another origin-of-life researcher, has also been intrigued by the
musical properties of DNA. With composer Riley
McLaughlin, he has produced two tapes (DNA Suite
and DNA Meditations)of DNA music. Article
by Deamer from Omni Magazine. Composer Susan
Alexjander and Deamer have also collaborated on the work
Sequencia. Ms. Alexjander describes this work in her essay
In Sequencia, pitches are assigned
according to the light absorption spectra of the four bases ; the
music uses a combination of synthesized tones and live instruments.
All of the works above can be obtained
from Susan Alexjander's Web
Site or from the address below:
- Science & The Arts
PO Box 428
Aptos, CA 95003
Artist and programmer John Dunn (Algorithmic Arts) began creating and performing DNA-based
music and developing genetic music software in 1989, first in collaboration
with botanist K.W.Bridges
and currently with biologist M. A. Clark.
Dunn's software uses both frequency tables and amino acid characteristics
(molecular weight, molecular volume and biochemical category) to assign
pitch and other musical parameters to sequence data. Samples of this
music can be heard at the following web sites.
My own (M. A. Clark)
interest in using music to represent genetic patterns is both aesthetic
and pedagogical. The collaboration with John Dunn,
resulting in the Life Music
CD described on this web site, began while I was teaching an honors
course (Canons, Codons, and Creativity, Marshall University,
Spring 1996) on parallel patterns in genes and music.
Our goal for the Life Music
CD was not only to represent the primary sequences of proteins, but
the secondary folding patterns as well. Since alpha-helix, beta strands
and turns each have characteristic combinations of hydrophobic and
hydrophilic amino acids, different structural categories of proteins,
which combine these secondary elements in different ways, also have
different musical characteristics. The proteins we selected for the
CD represent different protein folding patterns.
artist/scientist composing team is artist Peter
Gena and medical geneticist Charles Strom, who presented their work demonstrating
the translation of DNA sequences into music at the Sixth Symposium
on Electronic Arts.Gena and Strom use a sophisticated algorithm for
converting the DNA sequences to music. Pitch is determined by a combination
of the base composition of the codons and the dissociation constant
of the amino acid encoded. Tone intensity is determined by the number
of hydrogen bonds between base pairs, and duration of the tone by
a combination of the dissociation constants and atomic weights of
the amino acids. The amino acids encoded by each codon were also separated
into eight chemical categories, with different instrumental timbres
assigned to each. Thus nearly all musical elements of their pieces
are determined directly by the codon sequence. Gena and Strom discuss
their music in the sources listed below.
Biologist Ross King
and musician Colin Angus have collaborated
to produce the piece S2 Translation, recorded on The Shamen's CD Axis
Mutatis. The algorithm used in their software PM is described
in the article below. Ross King has recently updated the program described
in the article and a free java version can be downloaded from http://www.aber.ac.uk/~phiwww/pm/
- Ross King and Colin
Angus. PM - Protein music. Computer applications in the Biosciences
12, 251-252. 1996.
In S2 Translation, the DNA
coding sequence for the S2 protein (a membrane receptor for the
neurotransmitter serotonin) was converted to music that plays out
both the DNA sequence and the sequence of the encoded protein. They
assigned the notes C, A, G and E to the bases cytosine, adenine,
guanine and thymine (an interesting musical irony that recalls composer
John Cage's assertion that music can be extracted from all the sounds
around us). Under this melodic line, the bass progressions are structured
to reflect the characteristics of the encoded amino acids, including
their water-solubility, charge, and size. Higher-order structure
of the protein is suggested by changes in tonality.
Musical renditions of DNA and
proteins are not only interesting as music, but as an alternative
mode of studying genetic sequences. It might be argued that the folding
patterns (tertiary structure) of proteins are the most conserved elements
of living organisms. The genes and the primary protein structure
(amino acid sequence) that underlie the protein folds and the diversity
of the species that house them seem to be free to vary, so long as
the protein continues to fold in a way that allows it to serve its
function. Protein folding depends on the interaction among the
amino acids and between the protein and its immediate environment.
With a few exceptions, the specific identity of the amino acids seems
less important than the preservation of the correct relationship.
I believe that music is a way of representing those relationships
in a type of informational string to which the human ear is keenly
The rapid expansion of genetic
data bases driven in part by the Human Genome Project has made it
clear just how much all life forms have in common. Similar genetic
themes appear not only from species to species, but from protein to
protein. Every genome is a study in the history of genetic composition.
It may be possible for somebody who has heard the pattern of a calcium-binding
site or an enzyme active site to recognize its occurrence in a novel
protein. The analytic and educational potential of using music
to represent genetic patterns has been recognized from secondary school
to university level. For example:
Carol Miner and
Paula Della Villa have developed a high-school
learning project in which students create computer music from DNA
sequences. Their project is described in their article
the founder of AudioGenetics, has built a DNA-based music company
on the foundation of a project he began as a student at the University of Arizona.
