Trying and trying and trying

Since early last April I’ve been working with a fascinating textual artist called Gethan Dick (who’s previously worked on creating text murals for Brockwell Lido, amongst other things). Gethan’s Wellcome-trust funded mission over the last year has been to visit six life  scientists (microbiologists, geneticists, neuroscientists and medical physicists like me) and learn about their work. These six expeditions then turned into six pieces of prose; each piece of prose was set to a piece of music composed by a different set of musicians (beatboxers, singer-songwriters, noisy rock bands…) – the result is called Trying and Trying and Trying.

So where do I fit in? Well, in my previous life I was a medical physicist at the National Medical Laser Centre, specifically interested in using light for disease diagnosis. Gethan visited me and had the opportunity to see some of the work we do – and we talked a lot about the technical aspects of light scattering. One of the ideas she became excited about was the analogy between the atmospheric scattering which makes the sky blue and the scattering in tissue that we use to detect anomalies – so the title of her piece became “to light, you are the same as the sky”. I love the way that this makes the human body as beautiful on a fundamental level as the sky. By making us a force of nature, it also flips the narrative of disease. Disease is usually presented as being intentional, being deliberately destructive, having agency – a set of concepts which don’t really hold up when you think about them, but can instil dread and fear in sufferers. But, if we’re just the same as the sky, disease is just a cloud passing over – no more malign or intentional than a spring shower.

In a twist of fate, I also played guitar with The Overdrive Orchestra on the music recorded for this piece, and will do so live at the launch night at Brixton Jamm on Feb 23rd. This is going to be a very diverse night of music, and is worth £3 of anyone’s money – so please come along and see the culmination of a very cool, very innovative project.

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