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Program Note

Double Helix

a computer-generated composition

by Reginald Bain

Double Helix (2019) is a computer-generated composition that utilizes genetic data as source material. Biological and musical information are viewed as quantized data. This creates a common ground where two usually distinct domains may meet. Composer and machine collaborate in an exploration of the seemingly infinite space of musical possibilities. Using Cycling 74’s Max, a DNA sequence and corresponding amino acid sequence are strategically mapped in real time to changing musical parameters: pitch, intensity, duration, timbre, spatialization, etc.

In the pre-compositional phase, genetic data is sonified in myriad ways until viable mappings are discovered. Computer simulations are then programmed that generate large-scale musical sequences. These simulations are run repeatedly until motifs emerge. Along the way, the composer-programmer is constantly working to refine the mapping in order to control the surface-level, macro-level, and micro-level details of the composition’s structure.

Inspired by the music of Steve Reich and other American minimalist composers, the composer adopts a process-oriented approach. The composer also invokes broader musico-genetic themes, such as the exceptionally beautiful metaphorical-mathematical bridge connecting the double-helical model of DNA (Watson and Crick 1953) and the helical model of pitch space used by contemporary music theorists (Shepard 1982) .

The genetic data used in this composition is from the human gene CHD8 (chromodomain helicase DNA binding protein 8) which has been identified as a leading candidate gene for autism risk. The data was obtained from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

I. The Mapping Problem 6:15
II. Biological Clocks
III. Seed 3:36
IV. Time Cycle 3:15
D U R A T I O N : 18:25


Pray, L. 2008. "Discovery of DNA structure and function: Watson and Crick." Nature Education 1(1):100. {Scitable


Shepard, Roger N. 1982. "Geometrical Approximations to the Structure of Musical Pitch." Psychological Review 89/4 (July 1982): 305-333. {APA PsycNET}

Watson, J. D. and Crick, F. H. C. 1953. "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid." Nature Vol. 171 (April 25, 1953): 737-738. {Genome.gov}

Updated: April 19, 2019