Last summer I had the exceptional opportunity to attend Roche Continents. This is an annual event organized by Roche Corporate Donations and Philanthropy where 30 arts and 70 science students from across Europe are gathered in Salzburg to immerse themselves in art, science and the Salzburg Festival for a week.
When I first heard about Roche Continents, I was surprised why a big pharma company would invest in something like that and what actually connects science and arts. After some thinking and research, I realized that art and science do have a lot in common. As Albert Einstein put it beautifully:
“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in aesthetics, plasticity and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”
Both arts and science require creativity, intuition and inspiration to achieve breakthrough innovations. Eloquent designs of experiments and the right choice of techniques to achieve a scientific goal for a scientist is just as important as choosing the right instruments and inventing beautiful melodies to create a masterpiece of musical art. Not without reason do scientists “perform” experiments and similarly performing art does not go without experimenting.
With these thoughts in mind I went on a journey to experience the creative process that leads to innovation and to explore “the edge” – the theme of this year’s Roche Continents. I was not disappointed. During the week, the organizers kept us constantly busy with ever new inspiring program points including eye-opening lectures, fun workshops, thought-provoking team challenges and spectacular concert visits.
Everyday we started with a session of Tai Chi to set the stage for mindfulness. The first day then already knocked me off my socks with a drumming session with Sewa Beats, where we experienced the power of making music in a group of 100 people. Surprisingly, our workshop leader and founder of Sewa Beats Doug Manuel also had a unexpected life story to tell: he started as a restaurant worker, then made BBC documentary in Africa where he discovered his passion for the djembe drum and subsequently started teaching drumming to prisoners, before turning to lead motivational/communication workshops with the djembe. What a life!
Another highlight was a project with the contemporary artist Fritz Hauser who taught us over the week how to make music by scratching wooden sticks against each other or against random objects. This even led us to give a concert in front of the chairman of Roche.
In between the artistic sessions, we also had plenty of chances to discuss science. Talks of renowned scientists fuelled our thoughts and made us look beyond our everyday research. The biochemistry professor Renee Schroeder introduced us to the biological and cultural evolution, the theoretic physics professor Ben Moore taught us about the history and future of the universe and the Foundation Medicine employee Alley Welsh gave us her view on cancer genomics.
Moreover, I had the honor to be selected to give an “inspiration talk” where I presented an art-science collision project that involved turned living bacteria into art (http://www.taldanino.com).
Not to forget were the spectacular evenings that we enjoyed at the Salzburg Festival, the world’s largest and most prestigious festival of music and drama. We had the chance to attend various contemporary music concerts as well as an opera. This was the first time I was exposed to contemporary classical music and it is really worth the experience. Beyond the concerts we also got to speak to the musicians, conductors and composers of some of the concerts which was great honor. After the concerts, we could digest our experiences during the “late-night reflections” which was a great opportunity to discuss questions with the present art students.
There were just countless highlights at Roche Continents – too many to list here. This fruitful week challenged my views and made me realize several important things for life:
1) Stay curious and open-minded and talk to people outside of your world!
Being exposed to people from so many different and unknown disciplines such as musicology, composition, video photography, theoretic chemistry or arts management as well as so many diverse cultures ranging from Venezuela to Thailand made me discuss many things I have never thought about before. This is where the true path to creativity comes about – through experience, challenging discussions and pushing “the edge”.
2) Be passionate about what you do!
The conversations with the people at Roche Continents, be it students, lecturers, musicians or organizers have all left me with a feeling of being infected with enthusiasm. I have met so many people during this week who are passionate about very different things and who through their encouraging questions made me feel more passionate about what I do.
3) Don’t be afraid to try and experience unknown things and take risks!
Be it Tai Chi or contemporary music concerts, trying out new things and taking risks expanded my horizon and made me think more outside of the box.
4) Great things can happen in a team!
Be it drumming or scratching wooden sticks with 100 people or solving a team challenge with different minded individuals, it is not only more fun to be in a team but also more productive and fruitful.
The one week at Roche Continents truly inspired me, made me look beyond my everyday life and encouraged me to further push “the edge”. This was the 10th anniversary of Roche Continents, may it continue for at least another 10 years!