Gordon Dalgarno

A bit about me

Gordon Dalgarno graduated in Physics with Medical Physics from Aberdeen University in 1959 with upper second honours. After graduating, he wished to find a job involving hearing but was not able to get the job he wanted. Later he realised this was because he required a biological qualification as well. He went to work for ICI on instrument development and discovered how to re-design the electromagnetic flow-meter, which was widely used by ICI for conducting liquids, so that it would also work for non-conducting liquids (of obvious interest to ICI because of the petrol-chemicals). It was not obvious why it would not work for non-conducting because Faraday’s Law says nothing about the conductivity of the fluid.

He then went to work for Rowntree & Company of York, which, in common with other confectionary companies at that time, badly needed instrumentation. It had a great many challenging problems involving physics and computing. This stood him in good stead as you will see later.

In time he became a research manager of a section for physics, instrumentation and scientific computing. During all this time, his interest in music increased, largely self-taught. He had great compassion for people going deaf who could no longer hear or perceive music clearly and enjoyably. He began to work on ways of alleviating this in much of his spare time with a little funding from local charities and bits of help from his employers. Later, he was invited to make a case to a committee of very senior people in the company, whom he would never otherwise have met, to do this charitable work full-time for two years. This would be on secondment to York University where he was taken under the wing of the famous Professor John Paynter who, to his great delight, said “You know your stuff about music, I’m going to put you up for appointment as a Visiting Research Fellow in Music”.

With the help of Rowntree, he set up at a charitably-supported voluntary organisation called “Enabling for Music”. This was essential to obtain more substantial grants which would cover equipment and travel.

The work involved electronics and computing as well as music and he collaborated with the Dept. of Electronics and received substantial help from them including technician help in the construction of electronic circuitry. Later they put him up for appointment as Visiting Research Fellow in their Department of Electronics also. The Gulbenkian Foundation and the Hamlyn and Radcliffe trust gave substantial grants.

After the secondment he returned to his post at Rowntree (now taken over by Nestle) and strived to do especially good work for them in acknowledgment of their charitable giving and kindness to him.

In his spare time, he continued the work on the project as much as he could and as a spin-off from the deaf work produced a computerised system for physical disabled people who could not use their hands to create recorded performances of music with their own individual interpretation. In his fifties he became ill with depression – inexplicably!

His employers were very kind to him but eventually he had to take early retirement on health grounds because of the depression. He left on favourable terms and crucially with their permission and encouragement to get on with his voluntary work.

Around this time, he realised it was going to be impossible, with current technology, to achieve his aim of enjoyable music for totally deafened people (even with the combination of visual display and vibro-tactile stimulation). He had been getting much more interest for the use of his vibro-acoustic chair for depression and related illnesses and, in consequence, he began to change over to work in this field. He was invited by Professor John Sloboda to work under his wing at Keele University where he put him up for appointment as Honorary Research Fellow in Music Psychology. This was granted and later he was given a staff flat. Conditions at Keele were most favourable for the work and he had a good deal of support from Doctors Pat Wilson and Douglas Potter as well as from Professor Sloboda. He began to use the vibro-acoustic chair personally to attempt to alleviate his own depression and had a great deal of success with this. In fact, his depression was “blown away” successfully for about 15 years. This result greatly increased his confidence in this method of dealing with depression. However, over the next five years, the VC enthusiastically implemented Government Policy which completely changed the ethos of Keele University. The VC was created a Dame. In consequence, many staff left or took early retirement including Professor Sloboda and Doctors Potter and Wilson. Without support, he could no longer remain at Keele University, but he continued the work privately.

Depression is poorly understood by the medics and some sufferers are not helped effectively by prescription drugs or talking therapies. If you, a friend or a relative have not suffered it, it is hard to believe how absolutely horrible it is.

He began to work to enhance the beneficial effect of experiencing music through the vibro-acoustic chair on a hunch that everyone had their own personal frequency and that the pitch of the music was tuned to match the pitch of the personal frequency, the therapeutic effect would be enhanced. A grant was obtained from the National Lottery of £10,000 to prove this but unfortunately Gordon had a stroke and had to cease his work. At this point, he had only done five clients; three with absolutely excellent results. The rules of the lottery were absolutely inflexible, the project had to be completed in one year and seeing that this was going to be impossible he did the ethical thing and returned their grant which was heartbreaking for him after all the admin effort required to get the grant. It was extremely disappointing when he was about to find out if his hunch was correct and, not only that, but also whether another method for depression would now have been generally available. So, he was left in the most frustrating state of knowing the idea was very promising but not being able to say more than that. His hope is that someone else will take the work up and complete it. The reason for writing up this work and putting it on this website is in the hope that someone will take up this work and complete it.

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