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Program Note

Double Helix

a computer-generated composition

by Reginald Bain

DNA imageDouble Helix (2019) is a computer-generated composition that utilizes genomic data as source material. Biological and musical data may both be viewed as a sequence. This creates a common ground where two usually distinct domains may meet. In this work, composer and machine collaborate in an exploration of a seemingly infinite space of musical possibilities. Using Ableton Live and Cycling '74's Max, a graphical music programing environment, a DNA sequence and corresponding protein sequence are strategically mapped in real time to changing musical parameters including pitch, intensity, duration, timbre, and spatialization.

In the pre-compositional phase of the work’s creation, genomic data is mapped to musical parameters in myriad ways until aesthetically viable mapping strategies are uncovered. Computer algorithms are then programmed in Max that implement particular musical processes. These algorithms are run repeatedly until desirable motifs emerge. Along the way, the composer-programmer is constantly working to refine the mapping in order to control the surface, macro-level and micro-level details of the data-driven music's structure.

Inspired by the music of Steve Reich and other early American minimalist composers who experimented with technology, the composer adopts a process-oriented approach. The composer also invokes broader musico-genetic themes, including the exceptionally beautiful metaphorical-mathematical bridge connecting the double-helical model of DNA (Watson and Crick 1953) and the helical model of pitch space used by contemporary music theorists (Shepard 1982).

The genomic data used in this composition is from the human gene CHD8 (chromodomain helicase DNA binding protein 8) which has been identified as a leading candidate gene for autism risk. The data was obtained from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

I. The Mapping Problem 6:15
II. Biological Clocks
III. Seed 3:36
IV. Time Cycle 3:15
D U R A T I O N : 18:25

ICAD 2021 Sonification Concert

III. Seed was performed at the ICAD 2021 Sonification Concert. You can listen to the virtual performance on YouTube. If you'd like to learn more about the piece, please read my ICAD 2021 paper.

Duration: 3:36


Ableton Live –  https://www.ableton.com

Cyling '74, Max, https://cycling74.com

NCBI, CHD8 chromodomain helicase DNA binding protein 8, Homo sapiens (human), NP_065971.2 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/57680


Bain, Reginald. 2021. “Seed, from Double Helix.” Proceedings of the 26th International Conference of Auditory Display (2021). Virtual Conference. {ICAD.org}

Shepard, Roger N. 1982. "Geometrical Approximations to the Structure of Musical Pitch." Psychological Review 89/4 (July 1982): 305-333. {APA PsycNET}

Watson, J. D. and Crick, F. H. C. 1953. "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid." Nature Vol. 171 (April 25, 1953): 737-738. {Genome.gov}

Updated: October 29, 2021