Harmonic Function

On the 5th March 2020, EASTBIO first-year PhD student Eddie Martin organised a concert with a difference. The performers? Researchers in the fields of Biological Sciences and/or Music. Their instruments? Computer programming languages. The audience? Enjoying a healthy mix of inspiration, entertainment, and bemusement.

This event welcomed all to the diverse and overlapping worlds of sonification, algorithmic music composition, and live-coding/algorave. I will now interrupt this article for some basic definitions:

Sonficiation – Turning data to (non-speech) sound. Think heart-rate monitors or Geiger counters.

Algorithmic Music Composition – Writing music using an algorithm with minimal human input. (Mozart used grids and dice. Nowadays we use computer programming languages.)

Live Coding – On the spot interactive programming for artistic improvisation.

Algorave – A subculture centred on live coding, and also a term for a club nights or gig featuring live coding.

Eddie Martin, a student at the University of Edinburgh, hosted the event and performed first. He shared three pieces from his research, each of them turning protein sequences to sound. His first piece showcased his method of sonification with simple instrumentation (1 – link at bottom of page). He followed this with a poignant and educational sonification of the molecular cause of Huntington’s disease (2). Eddie finished with a spectacle: a live-mixed performance of his Human SARS coronavirus replicase sonification, accompanied by a 3-d animated viral visualisation (3).

Dr. Michelle Phillips (Royal Northern College of Music) and Dr. Nicholas Weise (Manchester Institute of Biotechnology) shared their collaborative project ‘Music and Mutation’. This work involved the sonification of DNA nucleotides, and the audience were treated to a video of their compositions performed by a string trio (4). This work investigates the audience’s perception and response to algorithmically composed sonification pieces, especially in non-scientific contexts. the work simultaneously investigates the use of sonification as a tool to teach difficult Biological topics, such as codon optimisation.

Dr Shelly Knotts | ‘Molecular Soundscapes’

Dr. Shelley Knotts (Durham University), a renowned live-coder and international performer, treated the audience to two pieces. The first was ‘Molecular Soundscapes’ (pictured), a collaboration with computational chemist Dr. Agnieszka Bronowska (Newcastle University). This performance included sonification of molecular biological properties and drug design processes in Dr. Bronowska’s work (5), and a demonstration of software developed to visualise and interact with the sonification.

Shelley’s second piece of live coding was ‘AlgoRIOTmic Grrrl!’, a remixing and repurposing of ‘90s Riot Grrrl music to create angry dance music which evoke the revolutionary spirit of feminist punk. This work highlights the need to create space for women in electronic and computer music scenes and draws parallels between algorave and punk subcultures (6). Shelley’s performance provided a raucous and mischievous note to end the evening on.

This event was kindly supported by EASTBIO and the Festival of Creative Learning.

Sound/Video Links:

(1) https://soundcloud.com/sonifyed/esx1-human-protein

(2) https://soundcloud.com/sonifyed/huntingtin-human-protein

(3) https://vimeo.com/400189352

(4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDmSHj9D_Kg

(5) https://vimeo.com/219101695

(6) https://vimeo.com/402137471

Performers Links:









Students as Change Agents

This programme brought out the best in me and gave me the opportunity to work with teams from diverse backgrounds. In addition, I had the chance to sharpen my critical thinking skills and presentation skills

Students as Change Agents participant – February 2020

Created by the Careers Service and the Data Driven Innovation Programme Office, Students as Change Agents is an experiential learning programme that brings students from different academic disciplines together to tackle real-world complex challenges. Across Flexible Learning Week, 22 students volunteered to spend time working in interdisciplinary teams using data and creative thinking to address some real-world challenges set by external partners.

In just five days, four teams addressed huge questions on women’s financial equality, reducing youth homelessness, and helping the construction industry contribute to the circular economy. On day five they each presented a short video and written report to their industry experts and hosted a Q&A on their findings.

It was a whirlwind week which started with students meeting each other for the first time, quickly followed by an introduction to Team Dynamics delivered by the Social Enterprise Academy Scotland. A key element of the Change Agent programme is about helping students understand themselves better and how they best work in a multi-personality team. Facilitated conversations about teamwork undoubtedly help foster mutual understanding with students and acts as a catalyst for collaborative learning – which is essential in such a tight timeframe.

Following a session led by EFI’s Cat Magill on Defining Problems with Data, students met their industry partners for an introductions to their challenge question. Having external partners meet with and present to students is an integral component of the programme. Not only does it allow students to build their professional networks in a way their traditional HE learning doesn’t tend to, it is also a fantastic opportunity for external partners to meet students outside of a recruitment setting and to witness how they think and engage with challenges.

In the subsequent days, groups also received further training from EFI and Edinburgh Innovations on good ideas, pitching solutions and developing positive attitudes. There was also the opportunity for peer-to-peer feedback as groups tested their thoughts with each other and shared suggestions on how to improve.

Following successful presentation events to industry experts, students shared their thoughts on the programme. Every participant in the end programme said they would recommend taking part to other students and others highlighted that although it was a challenging experience it had ultimately been extremely rewarding.

The Students as Change Agents programme showed me I’m capable of so much more than I thought. I had fun every step of the way but also pushed myself to work harder than I am used to and the whole experience taught me so many valuable lessons

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

The week turned out to be a great experience and I learned about the challenge as well as developed myself much more than I had anticipated

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

The programme was friendly to students from any backgrounds and allowed students to develop a notion on what their future career team work is going to be like

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

Flexible Learning Week 2020 Challenges & Video Links:

1) How can the construction industry use digital technology to contribute to the circular economy?

Partner: Robertson are one of the UK’s largest family-owned construction, infrastructure and support services businesses.

Circular Economy Challenge Video – SAChA February 2020

2) How can Scotland change to reduce youth homelessness?

Partners: Clan Childlaw is a unique legal and advocacy service for children and young people delivering free, confidential legal advice and representation in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Glasgow. They are partnered in this challenge by Shelter Scotland, a campaigning organisation helping over half a million people every year, who struggle with bad housing or homelessness, through advice, support and legal services.

Youth Homelessness – Rural Community Bus Scheme
Q24 | Introduction

3) How can society fairly support women in the UK to develop long-term financial resilience and capability?

Partner: Part of Lloyds Banking Group, Scottish Widows have been helping people plan their financial futures for over 200 years. This challenge question builds on work by the Chartered Insurers Institute which is a professional body dedicated to building public trust in the insurance and financial planning profession.

SACHA Challenge Feb 2020 – Financial Equality

This was the third delivery of Students as Change Agents and only the second to run across Flexible Learning Week. We are still learning and making continuous improvements. If you would like to learn more about the programme or receive copies of the written reports, please email sacha.project@ed.ac.uk or visit our web pages