[ISEA95] Paper: Peter Gena & Charles Strom – Musical synthesis: DNA sequences


As a consequence of the Human Genome Project, there has been an explosion of primary DNA sequencing data available on CD ROM. This includes complete genomes of viruses, partial genomes of bacterias, and complete sequences for hundreds of human proteins. Consequently, we began to envision a type of computer generated music that would take cues for its musical parameters directly from the physiological ones present in DNA. DNA sequence consists of a specified order for the  production of amino acids. The physical properties of amino acids (dissociation constant, molecular weight, and chemical class) combined with the properties of the individual bases (melting temperatures) provide the basis for inheritance and evolution and our musical compositions. The converted results, one for each codon, represent distinct musical actions in MIDI note events. Thus far we have generated musical compositions from several human, viral, and bacterial sequences. This paper outlines our research.


The genetic code is an alphabet made up of four chemical compounds which form the nucleotide bases-adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). These bases are linked
in a specific order to form the double helical structure known as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Each individual living organism has a unique order of bases that completely determines its
physical structure. The four nucleotides are arranged in threeletter units known as codons. Each codon specifies one of nineteen amino acids. When they are grouped by chemical type,
there are eight such categories. The DNA template, located in the nucleus of each cell, acts as a blueprint that directs the production of proteins. DNA is translated into messenger ribonucleic
acid, or mRNA that is in turn serially scanned by ribosomes, organeiles located in the cell’s cytoplasm. Ribosomes use the mRNA as a template to direct the synthesis of proteins.

  • Dr. Peter Gena is a composer with a Ph.D. in music composition from SUNY at Buffalo where he studied with Morton Feldman and Lejaren Hiller. His compositions in various media, including instrumental, electronic and computer-generated, have been presented in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He is currently a Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA.
  • Dr. Charles Strom, M.D. and Ph. D. in Molecular Biology (University af Chicago, USA), is widely recognized as one of the world’s distinguished geneticists. The author of two books, he has done seminal research in genetic diseases, pre-implantation and pre-natal testing, forensics, and paternity/maternity cases. He is the Director of Medical Genetics and DNA Labortary, Department of Pediatrics and obstetrics and Gynecology at the Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Full text p.86-88