âScience asks the questions. / And poetry marks the spot.
This line from “Unweaving Science”, the opening track of the spoken word album Experimental words, sheds light on the links between science and art. The album, an eclectic collection of 10 poems born out of collaborations between researchers and oral artists, is a celebration of the craftsmanship and creativity that drives scientists and poets.
The album comes from the minds of co-producers Sam Illingworth and Dan Simpson, themselves embodiments of the clash of the arc between the two disciplines. Illingworth, who has a doctorate. in Atmospheric Physics, is an interdisciplinary researcher at Edinburgh Napier University who examines poetry as a tool for scientific communication. Simpson, a former poet in residence at Imperial College London, is known for writing poems influenced by science.
Illingworth is calling Experimental words a dance. It’s an experience. Every part of the album, from collaborations to the “music videos” that accompany certain tracks, is a testament to the experimentation and exploration that define both scientific and creative processes. Even the album cover is experimental, created using an interactive algorithm that visualizes the words of the poems. Online, listeners can play with the algorithm, developed by graphic designer and web designer Ben Gregory, to create their own versions of the cover.
The album, available on streaming services such as Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, aims to shatter the preconception that science and poetry mix like oil and water, Simpson says. âPoets and scientists go out into the world to try to understand it, to internalize it and then try to give it back,â he says. âWe are communicators, interpreters and revealers of the truth on some level. “
Whether scientists, poets, both, or neither, listeners are likely to discover some truth in Experimental words that resonates. The poems have a wide variety of themes, exploring the sometimes harmonious, sometimes controversial history of humans with the ocean; the wonders of the plethora of sounds in the universe; perceptions and realities of artificial intelligence; and the unrecognized heroism of civil engineers.
Each piece, anchored by its own distinct speaking style, is colored with unique sounds and music that span the gamut from space satellite audio recordings to a rendition of a famous 1975 performance by American jazz musician Keith Jarrett. .
‘Glass Bridge’, for example, written and recorded by civil and environmental engineer Sunday Popo-Ola of Imperial College London and spoken word artist Malaika Kegode, features an original instrumental piece written by Kegode and his sister , Handina Dutiro. A meditation on the everyday innovations that many people take for granted – clean water, well-lit roads, trains, shoes – the poem opens with a challenge: âIt is true that we shouldn’t be walking on glass. But what if that glass is a bridge and it’s your only way to cross the valley? A playful percussive pattern evoking a person tinkering with metal tools invites the listener to “meet on this glass bridge / in all its translucent force / and talk about the invisible / visible things that keep us alive.”
In âMechanisms & Multitudes,â an article on artificial intelligence, computer scientist Ruth Aylett of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and poet Momtaza Mehri perform with synthetic and human voices for the three characters in the poem. Daedalus, the mythical Greek architect and craftsman, and PARRY, one of the earliest chatbot relics of 1972, sport mechanical voices that contrast with the human inflections of Ada Lovelace, widely regarded as the first computer programmer and known for her philosophy of “poetic science”. (Serial number: 08/13/16).
Experimental words features poets and scientists from diverse personal, artistic and scientific backgrounds. All of the collaborators live in the UK, which is not surprising since the project grew out of a set of live performances there. These roots in the local British sphere left me curious as to how the project might evolve in the future, perhaps incorporating more international collaborations or even different media.
However, the themes of the album are universal. And listeners dare “to realize that science and poetry are not mutually exclusive entities, but complementary ways of understanding the world we live in,” Illingworth says.
The album affirms this message on the final track. In “Shapeshifter”, entomologist and science communicator Adam Hart of the University of Gloucestershire in England and poet Desree personify science and art as entities that “carry life, uphill, on their backs / and yet always have to beg for a durable backpack “. The play, which begins with an argument between the two disciplines over their values ââfor humanity, ends with the resolution that they are, indeed, one and the same: “I am a shapeshifter / Tell me what you need, / And this, that I will be. “