By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse
Advances in the science of
biotechnology are breathtaking. We have the ability to read the information
encoded in DNA,
the blueprint of life, and can even manipulate the building blocks of life
|Listen to the sound of DNA|
Susan Alexjander holds an MA in music, which she teaches in Sacramento, California. Her compositions are fusing science and art, producing music that is a collaboration between her and DNA itself.
"Sound and the body interested me," she says, "so did maths, physics and their relationship with sound. Because of this, I started collecting frequencies in nature."
She asked if the movements
of the atoms and molecules that make up our DNA could be recorded and heard.
If so, what would they sound like? Random noise? Melodic?
|Susan Alexjander: The music sounds alive|
The vibrations were easily measurable using an infrared spectrophotometer. By exposing each section of DNA to infrared light and measuring the wavelength of the light absorbed, it was possible to determine distinctive frequencies for each DNA molecule.
But how to turn them into music?
"I wanted to go inside the chemistry and hear the frequencies. I did the science with Dr David Deamer and then the artist's hat went on."
The ratios of the light frequencies were converted
into ratios of sound. The relative relationship between light frequencies
was kept. The result was strange, beautiful music.
|Susan Alexjander: Some people have a deep reaction to the music|
Most of the changes of pitches in her DNA music are microtonal - that is, their frequencies occur in the area between the half-tone steps of the western musical scale.
Microtonal pitches are nothing new in music, however. Some cultures have a long history of their use, especially those of India and the Middle and Far East.
These sounds from the molecular world are remarkable. They may mean something - they may mean nothing.
Alexjander says her music produces a strong reaction. She speculates: "Perhaps on a very deep level the body recognises itself - hears something familiar in the music. It's a theory. I don't know."
Listen for yourself.
The music is available on CD from Science and
the Arts, PO Box 428, Aptos, California 95010, USA