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.-