The project at the Nurrish Lab
The Nurrish lab is studying how
brain cells talk to each other: the release of chemicals from one
brain cell to another causing a change in the receiving brain cell.
One such chemical in the human brain is called serotonin, and having
too little serotonin is thought to lead to abnormal behaviours
such as depression, aggression, eating disorders, and alcoholism.
If we could better understand what effect serotonin has on brain
cells then we could design new, more specific drugs to treat depression.
We are investigating how serotonin works using the small nematode
worm Caenorhabditis elegans. C.elegans also uses serotonin in its
much simpler brain (302 cells versus over 10 billion in humans)
and we have identified genes that are needed for serotonin's effects
in receiving brain cells. These genes are also present in humans.
We continue to search for more genes required for serotonin's effects
and to understand how the genes we've already found work.
Global brain states of contentedness or depression and their effect
on us are powerful and sometimes troubling issues. But for a
composer, the idea of how brain states relate to behaviour is
enormously intriguing. The mechanism whereby moods or ideas communicate
themselves from interior states into external manifestations
is a constant source of creative fascination for me. The compositions
that arise from the residency will be examine the ideas that
drive the scientific research, and also the methods and processes
that the scientists use.
Music has long been thought to have privileged access to internal
states of being, either as an expression or as a trigger of them.
More recently, music has also been seen as somehow instantiating
neurological states, rather than simply expressing emotions. There
is also a sense in which music possesses an innate physicality,
not just because it sometimes makes us want to move and is often
necessary for its performance, but because it can have a kind of
form that embodies ideas.
These ideas of mental and physical are embodied
through the transformations that particular musical tropes and
ideas undergo in a particular work. Formulating and clarifying
those transformations is one of the basic aims of the music that
I write, and is one of the primary ways that I am engaging with
the scientific ideas and methodologies. Compositional strategies
might include using research data to generate musical results,
and using pre-existing musical works as expressive texts that could
be altered in analogous ways to the genetic alterations that C.