R.B. Morris: Man of Science

The National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee has what seems, at first glance, to be one of the most unlikely songwriter residencies anywhere. But R.B. Morris, the first of up to five residents in the eight-month program, says the institute's mission—studying ways to combine traditional scientific research and mathematics—isn't so far from what he already tries to do as a songwriter.

"In my view, it's an effort in the general direction of working in ‘whole systems,' which is at the heart of all education and understanding," Morris writes in an e-mail interview. "Songwriting itself is a synthesis of sound and meaning, words and music, a construction based on traditional forms and variations, [and it] requires craft and a use of systems and tools. The additional variance of combining poetry with music... is another area of confluence that I have worked in. And Art involves the intuitive as well as random factors, all of which [are] also present in scientific endeavor and the ‘scientific method.'"

The institute's new songwriter-in-residence program runs through June, and will feature one-month residencies by up to five songwriters. Each will be expected to interact with resident and visiting scientists and produce new songs that reflect the institute's programs and mission.

"It so happens that I have a few poems and songs already that deal these subjects and themes," Morris says. "Anyway, it's an area of interest for me already, and an amazing inspiration to be surrounded by all these great minds coming from so many different cultures."