Since all genetic information can only come in the language of four nucleotides (A Adenosine C Cytosine G Guanine T Thymidine) it is fairly easily conveyed in musical form. Another way of thinking about it is that each and every one of us and all life on this planet is made of music.
Back in 2008 my friend Liz Wade and I sent away to 23andme.com to get our genetic code read and from there we used the code to create music. Take Heroin Addiction for example: Liz simply assigned A, C and G to those notes, and assigned T to a F sharp. She then repeated the “opening” 10 nucleotides sequence several times. She then let the dark tone of “Heroin Addiction” lead the piece in a haunting direction (even incorporating a riff from The Velvet Underground’s Heroin at the end). But that is just one way to do it. Another approach would be to use the nucleotides to decide what the tone, pitch, pace or even instrument you use.
Some of the fun ways I think this could be expanded would be to take on two characteristics delineated in the genetic markers, assign different instruments to each gene marker and different notes to the nucleotides within each genetic marker and then play them in parallel. In that way you can have multiple instruments, and more than just four notes. Indeed, since all life is based on the combination of different four-note codes on top of other four-note codes the combinations approach infinity. That is why it is completely within the rules to make music from samples of genetic music mashed up together, or from cover versions of existing GMP songs. After all, WE (human beings &, by extension, the world we live in) are the results of the interplay of seemingly endless genetic codes mashed-up together!
I also think that there is great fun to be had with metaphorical battles, like Heroin Addiction versus Longevity, Alcohol Dependency versus Schizophrenia, or in wicked combinations like Heroin Addiction plus Alcohol Dependency plus Schizophrenia. Relying on the incredible combinatorial power of genetics and some good old artistic judgement can lead you to amazing places.
I expanded on other ideas for how to make genetic music (including one idea called the “Space Beacon Tribute exercise”) in this blog post, Genetic Music Is Only As Limited As the Potential of Life Itself. Check it out! Also, check out an early (and awesome) piece of genetic music by The Shamen here.
But, then again, I am no musician and I would really like to see what your brilliant minds and the brilliant minds you know might come up with. Go forth and musicify!
My name is Greg Lukianoff and I am the curator for the site. I am also a lawyer and president of a non-profit who lives in Brooklyn. (As may be apparent) I am neither a musician nor a scientist, but I love community art projects. You can follow me on twitter @DNA2Music or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.