Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SciMuses: All Your Science

Dr. Lu Lubenstein and Z-Man form the two halves of the guitar-drum duo called All Your Science. While many bands choose names that refer to science without necessarily being made up of scientists, Z and Lu prove the exception to that unspoken rule by being involved in scientific and technological fields. It was a pleasure to get the opportunity to sit down with them both to talk to them about their scientific and musical lives.

All Your Science formed almost three years ago when Lu and Z met at the local Durham Bike Co-op. “All I remember is that he tried to fix my tire and it blew up in my face,” Lu related with a laugh. After that incident they started playing music together and decided on the name All Your Science as a nod to their mutual scientific careers and the ancient internet meme all your base are belong to us.

Any readers that attended the DiVE into Alcohol lab tour at Duke as part of the ScienceOnline2010 conference might have noticed the Z-Man behind the controls of the huge Duke immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE) 3D virtual reality stimulator. As a computer scientist holding a bachelors and masters degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Z maintains and writes code for the 3D stimulator. The main types of 3D projects that Z programs are for psychologists who want to create a virtual stimulation of feared objects such as snakes in order to help people overcome their personal phobias. However, one of the smaller projects Z works on involves creating virtual reality musical instruments. He described the experience as using a controller that virtually projects a wand or stick to hit the keys of the virtual instrument. Z appreciates the opportunity to use both sets of skills in his work. “It's one of those things where I am able to overlap some of my knowledge about musical instruments and virtual reality.”

Z had an extensive background in music as well and computer science when he moved to Durham to work with the DiVE stimulator. In high school, he played organ in a ska band, and played in various rock bands throughout college. He usually played rock with others, but also started making avant-garde noise music on his own. He was doing mostly avant-garde solo projects before he met Lu and formed All Your Science. His noise background gets incorporated into their songs at times. “Lu always tries to get me to work [noise elements] into our albums," he said. "Like 'do something that makes it sound crazy!'” Their first album has a song that reflects this, entitled appropriately and simply, "Noise."

Lu and Z seemed to have parallel lives when getting into playing music in high school. While Z was wearing suits and playing the organ in a ska band, Lu was wearing ties and playing guitar in a duo girl punk band called Tomboys. When Lu went to Virginia Tech to study biology and chemistry, her drummer from Tomboys came with her to study engineering. When that band dissolved, she kept playing with another girl band throughout her time in college, graduation, and subsequent move to Washington DC to work at the National Institute of Health. She spent two years at the NIH working in the ovarian oncology unit, using proteomics to look for a drug for use in future clinical trials. She then started her studies at UNC - Chapel Hill for a Ph.D. in pharmacology with a focus on cancer research. While playing in All Your Science, she studied science and recently earned her doctorate. She is set to start a postdoc at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York where she will be working directly with doctors and patients to find new drugs that may work well for ovarian and breast cancers. Lu explained that there isn't nearly as much funding for the study of ovarian cancers as there is for breast cancer, and this combined with the fact that she had a family member with the disease makes her very passionate about her work. She looks forward to seeing a more direct effect of her research through her work at Sloan-Kettering."I just love what I do because it's so rewarding,” she said. “Even though it's frustrating at times, it's easy to get through because I love it.”

When asked about what it's like performing research and performing in a band, Lu piped up. “It's nice. You can go to the lab and you can work all day on complex problems and then you can come home and get some of this built up stress out through playing music. It's so much fun because we don't do it as a profession. We just do it for fun so there's really no pressure on it.” The band records all their albums at home themselves and burns their own CDs for each show. Z spoke of the ease of modern recording software as being helpful to producing decent sound for their records. “As easy as it is, I still think you have to be a little computer savvy to do home recording,” Z said, citing his computer skills.

The new EP from All Your Science was recorded 4 track style and is mostly instrumental. There are more than just guitar and drums on the EP since both members of the band added additional instruments as overdubs on many of the tracks. The EP will be released at a house party that doubles as a final show and farewell party, as Lu leaves soon afterward to start her postdoc in New York. But is this the last All Your Science show ever?

"We keep talking that if we can get the right set up that we're gonna reform to do the tour of Japan," Z said. "But we're still keeping that as kind of a rumor. And we're gonna have to have enough interest from the fans." Since Lu recently gave a talk on her Ph.D. thesis in Japan, they should have no trouble drumming up some support for any future tours in the country.

All Your Science releases their last EP and plays their final show this Saturday, August 28th, at 602 Maplewood Ave in Durham, North Carolina. RSVP to the facebook event here. Thanks to the band for sitting down and talking with me!

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