DNA IN SUONO (DNA IN SOUND)
ANTONELLA PRISCO & CHIARA MALLOZZI
The phrase “written in DNA” has come into common usage. But in our DNA, what is actually written? With the Human Genome Project the text has come to light, but the language is so difficult to decipher, so different from human languages, that only scientists try to read it.
“DNA in Sound,” a counterpoint between the languages of science and music, originated from the collaboration of scientist Antonella Prisco and composer Chiara Mallozzi. Structural elements of human DNA are played, transposed into musical notes with an algorithm that does not alter the information content compared to the usual four-letter genetic notation. Four musicians (two violins, a bundle, a cello) respond, returning their interpretation of DNA, i.e. playing two pieces of music that use DNA as a “composition code.” The performance challenges the association of science with pragmatism, art with emotion, music with entertainment. Scientific data create a deep emotional response in the scientist, who uses sonification as a tool to accurately present data, to induce the public to listen, to share her emotion before the mystery of life. The audience, attracted by the prospect of listening to a concert, gains access to complex scientific data, namely excerpts of the sequence of human DNA, using their musical ear, a mysterious intellectual tool not usually associated with science. Actually the sequence of DNA, even translated into a sequence of notes, remains utterly incomprehensible, unless the listener puts in a strong intellectual/emotional participation. The public needs to use their intellectual and emotional resources, their intuition and attention, to understand, just as scientists need to do in their research.
When the scientist’s lecture ends, music starts. And it is unrecognizable, incomprehensible, complex. Perhaps you thought science was difficult, and music “relaxing”? This is music from another world, the listener feels lost. The composer takes the floor. She projects the score from a laptop, and describes her compositional process, an implementation of ideas and intuitions that are tested, explored. The score is a manuscript of great aesthetic appeal. A double helix unfolds on the pentagram, with the regular rhythm of a mathematical function. Treble Clefs are penned with the ease of a signature. But the composer seems to see in the score just a set of instructions, oblivious to its charm. The two pieces are played once again. Questions and suggestions from the audience allow the evolution of the project.