Awesome DNA Music from the 90s Courtesy of The Shamen

As I note on the FAQ page, I originally started thinking of genetically based music in the 1990s after seeing a scientist play the nucleotide sequence for insulin. I have never been able to find a recording of that performance, but the illustrious Mo Costandi of NeuroPhilosophy fame pointed me to this great piece by The Shamen from 1995 based on the S2 protein. Seriously, give it a listen:

The Shamen – S2 Translation (S2 Protein)

It’s a very cool piece and even cooler when you know the whole explanation of how they did it (which I’m reprinting here from YouTube in its entirety):

The track ‘S2 Translation’ was generated from the DNA sequence and the amino acid characteristics of the S2 protein. The time signature of the piece is given by the codon: 3 base pairs per codon gives one codon per bar, hence the time signature is 3/4 or waltz time.The ‘top line melody’ comes directly from the base pair sequence itself (the bases cystosine, adenine, guanine and thymidine being mapped to the notes C, A G and E respectively) while progressions in the bass are reflective of the characteristics of the amino acids which are the result of translation. The number and nature of bass notes per codon/bar were determined by the hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity, ionic charge (positive or negative) and size of each amino acid residue (Proline, for example,which has no characteristics other than its small size, can be identified easily as the bars where the bass line ‘drops out’). The musical output resulting from these rules was further processed by mapping the notes onto different tonalities, both to make the piece more interesting, and to suggest the organisation of the protein molecule into regions of different secondary structure (although since S2 is a membrane protein and thus impossible to crystallise outside the lipid bilayer, this was definitely creative licence).

S2 is the receptor protein for 5-hydroxy tryptamine (Serotonin) and presumably for other tryptamines as well. It is thus one of the most important molecules in the mediation of both ordinary and non-ordinary (or “Shamanic”) states of consciousness, which is why the molecule was chosen for this piece. –Colin Angus

The piece is a great example of creative approaches to genetic music (which I talked about in this blog post, “Genetic Music Is Only As Limited As the Potential of Life Itself.”). The Shamen took the inherent mathematical rhythms found within the S2 protein and applied them in a way that improved on the note per nucleotide approach. While the genetic sequences I provide to make your own music may at first seem limiting, you only keep in mind that all life is based on the almost infinite combination of four note code on top of four-note code to see that the potential of genetic music is truly limitless (and, yes, a genetic music mash up would be freaking cool).

Still, as impressed as I am with The Shamen’s piece I must admit I prefer Lyle Beers awesome piece set to the FASTA sequence for the genetic marker for Restless Leg Syndrome. Yes, I’m totally partial, but can’t you just feel that leg a-twitchin’ in that awesome, dark piece?

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