Music of the Spheres \ Charlotte Jarvis (2017)

Data repositories are the great libraries of the day, but as our understanding of the world deepens the materials we need to conduct our research also expand. In 2003, the Human Genome Project announced they could now map a complete and accurate sequence of the three billion DNA pairs that make up the human genome. This great leap in scientific research provided a wealth of new information that will shape future generations across the world, but has also come to generate a deluge of data.

In the case of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the amount of space, energy and resources needed to maintain, store and share the data from life science experiments is under growing pressure. Beyond the vast data servers, endless files and computing power to store information about our world, the carbon-based, organic material that comes to make up our DNA is still the most efficient storage vessel for information.

Music of the Spheres utilises new bioinformatics technology developed by Dr. Nick Goldman to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet into DNA. The DNA has been suspended in soap solution and used by artist Charlotte Jarvis to create performances and installations filled with bubbles. The ‘recording’ fills the air, pops on visitors skin and literally bathes the audience in music.

The method for recording onto DNA developed by Nick and the EMBL-EBI mimics how computers store information by coding data into 0s and 1s. In this case the 0s and 1s are translated into the As Cs Ts and Gs found in DNA sequences.

Charlotte and Nick used this technology to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet as a sequence of DNA. The recording is preserved in the DNA only – no other version exists. In order to listen to the complete recording you need to sequence the DNA – making the music somewhat inaccessible at present. However, as sequencing technologies become more accessible so will the unique piece of music, mirroring the way it is hoped advances in sequencing will unlock the extended use of genomes in the future.


Credits and Thanks: Music of the Spheres was conceived by Charlotte Jarvis in collaboration with Dr. Nick Goldman and the Kreutzer Quartet. Music composed by Peter Sheppard Skærved and Mihailo Trandafilovski and performed by the Kreutzer Quartet. The project was supported by Agilent Technologies, Artists & Engineers, OPM recruitment and Oxford Nanopore. Special thanks to Joana Seguro and Clemency Cooke.

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