Well, we are on-site here at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, having arrived in the midst of a lab. relocation from Floor 10 to Floor 7. It felt especially welcoming to receive a special pink Garvan polo shirt as we went through the door.
The number of separate labs doing a variety of research programs that are housed at the Institute is quite impressive, as is the helix-inspired staircase, the free coffee machine and the number of glass vessels arrayed on laboratory shelves. Apparently the stairway isn’t quite the correct curvature to accurately reflect DNA, an oversight in a building bulging with genetic scientists.
Our initial focus, apart from getting to know the dedicated staff, which also included lugging a few items between floors for the relocation, has been thinking about how some of the experimental processes could be transduced to a musical realm.
The laboratory that we are resident with is concerned with research into the genetic functioning in endocrine “islets” within the pancreas (and so aiming towards a “cure” for various types of diabetes). We want to understand at a basic level some of the mechanics of the genetic research going on here. But we are also seeking inspiration on a more literal sonic level from the many process tasks that are involved n the complex experiments carried on here.
For example, there are machines that are “genetic amplifiers” which go through many stages of heating, cooling, marking and repeating that seem like compositional gifts for the organisation of found sound (the sound of the machines themselves are obvious sources).
The data from some of the processes is typically presented as a visual grid of fluorescence for various genetic fragments. A multitude of data sources and outcomes, on a grid then offers ourselves, as sonic artists, the option of a simple spatial sonification that varies sonic intensity (loudness) or some other auditory category, in a diffusion array, or even in a conversion using spatial formulae such as ambisonics, to stereo representations.
We have been investigating these possibilities with dummy data streams in the Pure Data software environment prior to arriving at the Garvan Institute.
Of course, being research that has the possibility of profound human importance, especially for sufferers of diabetes, a cultural and very human musical reflection is foremost in our minds.
But this is the first stage of our Residency, which not only includes the experience and encounter with this leading-edge research institute, but periods of reflection away from the intensity of the site and back in our own compositional “laboratory”.
By the way, FACS stands for “Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting”.
Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey