A fascinating new choral work featuring performers singing to the tune of their own genetic code was performed July 13 by the New London Chamber Choir at the Royal Society of Medicine, according to BBC News.
The unique performance, which was appropriately titled "Allele," was the brainchild of musician and researcher Andrew Morley. "I'd sung quite a lot with choirs in my youth and I've written stuff myself, and so I was aware that note sequences look a little bit like genetic sequences," he explained.
Since human DNA is made up of only four chemical bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, each of them can theoretically be assigned a corresponding musical note. Morley hoped that just as an individual's unique pattern of letters are decoded by our cells to create a living organism, so too can those letters be "decoded" as music.
Additionally, Morley envisioned a full choir of vocalists each singing verses from his or her own genetic codes. As it happened, the 40 members of the New London Chamber Choir were already having their genomes decoded for a scientific study looking to see whether there was a genetic explanation for what makes someone a great singer.
All the project needed was a proper composer to assemble the musical composition. Morley approached composer Michael Zev Gordon, who was immediately inspired.
"From the beginning I've seen the genetic code in two ways: as raw material that could be translated into notes, and also as a thing of wonder and a thing of extraordinary beauty; and it was from both points of view that the piece arose," Gordon told the BBC.
To turn raw genetic code into a choral composition that has rhythm, Gordon envisioned a grander theme. The piece begins with a single voice, but is eventually joined by additional voices. The weaving and unweaving of the arrangement thus symbolizes the biological concepts of replication and reproduction.
At the height of the performance, members of the choir sing their own genetic code. The harmonies generated despite the chaos of subtly different notes being sung might be viewed as a simultaneous celebration of our commonality as a species and of our uniqueness as individuals.
"For me, it's an evocation of the extraordinary wonder that is the genome," said conductor James Weeks.
You can hear a rehearsal of "Allele" at the BBC article here.
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