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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 genetic 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 amino acid 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, the genetic data is mapped to musical parameters in myriad ways until aesthetically viable mapping strategies are discovered. Computer algorithms are then programmed in Max to implement particular musical processes. The algorithms are run repeatedly until desirable motifs emerge. Along the way, the composer-programmer is constantly working to refine the mapping in order to shape the surface, and control the 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 music theorists today (Shepard 1982).

The genetic 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. Major Groove 6:15
II. Biological Clocks
5:19
III. Seed 3:36
IV. Minor Groove 3:15
D U R A T I O N: 18:25


ICAD 2021 Sonification Concert

The third movement "Seed" was performed at the 2021 International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD) Sonification Concert on June 26, 2021. The Sonification Concert program is available in the ICAD 2021 Conference Program and the accompanying paper (Bain 2021) is available in the conference proceedings. A recording is available on YouTube.

 
Duration: 3:36


Links

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

References

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

Shepard, Roger N. 1982. "Geometrical Approximations to the Structure of Musical Pitch." Psychological Review 89/4 (July 1982): 305333. {APA PsycNET}

Watson, J. D. and Crick, F. H. C. 1953. "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid." Nature 171 (April 25, 1953): 737738.



Updated: April 27, 2022