I have compiled some of the questions I get asked the most about this project and the website. Review the questions listed below, then click on one of the links to reveal the answer.
The genetic music project is an open-source art project in which I offer up parts of my genetic code (and everyone else's) to the universe for the purpose of making music.
Making music out of DNA sequences is not an original idea. I remember first learning about a professor who made music out of sequence for insulin sometime in the 1990s. More recently composer Alexandra Pajak came out with an album of music based on the sequence for the HIV virus and a story by Benjamin Matvey featured an odd little scientist compulsively humming his genome in his head. This project started back in 2008 when my friend Liz Wade and I decided to send in our saliva to 23andme.com to get tested. From that code Liz composed a number of songs and since then I have been pestering my friends around the country to make music out of pieces of my code. I have been extremely pleased by the creativity it has unleashed, and now I want to open up the project to the world.
The primary difference between this project and any other genetic music attempt I know of is that it is a community art project providing genetic information and then freeing it to the larger artistic community to help the project grow, change, and evolve using creative approaches in a grand metaphor for evolution itself. You can help us mutate, select and evolve!
Nope, and there are several reasons for this. The FASTA sequences I list are the same for everyone, and my decision to tell people whether or not I test as more or less likely to have a trait relies on people to understand two things: First, as 23andme.com makes clear the research behind the various conditions varies in reliability and accuracy. Second, genetics really aren’t destiny. All these genetic markers show is that I MIGHT have a greater, lesser, or typical risk of having certain tendencies in certain environments. For example, I am revealing to the world that under the research available at 23andme.com I have a somewhat greater likelihood of becoming addicted to heroin. This does not particularly worry me in any way because I don’t do or plan to do heroin. And, more tangentially, I actually found most of the results I received from 23andme.com to be surprisingly reassuring. Turns out, I don’t have the “evil gene” as proposed by Dr. Hibbard on The Simpsons.
I’m glad you asked! The goal of the project is to have fun, make art, and, hopefully, get to showcase the talents of musicians that I greatly admire, and others that I hope to become acquainted with through this project. I will consider this project a raging success the first time someone I’ve never met before sends me a good piece of music based on one of the genetic markers I provided. I will consider it a RAGING success if I ever get a good piece of zydeco based on my genetic code.
Easy. Check out the various genetic sequences I have listed here. Then listen to some of the music that has already been composed based on different genetic markers. I recommend starting with my friend Liesel Euler’s Schizophrenia 1 and 2. Schizophrenia 1 is the barest bone versions of the project with Liesel simply singing my genetic marker for Schizophrenia 1 note at a time. In Schizophrenia 2 she adds more melody to it. Then check out pieces by Lyle Beers, Amy Pickard, Peeper, and Caddyshackattack for more ideas. Then try it yourself. I want to strongly encourage you not to feel dominated by the fact that science represents the different genetic markers with the letters G, A, T, C. A lot of people are tempted to simply keep the G a G, the A an A, the C a C, and figure out something to assign to the T. There is no need to hamstring yourself in this way as the coincidence that three of the four first letters of the nucleotides corresponds to musical notes is no reason why you have to follow that arbitrary limitation.
People have tried many different approaches including layering a code on top of itself, like Lyle Beers work, or finding a hook within a sequence to build a song around, like Amy Pickard has done. You can also use the code to decide the tone, pitch, pace, and even what instrument you should use. Be creative, think of ways to convey the mood of a particular genetic marker and new ways to combine different genetic markers into a single piece, but, most of all, have fun with it. The nice thing about shared art projects is once they get going everybody wins.
Once you have a piece that you’re happy with please submit it to me here along with a paragraph explaining a little bit about how you created the work, and your thoughts about it. While I do have a day job, I will try to get back to you as quickly as possible, and if I like it I will post it on the website, submit it to the Twitterverse, and feature you with a bio and picture.
Diversity of approaches, musical styles, and the use of as much of the actual code as possible are greatly encouraged.
Yes! Indeed, as I have learned the FASTA sequences I list are the same for everyone. It does, however, make the project more fun if you know whether you are more or less likely to develop the conditions or traits listed in the DNA section. You can check out the a whole catalog of genetic sequences at SMPedia. The FASTA sequence for red hair is there waiting to be made into music!
Very little would thrill me more if someone could figure out a way to incorporate visual and other artistic interpretations of the provided code. Write me here with your ideas.
Okay, nobody has really asked me this question yet, but I think they are likely to. Given that there are over 3 BILLION base pairs of nucleotides in a human one may wonder why the genetic info I list have so few G, T, C, and As. That is because they are actually a kind of short hand called a FASTA Sequence. For a good, easy to read overview of the basics of genetics I recommend Wikipedia's Introduction to Genetics page. For the more advanced reader...feel free to contribute to your insight to the website!