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Genome Music: “Searching for the Individual”

By Cheryl Simon Silver

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The nuances of our genes pervade every realm of our daily lives including, it seems, our music.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA, Spanish scientists translated genetic code into musical notation.

The result, a CD called “Genoma Music” is varied and musically pleasing—a sort of New Age expression of what happens when each of the four chemical units of DNA, also known as A, G, T, and C—is translated into a musical note. Thus, C = do, T = re, G = so, and A = la.

The project, which includes a debut CD released in 2002, is the brainchild of Aurora Sánchez Sousa, a microbiologist who specializes in fungi at Madrid’s Ramón y Cajal Hospital. She translated DNA sequences into musical notation. Then her collaborator, French composer Richard Krull, set them to music.

The 14 selections evoke the range of emotions, complexity, and mystery similar to what the human genome expresses in each of us.

The notes played solo would come across as simplistic tunes, so the creative team used them as base lines for melodies Krull wrote to express the segments of genetic code. Compositions range from the pastoral mood of Hacia el Paraíso (“To Paradise”) to a lilting nod to Johann Sebastian Bach to the Spanish flourish of Lima en el Corazón (“Lima in the Heart”).

On the Genoma Music Web site, Souza notes that Johann Sebastian Bach was the first composer to use four keys—representing the four letters of his last name. Like genetic sequences, the keys can stand alone. At other times they cross, repeat, multiply, and change harmonies in an infinite series of musical variations.

Just as the meaning of genes depends on how they are expressed, the meaning of music comes in the interpretation.

Says Souza, “For those who, like me, are interested both in music and genetics, it appears clear that in both fields we are dealing with organized groups which are comprised of simple elements, which acquire a meaning when being interpreted.”

For more information visit Genoma Music.

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