Any ordered sequence can be treated as music – note this story about a Terry Riley composition based upon plasma waves from space. Now Spanish scientists have treated the human genome as a musical sequence:
- Unravel DNA’s double helix, picture its components lined up like piano keys and assign a note to each. Run your finger along the keys.
Spanish scientists did that just for fun and recorded what they call an audio version of the blueprint for life.
The team at Madrid’s Ramon y Cajal Hospital was intrigued by music’s lure – how it can make toddlers dance and adults cry – and looked for hints in the genetic material that makes us what we are. They also had some microbial genes wax melodic.
The end product is “Genoma Music,” a 10-tune CD due out in February. “It’s a way to bring science and music closer together,” said Dr. Aurora Sanchez Sousa, a piano-playing microbiologist who specializes in fungi.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is composed of long strings of molecules called nucleotides, which are distinguished by which of four nitrogen-containing bases they contain: adenine, guanine, thymine or cytosine, represented as A, G, T and C. These became the musical notes.
French-born composer Richard Krull turned DNA sequences – a snippet of a gene might look like AGCGTATACGAGT – into sheet music. He arbitrarily assigned tones of the eight-note, do-re-mi scale to each letter. Thymine became re, for instance. Guanine is so, adenine la and cytosine do.
Played solo on percussion, classical guitar or the other instruments used on the CD, the sequences would sound cute but rudimentary, the musical equivalent of PacMan in an era of Microsoft Xbox.
So the alphabet soup of bases served as just that, base lines to accompany melodies composed by Krull and his scientific colleague. They say the melodies were influenced, even dictated, by the mood and rhythm of the underlying genetic code.
Okay so some of the music was “inspired” by the sequence, like songs on a lot of soundtracks that weren’t actually in the film, but were inspired by it. Nonetheless, the correlation between any order found in the universe and music still holds:
- Seeking music in nature goes way back. In the 6th century B.C., the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras argued that celestial bodies in rotation gave off pitched sounds that blended into a beautiful harmony he called “the music of the spheres.”
The idea is that matter and its behavio – wheat fields shimmering and tongues of fire dancing – may hold something intrinsic that can be transformed into music, said Dr. Fernando Baquero, head of microbiology at Ramon y Cajal Hospital.
Maybe that’s why people like music: It’s already inside them anyway, so hearing it touches a piece of them, Baquero said.