Mara Carlyle & Max de Wardener


Mara Carlyle’s interest in the kidneys was partly informed by her time spent as a nursing assistant, when this organ pair became a fascination. Her inspiration increased through conversations with her friend and collaborator Max De Wardener, whose father Professor Hugh De Wardener pioneered kidney dialysis in the UK and was a renowned expert in the treatment of kidney disease.

With leading nephrologist Chris Laing, Mara and Max explored the collection of human kidneys, kept for science at the Gordon Museum, before a series of interviews in the Nephrology department at the Royal Free Hospital. They talked to patients undergoing dialysis, scientists and the operating theatre team for their research.


“We decided to choose the kidney as ‘our’ organ in tribute to Max’s father who died recently, and who was a pioneering kidney specialist. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to explore his world both scientifically and creatively. We were able to get an initial overview of the kidney from several fascinating (and mind-boggling!) meetings with Hugh Montgomery and Chris Laing.

Other parts of our process included gazing into jars of ancient pickled kidneys at the Gordon Museum of Pathology, talking with dialysis patients and meeting researchers who showed us mesmeric films of embryonic kidneys growing within the womb. For our piece we choose the kidney’s main function of filtration as the inspiration to create our song.

Using mainly vocoded voice and live drums (Tom Skinner) we filtered the frequencies of our sounds to give a sense of constant change throughout the piece. For the lyrics, or the ‘voice’ of the kidney, we created a character, something like a passport control or checkpoint officer, who greets the cells passing through and thanks them for their hard work.