Experimental Musical instruments
review page 7 :
DNA Music

Susan Alexjander, Dr.Deamer
Science & Arts  Susan Alexjander : Sequencia (US,1994)***°°

The foundations for this release are very interesting, without drawing overattention to them. Instead there's true inspiration where the scientific fundaments are adapted and integrated with musical and emotional affection, creating a very balanced composed music in many ways. A true holistic approach. Susan Alexjander asked Dr.David Dreamer, a cell biologist, after his release of two tapes, "DNA suite" and "DNA Music" based upon the mapping of sequences in the double helix of DNA, for help.

Instead of "mapping" or assigning arbitrary pitches to "hear" patterns, the actual vibrational frequencies were collected from the molecular realm. These frequencies would then be arranged as "scales" of tones, used for the musical composition.
The tuning system was entirely based on certain frequencies that occur in several molecules of the DNA, like andenine, thymine and guanine, the four DNA bases that all consist of a variation and evolution of structures with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.
Tighter bonds for instance absorb light with a higher number of 'waves per centimetre' resulting in a higher note on the infrared spectrum, which can be measured. The absorption of this energy causes heating and causes orbiting electrons to jump to a higher energy state.
It is not specific genes that were measured, but common characteristic properties of organic molecules ; -the bases of DNA and RNA have certain resonance frequencies related to the absorption of infra red light-. The combination of wavenumbers for the DNA base adenine for instance sounds analogous to a glass chime sound. Some frequencies were too high for the human perception. These were divided in half or doubled to make them listenable. This way light patterns seems to  become sound patterns. The achieved sounds were programmed into a Yamaha IID synthesizer which could create appropriate sound banks with microtones. 

Microtonal scales, which can be played on various string instruments usually can not be played well on the primitive instrument which a keyboard usually is, with the equally limited 7-tone melodic scale, (with some half tones) which is measured in 12 equal parts, while stringed microtones out of this balance create a much more natural affection. Bent pitches of microtones are like being creative standards, like some colourful combinations of disharmonies that are again harmonious through its balanced clusters, which can be heard more often in every kind of real aural depth of musical approaches, and not with the purely idiotically followed -too regular- "melodic" part of music.

The evolution that can be heard in the combination of the 60 pitches from the DNA spectra through the 4 bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, seems to create it's own musical scale, with a 2½ octave span for all four with a noticeable gap, or a major sixth/seventh in all bases. In that way the separate notes were easily divided as into a system. Beats occur when smaller microtonal intervals are too close together, which create an extra pitch slightly out-of-phase. In louder moments they become wah-wah beats, when they do phase together. Playing the colourful microtones on other instruments is less difficult for the human voice that can change colours easily. With more fixed pitch instruments like brass instruments it's much more difficult. Coming to compositions with them,needed a little more research..

After weeks of experimenting with different sound combinations a tonal centre began to emerge. This pitch seemed to be a kind of C# common to all the bases, with an average 544,2 Hz. Most pianos are tuned around 554 for C#, with a varying difference between the 4 bases of about a 1/4th tone. In any way C# seemed to be almost exactly in the middle of each column, and seemed to act as a balancer for the entire spectrum of frequencies. This discovery was at first cemented musically by the air, but scientifically seemed to be very appropriately fitting. Where C# seemed to act as a balancer, to tonal pitch centre of F# also was found three times in each base collection. Because of the stabilizing C# it seemed appropriate to tune the drum or tabla in C#, the synthesizer is the upper lying level with the original pattern of frequencies, while the accompanying cello, violin and voice work as the free harmonic improvisation around the stabilizing factors, with the drum as basic foundation, and the keyboards as principle, thematic anchor of content. If we contemplate this esoterically we can see this music work as being in a natural balance with man's freedom of expression well balanced between the natural evolving patterns, giving the opportunity through them to go to a higher state of energy (symbolised by the energy absorbing frequencies resulting in the jumps of the electrons into a higher energy state after having absorbed enough energy). When we think about psychological aspects in music we can also reconsider here the thought how we can create such a musical condition pattern that inhabits a jumping pitch energy, often used in real psychedelic music, or trance or dance energy causing music. Because when a stabilizing pattern of instable harmonic moving elements is used the rhythm pattern and inhabiting energy has to be won in such an effect. Here, in this music, it's especially the stabilizing effect combined with a freedom of expression that has all capacities to express a human nature within a world full of capacities. The frequencies of C# of stabilising and of F# as approaching or something, seemingly to have the same effect on our en energy field, probably because of some magnetic energy patterns measured in our body.

