©Lin Yangchen


When I saw polarized light at home for the first time, it felt like North Korea attaining nuclear launch capability. As the polars crossed and the view through the eyepieces turned inky black, criss-crossed by the glowing Newtonian interference colours of birefringent cellulose microfibrils and mysterious green-and-orange spherulites, I had a Messiaenic moment.

The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen was famous for associating musical sounds with colours down to specific combinations and patterns of subtle shades. In fact, he often invoked minerals in his descriptions, such as amethyst, sapphire and lapis lazuli. Reconstructions of his visualizations look uncannily like petrographic thin sections under a polarizing microscope. The colours manifest themselves in crystalline clarity in the organ's tonal timelessness, the author's favourite being the monumental 18-movement Livre du Saint Sacrement.

Longitudinal section of onion root with spherulites through crossed polarizers and a 530 nm waveplate, with possible manifestations in Messiaen's sound world: chords representing the gold-and-blue spherulites (left) and the shades of background pink "ranging from brownish red to very pale pink, passing through bright pink and orange-pink, forming vertical serpentine designs. The whole evokes two very well-known pink stones—rhodonite and rhodochrosite." (translated from French)

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