Owen Barritt (hmmm_tea) wrote,
Owen Barritt

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Music From The Worm Farm

So, a little over a fortnight ago (I'm getting worse at this...), I went to an evening of music inspired by nematodes (small worms) at the Dana Centre.

The Nurrish Lab in the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL are using nematodes to model brain activity, more specifically the affects of serotonin. Unusually, for a science lab, they've had a composer in residence for the past six months, Keith Johnson.

Although the evening did include a brief discussion of the research in the lab, the main focus was Keith's work (just mistyped that as worm, obviously got them on the brain now).

On arrival their was a pianist (Philip Howard) playing Keith's "A book of mutants", which Keith then went on to discuss during the talk. This was inspired by the lab mutating the worms to study what the seratonin affected. In this piece Keith has produced 18 mutations of Prelude No. 1 in C Major from Book 1 of The Well-tempered Clavier by JS Bach. Rather than just being a straightforward variation the mutations involve systematic changes to the music, such as removing repetitions (which obviously became less recognisable as it went on), swapping the notes played by each hand (which was recognisable, but in that "there's something not quite right here" way) or keeping the musical structure, but replacing all the notes with notes from a completely different piece of music (the example played was the Beatles, but I couldn't figure out which Beatles song).

After that there was a performance of 2 of Keith's other works "Porous with travel fever/PMA and serotonin" and "Still ist mein Herz/Aldicarb" and a piece by Paul Whitty, "...I was bored before I even began..." by [rout].

Keith's pieces were based upon combining the final section of "Der Abschied" from Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler and "Hejira" by Joni Mitchell. The combinations were both put together by looking at the data worms activity, so in the first piece for example, the amount of Mahler was governed by serotonin which causes the worms to be still, while the Joni Mitchell is governed by PMA which causes the worms to move more quickly.

Paul's piece was, unconnected with worms, but was based on the sounds from the pick ups on the instruments rather than anything being played by the instruments themselves.

There are some MP3s of Keith's work and a blog discussing it at www.wormusic.org (lj feed of blog: wormusic)
Tags: concerts, contemporary, music, reviews, science, sound, talks

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