[rumori] genomic harmonics

From: H. (hATweirdness.com)
Date: Mon Mar 12 2001 - 17:46:55 PST


DNA the Way to San Jose?
by Robert Thomason
When genome researchers released their maps of our genetic makeup, they
expected researchers to take years to unravel their mysteries and employ
them in medicine and other fields.

Two musicians, however, quickly used the data to compose modernistic pieces,
and have posted them on MP3.com.

Brent D. Hugh, a professor of music at Missouri Western State College, and
Todd Barton, composer in residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
independently found not only inspiration, but musical raw material in the 3
billion letters that describe our DNA.

Both works have eerie yet soothing qualities, and could easily serve as
soundtracks to science-fiction nano-journies through DNA strands. Their
dreaminess gives no hint to the music's roots in such empirical science and

"All of the pitches and note lengths (rhythms) were completely generated
from the genetic sequences," Hugh said of his work, "Music of the Human

"I made the rules about how the genetic sequences were translated into the
melodic sequences," he said. "But once I had generated a melody using these
rules, I completely respected its integrity."

He ran the raw genome sequence data through software he had programmed to
generate a melodies and rhythmic figures. Then he did his own kind of gene
splicing, composing the more balanced of them into harmonies, counterpoints
and phrasings.

"The genome melodies were my 'found sounds,' and I took them as I found
them," Hugh said.

At first an electronic chant sets a slow and minimalist mood. Then
synthesized wood blocks punctuate that mood with their quick rhythms. Soon,
seemingly random-sounding chimes sound out.

Hugh elaborated on his technique of harvesting music from different
combinations of the four letters -- A, T, C, and G -- that stand for the
nucleotides (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) that make up the DNA

To translate the genome data into musical melodies, Hugh divided it into
four-letter segments, the first two letters of the segment determining
pitch, the second two, the length of the note.

In his work with the genome data Barton was inspired by the composers Bebe
and Louis Barron, who created the electronic music score for the 1956
science-fiction film Forbidden Planet.


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