I did not know the work of Norman Nicholson before I embarked on ‘Seven Rocks’, my interpretation - for string trio or string quartet - of his suite of poems on the landscape that he knew and loved. Naturally, the first step was to read and get to know his work, not in an overly analytical way, but rather to get an idea of the essence of his voice and his spirit as a person. Nicholson makes the ordinary vivid and beautiful through a poetics of description. He draws our attention to the inherent beauty that is around us in a warm and considered way that doesn’t shy from literal representation and straightforward language. The fact that this set of poems is in the order of their geological formation appeals to me, there is something honest about that.Read More
I was delighted to be invited as an artist to the BNA Neuroscience Festival in Edinburgh as part of the ASCUS ‘Artists are Present’ initiative. With over a thousand delegates from around the world and lectures from two Nobel laureates I was honored and privileged to be in attendance.
The preliminary lecture by Prof. Susumu Tonegawa opened both the proceedings and my mind. His team’s investigations into the processes behind memory are cutting edge, complex and exciting. However, what really struck me was how clearly the scientific method - propelled by high-octane curiosity - drives the research. Unexpected results, ‘What ifs’, and new hypothesis that sometimes seem contradictory yet explain the data are the plot components - the narrative arch is constructed from the raw data. In fact, every lecture or seminar that I attended had this in common. Naturally, technical language left me behind at points but I was always able to get the punch line. In the case of a science conference the punch line is not just something that I never knew before, but likely something that nobody ever knew before.
I also attended the ‘the social life of voices’ symposium, which was of particular interest to me as a composer. Professor Joachim Gross (Glasgow University) talked about evidence for the coupling of speech rhythms and brain wave rhythms and how understanding the meaning of the words is a requirement for this to happen. Dr. Carolyn McGettigan and her team at Royal Holloway have been investigating how the plethora of non-verbal cues (and other contexts) and non-speech vocalisations such as laughter interact with our understanding of speech. As you can imagine, these topics would be just as at home at a music conference.
These empirical insights do not contradict what I know about – for example -setting words to music or operatic dramaturgy. They enhance it. As artists we can learn a lot about the world that we live in and the art that we create for it from the science community and in exchange we can provide an opportunity for scientists to extend the reach and impact of their research and perhaps extend the narrative of their work into the wider world.
Striking a bell creates a beautiful resonance; it swells and then fades to silence. Bizarrely, we find the experience beautiful. Music really is so simple. Make things vibrate and enjoy the consequence, that’s it! Overanalyse it and miss the point?Read More
Every year the University of Edinburgh stops all usual lessons and runs an 'Innovative Learning Week' (ILW2015). It seems that some students use it as an excuses to go home for a few days or catch up on some other work, but for those that hang around ..Read More