Data Beyond Letters and Numbers: A Case Study of The Genetic Music Project

The Genetic Music Project is a collaborative art project started by Greg Lukianoff and Liz Wade. In 2008, they sent their own saliva samples to 23andme.com and started to use the genetic code they found to create music. The Genetic Music Project has become an open work that invites artists to use Liz and Greg’s public DNA patterns or their own to make music and other art works. The website has been open to the community since 2011, and several artists have contributed various works to the project since that time.

Musicians who contribute to this project use the letters of the genetic code (G, A, T, C) to see patterns that occur within. The letters are then assigned to pitch, instrument, pace, timbre, rhythm, or any other factor that would change in a musical piece. These patterns are then looped  and played over each other in various ways. It’s an exercise in artificial restraint that is grounded in the “realness” of components of your own body.

I find this project relevant to the ideas discussed in the class because it is using very modern technology to look at the human body and then making art from it. These musical pieces can be seen as data visualization, much like the use of sound collages to help meteorologists become more oriented within libraries of data on wind and storm patterns as they change. The techniques used could be used for research to help those that study genetics. The eye can grow weary of reading long strings of data and start to skim, possibly never noticing a pattern or irregularity lost in the sea of characters. Creating an auditory component to the data could aid in the detection of these changes by delegating the task to another sense. Experiencing data in several ways can reveal new viewpoints and possibly assist researchers who are auditory learners rather than visual. This could also be a great education tool to help students young and old to grasp the laws that govern and processes that create life.

Stelarc explores the possibility of the human body as an expressive canvas upon which to design and create. The Genetic Music Project has instead taken the human body to be at the same time the muse of the piece and one of its contributors. Giving a literal voice to the tiny components that you consist of is a fascinating idea indeed!

Overall I believe that artistic data visualization should be promoted as a common practice. Correlations can be made that have never been known before, and even if the discovery isn’t groundbreaking, it sure is a lot more fun than a research report. Art pieces made from collected data make the data much more accessible to the general public. With this “big picture” representation, works of this kind could find homes both in the art world and in the world of education and discovery.

At the end of the day, couldn’t we all use more of both?

~ Gabi J. 

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