Genesis Music

by Peter Gena


The DNA Mixer shown here is the end product of the research and planning that Dr. Charles Strom and I have done in order to realize DNA sequences into music. After Dr. Strom explained the physiological characteristics of the codons and amino acids, i.e. dissociation constant [Pk(a)], molecular weight, hydrogen bonding, melting temperature, etc., we devised a formula for the physio-musical conversion. I subsequently programmed algorithms to do the sequence reading and conversion (see Gena/Strom: Musical Synthesis of DNA Sequences).

This mixer, created in the MAX object-oriented language, is designed to read multiple DNA sequences as ribosomes do inside cells. The player can choose from a number of tissues, viruses, proteins, etc., and begin them at any point in the sequence. The mixer used for "Genesis" is slightly altered in that the sequences (the genesis gene, the cyan plasmid, and the yellow plasmid) can loop infinitely, and that timbral changes will be made when the website user switches on the UV light over the plasmid. In addition, as participants control the light from the website, the tempo of the sequence gradually speeds up to a maximum, then works its way down again.

The DNA mixer can realize the sequences as digital sound and/or print them out in musical notation. We have generated musical compositions for blood and liver cells, the polio virus, botulinin toxin (botulism), measles, rubella, four distinct common cold viruses, cystic fibrosis, collagen, and the HIV virus. Ideally, as in the case of "Genesis," performances of the digitally synthesized pieces should be done in real-time from the computer, where the ribosome simulations can be set spontaneously before each performance.

Below you will find five samples in .wav format of the music taken progessively from the slow to the fast tempo.

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
Sample 4
Sample 5

Peter Gena is Professor of Art and Technology and Sound, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.