Composer Zakiya Leeming and Dr Kirstie Andrews collaborate on a piece called Rennervate for Oboe, Alto Saxophone, Marimba and Piano, inspired by research into nerve cells.

Dr Kirstie Andrews

Senior Lecturer in Engineering Materials & Biomedical Engineering

Dr Kirstie Andrews

My fundamental research interest is the development of artificial tissue substitutes for use within biomedical technology.

The hypothesis is that cell function can be directly controlled by an underlying/contacting substrate which, when used as the basis for cell growth, can induce cells to produce optimum responses. This project has concentrated on the production and use of fibrous constructs to repair damaged and diseased nerves.

The artificial nerve needs to promote the cells to function in a healthy manner, in order to re-connect the damaged ends and allow electrical signals to be sent between cells, improving quality of life for patients.

Composer: Zakiya Leeming

Zakiya LeemingThe piece musically depicts the research Kirstie Andrews has been performing in growing nerve cells on artificial scaffolds.

In a programmatic way, the piece depicts Kirstie’s progress through her research. The first section opens with Kirstie’s familiarisation with the existing research. This research was theoretical and hypothesised that the best scaffolds would be highly structured in road-like channels.

As depicted in the music however, these rigid scaffolds (piano and marimba) do not encourage sustained growth (oboe and saxophone struggle to create a ‘line’). The piece then depicts Kirstie examining what happens naturally during the growth of cells. This music is freer and less rigid, depicting the slightly ‘erratic’ seeming growth under normal conditions that nevertheless eventually creates a network and allows signals to be carried through. The ‘scaffold’ (piano and marimba) ‘follow along’ and try to emulate some of this ‘non-directional’ growth.

‘Signals’ are eventually able to be passed between the instruments (insistent repetitions of one or two pitches at a time). The next section of the piece shows two different ‘scaffold’ conditions that Kirstie had tested. The ‘directionality’ is increased whilst still conforming to an overall looping pattern. This was found to be the best scaffold upon which nerve cells grew, and the piece ends with the hypothetical ‘signal’ being passed to symbolise success in functional growth.

Zakiya Leeming is a Manchester-based composer who is currently undertaking her PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music with David Horne and Emily Howard. Zakiya’s research investigates ways in which music can be inspired by, or communicate scientific and mathematical patterns and processes. During her Masters degree she received the Soroptimists International Manchester Award in Composition, The Edward Hecht Prize and an RNCM Gold Medal in composition. Commissions have included the Bury Choral Society, In Memoriam Harvey festival, Aurora Percussion Duo, New Music North West festival, Sale Chamber Orchestra, Victoria Baths project and the Christopher Rouse festival.   

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