I would swear "Eikos" starts with a glass instruments performance with some extra harmonic waves around it, but as you read before, some recorded molecular frequencies just sound very similar. They sound here like a combination of chimes, gong and glass instruments. There's a violin improvisation in harmony with it played by Wendy Reid. Further on there is added something that sounds like a combination of guitar and piano. The 8 track piece Sequencia was played by programmed synthesizer, violin, cello, tabla and voice. It's interesting to hear how the frequencies evolve in pitches like crystal chimes of all shapes, sometimes evolving in colour as well as "material" (from crystal to wood for instance). In combination with cello, voice, tabla, very improvisational, varying from classical music, new music to ethno folk the spontaneously created composition very much stands on its own.

The performance is fresh and full of interesting elements. The use of the generated content has been done with integrity, with well founded fundamentals. The molecular sounds are rich because of the advanced study. These sounds were used mostly as a colourful instrument, that, like any equally complex acoustic instrument inhabits hidden melodies only because of a good interaction with the performer. This release distances itself from other studies I read about and heard samples from, using DNA music. While a few others fall back on the melodic sampling, without enough understanding, or without balanced use of what is known of the content and of where to place it. This release however is entirely successful, and stands also, like music should be, musically, in a natural way, complete on its own.

- PS. A resume of some of the technical aspects described in the article "the infrared frequencies of DNA bases : science an art" has been integrated in my review, because these were too interesting to neglect.-

More info with sounds : http://www.oursounduniverse.com/order.html



* About Dr. David Deamer's work :

Very interesting to investigate underlying patterns in our DNA structure, compared with patterns that seems to be easily followed or located, or which seem "natural" to and from our human mind or nature, as "conditions" of patterns with which we feel comfortable with.. There might even be parallels for the reasons why it has this nature. There are some determined orders to be found in the chemical bases of our DNA.

First of all there's a significant repeating sequence of about 300 bases throughout the DNA of our body. When we would simply note the four bases of cytosine, as C, guanine, as G, adenine, as A, and now respectively thymine, as E, we would already have 4 musical notes that fit nicely into the key of C. Taking them from a C major sixth chord to an A minor seventh chord we have enough space to make a comfortable improvisation easy. Octaves can be held free too, for they don't matter much to the sequences. When more bases appear within one sequence, notes can be blended into half, third, or full notes (with 2,3,or 4 beats). Tempo does also not seem to influence the basic foundation of sequences, so for Doctor Deamer's music this was held free too. Most important was that the exact sequences of the DNA were still recognisable.

