Why do things break?

Photo: Gabby O’Connor

This is an edited excerpt from a paper originally presented at Double Dialogues Creative Symposium  called “Why do things break?” at the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice, University of Adelaide, October 13th-15th, 2016.

Why do Things Break? – a composer’s approach to genetic breakage – mutation and bottlenecks

By Elissa Goodrich

Why do things break, fall apart, fall down, disintegrate, splinter, corrode, degenerate and devolve?

In my artistic residency for “The Gene Tree Project” at Carlton Connect Initiative Lab 14 in Melbourne with Dr Anna Syme and Nadja Kostich we have been delving into these processes, breaking into the scientific approach and asking from an artistic viewpoint how evolutionary science traces, restores and confounds patterns.

We’ve been asking, do living creatures, organisms actually break or do they expire or adapt?

And I’ve been asking myself, what are my musical, compositional responses and creative impulses when confronted by a primary scientific approach to evolutionary science – that of breaking down patterns of evidence and information to then restore or indeed create patterns anew?

Indeed, the artistic process itself in this project is one of constantly breaking down existing patterns and knowledge, of both evolutionary science and the compositional process, in order to remake, create, adapt.

When species fall out of symbiosis with their habitat, or when their habitat greatly changes, species enter a bottleneck. In this bottleneck, many, many individual living species die off, they just don’t make it through. However, for those few that do make it through, most often there is a proliferation of genetic mutations.

Modern humans went through a genetic bottleneck 60,000 years ago. We nearly didn’t make it.” (to quote from the lecture “Human Evolutionary History in a Global Context: Progress & Challenges”, by paleoanthropologist Professor Bernard Wood, in July 2016).

Mutations are an evolutionary attempt at adaption, but mutations can also be viewed as a genetic mistake, a misfiring! Mutations can provide the keys to life, or they can kill a life. Whilst mutations are in effect a form of damage, it is the damaged (the lucky damaged few) that survive.

So, damage, or breakage, is a vital, necessary part of survival, not merely at a human, emotional, or, dare I say it, a creative level, but it is also vital from the point-of-view of evolutionary science.

Now, how on earth do I express that, and respond to it musically?

The answer lies partly in returning to what I feel converges in the practices of science and arts-making (or at least what constantly converged for Anna, Nadja and me in our residency). To Look, to Listen (or observe) and to Question, over and over and over again, Look, Listen, Question, and to Make, to Look, Listen and Ask again. To Experience…

Alan Alda (a science advocate as well as an actor and playwright) in his lecture “Science belongs to all of us” for the National Press Club Address, ABC, March 2016, asserted that the arts and the sciences are like two long lost lovers wishing to reunite.

At The Gene Tree Project we are creating the space for these two lovers to talk and, together, discover the world anew.

(Written by E.Goodrich, edited by C. Bradley– 2016)

We invite you to experience a live performance at Melbourne Music Week of our musical response to a genetic bottleneck!, “Passing through – Dance in the Bottleneck” by Elissa Goodrich (2016) for soprano sax (Adam Simmons), tenor sax and flute (Gideon Brazil) and vibraphone (Elissa Goodrich).

You will get to experience this live piece as well as many others that are a growing part of The Gene Tree Project.

Book now, spaces are limited

The Gene Tree Project: The art of science and music
As part of Melbourne Music Week

When: Wednesday November 16th, 6.30pm
Where: Carlton Connect Initiative Lab14 Gallery, 700 Swanston St, Carlton
Tickets: $15 / $20

Book now, spaces are limited

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