06/10/10

Music in the blood; it’s going viral

Though I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’ve been thinking recently about how to code statistical data about people into melodies. Now I find that there’s a whole industry out there of people who are turning DNA into music. If you know anything about your own DNA, you can plug your genes into a programme a play yourself. So maybe I do have music in my bones after all.

One of the people who has been working on this is a young composer in the States, Alexandra Pajak. She’s been busy setting the HIV genome to music. Here’s what she says about her project, courtesy of Bertalan Meskó at ScienceRoll

Sounds of HIV is a musical translation of the genetic code of HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Every segment of the virus is assigned music pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties. In this way, the sounds reflect the true nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.

In English, the nucleotides Adenine, Cytosine, Uracil/Thymine, and Guanine are abbreviated with the letters A, C, T, and G. Since A, C, and G are also musical pitches in the Western melodic scale, these pitches were assigned to the matching nucleotides. To form two perfect fifths (C-G and D-A), “D” was arbitrarily assigned to musically represent Uracil. I assigned the pitches of the A minor scale to the amino acids based on their level of attraction to water.

Question: would HIV sound different in a setting like Bali, which uses the seven-tone pelog scale?

Illustration by Wendy Stephenson

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