With these restrictions only, musical patterns were easily found. Insulin, for instance, with lots of triple thymine patterns, being played within a triplets pattern as well, gave a kind of Irish jig-like melody, with a beginning, middle portion and end. Another odd remark we can make about the general base sequence of all our DNA in our cells, which is TTTCCCCCC. This sounds like Beethoven's famous first musical notes and theme key of his fifth symphony. This dramatic melodic starting point always sounded very dramatic to me, like the knock on the door of a vital visitor that could have missed his appointment. His basic impulses of hearing and ability to respond on it were dismantled, because Beethoven became deaf during this period. The impulse of these four notes could almost be like death or his malfunction itself that was knocking at the door, bringing down the thematic impulses to a basic essence that these four notes are. Beside the fact of the 300 base-repeating sequences, that have a relation with the essential building stones of our being a human being, at the same time, within the 'predictable' patterns, other isolating sequences appear, which themselves seems not to be part of the human "structuring" patterns. It is what they call "satellite DNA", with its transposable elements that can move from one region to another, which permits the organism to shuffle its genetic deck. It's a more or less independently reproducing part, that works the same way as a parasite living in another organism. Perhaps this is infected material that's carried along the replication process. Some call this "selfish DNA". One can wonder and investigate through its behaviour and eventual purpose if this is just unnecessary or preserved material, if this comes forth from unplaced experiences, or it says something of an independent nature, something which might be typical as well for our human kind, as a kind of freedom of expression, here within the fast forms of a cell. If we look at the order and patterns within these DNA parts  and annotate it into musical annotations they seem to make sense as well. However, hearing the tape of Dr.Deamer later, I still wondered if the "blur" was symbolically not the unfocused part of ourselves. The freedom that it heads to, or maybe our freedom, might permit us new directions, but as long as it keeps itself unfocused, it's also unsettled, unstructured and not part of a higher organizing structure yet. -This kind of scientific work, with a parallel musical research, can be(come) a philosophical and metaphysical research as well..-

"DNA Music" -molecular meditation" (1983) was performed an realized by Riley McLaughlin on synthesizer. The music of the first track, "Hind III" sounds very much like early Brian Eno. One can wonder how much realization or parallel worlds are provoked. It gives, like the best moments of Eno do as well, very harmonizing sounds, is the least I can say. This track according to the tape notes is explained as following : "this decoded strand of DNA relates to immunities and the reproduction of antibodies." It recalls like the text notes say, a kind of serenity. Side two is called "blur 17" and in general is meditative as well, and sounds a bit more improvisational, but like I said before it misses some compositional metamorphosical essence.

The tracks on "DNA Suite" (1983) have a somewhat more melodic feeling in the composition, more than a parallel transcription of a deeper lying essence. In this case I'm very glad people like Susan Alexjander continued the research to make the transcription more complete. We are too used to transcribing notes on paper, as if notes are THE ESSENCE of music, which is in fact a ridiculisation of music and of our perception of it. All melodic approaches, like the classicistic orchestral arrangements in classical music and neo-prog confirm this awful tendency. Notes are only some kinds of peaks in perception, which have a colour, like peaks in our perception of smell. Making DNA visible could also tell us something of our ways of perception as well. Some true significances can be made visible through it, if the scientific method to do so is intelligently enough developed to have a wider range of perception as well. This is not developed in one idea, but needs a renewing vision through research, also in a philosophical way. Hopefully "Science and arts" brings bright thinkers to useful investigations for a translation of an inner world into an ever stronger penetrating audiophile experience that develops with it.

PS. Some technical aspects in this review come from the article, "the arts" by David W.Dreamer.

I assume many approaches to DNA music will be often in the melodic line and might sound somewhat superficially new age or experimental or accidentally just fine ?...

Info : http://www.oursounduniverse.com/order.html

Other examples and info on DNA Music :
http://linkage.rockefeller.edu/wli/dna_corr/music.html
http://www.artic.edu/~pgena/DNAmus.html
http://www.dnamusiccentral.com/ with sound samples at http://www.dnamusiccentral.com/agrfx.htm & http://www.dnamusiccentral.com/contents.htm
http://www.visionarymusic.com/ with sound at http://www.visionarymusic.com/trial.html or http://www.dnaactivationmusic.com/
http://algoart.com/music.htm
http://www.gnoosic.com/discussion/dr+dna.html
http://whozoo.org/mac/Music/bglobin.htm
http://www.aber.ac.uk/~phiwww/pm/
http://www.leaflady.org/dna_music.htm
Other articles on DNA Music : http://www.artic.edu/~pgena/docs/CIMXI-gena-strom.pdf & http://www.ylem.org/NewSite/archive/issuethmbs/newsletters/SeptOct99/article2.html & http://www.artic.edu/~pgena/docs/hhhdid.html & http://www.artic.edu/~pgena/docs/gena-strom-DNA.pdf
Article about a DNA-computer : http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/...



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