Interdisciplinary Conference


in Art & Science

26-28 November 2020, University of Applied Arts Vienna/Online

22. Co-composition and De-composition
Session: Session "NSP6 / Growl"
Speakers: Nigel Helyer

GeneMusiK is an artistic project that puts into play ideas about the capacity of physical morphologies to act as mnemonic systems by using DNA to transcode and re-mix musical structures. The project suggests that both biological and cultural information can function as both macro and the micro scale structures arrayed as physical loci and topologies which function as keys to the mapping of memory. 

The author’s attraction to this on-going series of sound-works which combine human and biological agency to re-invent musical scores, is directly proportional to the difficulty of the undertaking with its unpredictable outcomes and high failure rate. As a generative method the outcome is surrendered to the stochastic process of biological transformation, a strategy which substantially erodes the human agency and control invested in authorship. Ultimately the work is returned to the human sphere in the form of live musical performance which carries with it the additional complications of nuanced interpretation and virtuosity, all of which combine to create a fluid matrix of cultural, social and biological exchange that act to flesh-out life-forms (as forms of life) across temporal and spatial barriers. 

The on-going GeneMusiK project is related to associated works such as Under the IceCap and the Quartor pour la fin du temps à l’Escargot, which again rely upon biological agents that operate within a broad combinatory framework of cultural, social and biological pathways. These works share overlapping creative methodologies, but each has been developed in varied geographic, biological and cultural contexts. Each work relies upon a co-creative relationship with living organisms to generate the basis for musical structures, for example; the collection of deep ocean data by southern elephant seals in Under the IceCap; and the related vignette piece of data re-interpretation, BioLogging Retrofit. Other works function to create structural modifications of existing musical scores as in the gradual erosion by Gastropods of a well known work by Messiaen to create the Quartor pour la fin du temps à l’Escargot.

Nigel Helyer

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