientifique.