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Beyond the Score


Place of Origin

The Netherlands 



Inspiration and composition


Inspired by last year’s ‘I Art My Science’ exhibition, but finding it more visually oriented, Van Rijen decided to submit a musical composition. This, however, turned out to be more challenging than he had anticipated, similar to the nature of scientific research. Exploring various compositions and sounds, Van Rijen rerecord the middle section of the piece multiple times. ‘The thing about artists [and scientists] is that both learn their craft through trial and error. ‘I used an acoustic saxophone even though the alto saxophone sounded better, it was just slightly off tune. It took several attempts to get it to a place I felt good about’.  


The composition is a reiteration of the jazz classic 'Blue Bossa' by Kenny Durham. The chord scheme is dominated by minor seventh chords that are composed of four notes, which Van Rijen compares to the four nucleotides of human DNA.  The inspiration for this design was drawn from ‘The Music of Life’, a book by British physiologist Denis Noble. In the book, Noble poses the intriguing question of whether aliens observing a person lying on a sofa, listening to music, and crying could comprehend the person’s behaviour by decoding the ones and zeros of the music. His answer to this question was no, ‘you cannot understand a musical score by looking at a single note’.

In this book, Noble drew comparisons of his musical theory with the human genome, an idea that resonated with Van Rijen. ‘Genes are the building bricks of life, but it is not life, life is a complex action and development, it can’t be minimised. Life, like music, is a process, with unique interactions between all levels of organisation within and outside the body’. The four notes in this piece [based on the four nucleotides] form the skeleton of this song, on top of which new themes and variations are played with electronic and acoustic instruments. It is arranged symmetrically like a Gaussian curve to emphasize that every variation of the melody is part of the main structure. ‘It is the variations, not the structure that results in the uniqueness of a song’. This variation and changing patterns are also what makes human life unique. ‘The beauty of music is that each person will interpret it in their own unique way, and I hope that everyone will have a different experience. This is what art allows us to do. It is the mirror of the soul allowing each of us to see and hear what we want based on our own memories and experiences’, which Van Rijen aptly identifies as existing beyond the score.   


The artist

About Harold van Rijen

Harold van Rijen is the Degree Director of the Graduate School of Life Sciences and Chair of the Biomedical Sciences at UMC Utrecht, Professor of Innovation in Biomedical Education, and specialises in the cardiovascular system.  Van Rijen’s passion for music developed at a young age. His father was a jazz musician and taught him to play several musical instruments.  When describing music’s impact on his life, Van Rijen said that ‘music is a part of me’. In his leisure time, Van Rijen enjoys walking his dogs and composing and listening to jazz music. 

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