This ambitious enterprise planned to develop many potential applications
of DNA-based music to education, analysis and medicine. Lane's compositions
are marketed under the label GenSong.
Ronald Rusay, whose
work can be seen at the is interested in the ability of humans to
discriminate between melodies generated from the sequences of mutant
and normal proteins or between the equivalent proteins of different
species. He describes his work in the paper below:
- Musical Representations
of the Fibonacci String and Proteins Using Mathematica.
Erik Jensen, Ronald J. Rusay, Abstract, Paper, International Mathematica
Symposium (IMS 99), Hagenburg, Austria (August, 1999)
Linda Long, biochemist and musician, generates
sequences using the X-ray diffraction coordinates to determine pitch
and amplitude. The sequences are adjusted to reflect regions of secondary
structure: arpeggios for alpha helix and reduced intervalic distances
for beta sheets. Samples of Dr. Long's music can be heard at her web
site: Molecular Music.
Aurora Sanchez Sousa,
microbiologist at the
Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid, has collaborated with musician
Richard Krull to produce
their CD, Genoma Music, based on the DNA
sequences of various genes of the yeast Candida albicans
and other organisms. A discussion and samples of Dr. Sousa's work
can be found at her web site: Genoma
Writer and musician
David Lindsay's work in genetic
music, which grew directly out of an attempt to copyright his own
DNA, is characterized by an emphasis on replication
and rhythm. David Lindsay is the author of four books,
Patent Files (which includes a chapter on his exploration
of DNA) and co-founder of musical groups They Might Be Giants and
With the increase in public
awareness of DNA following on the publication of the sequence of the
human genome, other composers have also begun to explore DNA sequences
as a source of musical pattern:
Brent D. Hugh uses
DNA sequences to generate minimalist music from several DNA sequences
played simultaneously in different layered voices. An article on Brent
Hugh's music can be seen
Todd Barton, a composer
and also director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has recently
become interested in the musical potential of DNA patterns. His web
includes links to several articles and interviews describing his work,
as well as links to samples the music itself.
Alan Hargrove has produced a musical sampling of sequences
representing each of the human chromosomes. In this diverse set of
pieces, the DNA sequence is used as a template for ordering a sequence
of musical phrases, each of which represents one of the four DNA bases.
Samples of the music and a discussion of his work can be seen at Hargrove's
DNA Music Central web site at: http://DNAmusiccentral.com.
(NOTE: this web site seems to have become inactive, and I have been
unable to locate another site related to Mr. Hargrove's work.)
has produced a piece based on the sequence of oxytocin: Oxy
Fugue 9. The piece was produced during his wife's pregnancy.
A discussion and sound file of this music can
be found here.
a music student at Agnes Scott University, has recently completed
the composition of a symphonic piece based on the NADH dehydrogenase
5 gene of the mitochondrial DNA of Agnes Scott. Alexandra's piece
was played for the opening of a new science center at Agnes Scott.
Click here for a news story
on Alexandra's work.
has created a suite of pieces based on the enzyme acid sphingomyelinase
(ASM). Mutations in the gene result in the genetic disorder Niemann-Pick
disease. Moore selected this gene because friends of his have a child
suffering from this disorder. Samples of his music can be heard at
his web site at http://www.melosync.com.
Middleton, who teaches Theory
and Composition at Eastern Washington University, has developed interactive
online software that produces music from a variety of data sources,
sequences. Visit Dr. Middleton's faculty
web page to hear samples of his compositions, and create a piece
of your own, using his DNA music software to generate music from a
DNA sequence you enter. Dr. Middleton's program will also produce
a sheet music printout of your piece!
L.Y. Han and Y.Z. Chen, who
work in bioinformatics and protein structure preduction, have also
developed a online Protein
Music (PROM) composition software that will allow you to hear
the musical output from a protein sequence that you paste in. Visit
their web site to hear samples
of their own compositions as well.
Entry: Rie Takahashi and Jeffrey Miller, at UCLA, are a welcome new addition to the protein music community, and have introduced several new strategies for expressing different amino acid features. For example, amino acids with similar solubilities are assigned chords with the same root but different inversions. Read the article about their work in Genome Science and visit their web site at http://www.mimg.ucla.edu/faculty/miller_jh/gene2music/people.html.
For other links to algorithmic music sites, see
the LINKS at Algorithmic
Arts. For another page of links to DNA and protein-related
music, see Wentian Li's DNA and Protein Music page.
If you know of other resources for genetic music,
have produced genetic music yourself, or would like to suggest other
additions or corrections to this page, please E-mail me: email@example.com.
Original commentary ©
M. A. Clark
Please cite this page if you reproduce any
of the information elsewhere.
Updated November 2, 2005