Corwin Series Lecture: Peter Gena and Charles Strom

Event Date: 

Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 6:00pm

Event Date Details: 

Event Location: 

  • Studio Xenakis (Room 2215
  • Music Building)

Event Price: 

Admission is free.

Event Contact: 

Adriane Hill
Marketing and Communications Manager
UC Santa Barbara Department of Music
(805) 893-3230
As part of the Corwin Series, Dr. Peter Gena and Dr. Charles Strom will present a lecture entitled, "Music from DNA," on Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 6 p.m. in Studio Xenakis (Room 2215, Music Building). Admission is free. Dr. Peter Gena, a Professor at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago studied composition with Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman. Dr. Charles M. Strom is an expert in molecular genetics diagnostic testing and Vice President for Genetics and Genomcis at Quest Diagnostics. For 20 years now, most of Gena's computer-assisted work converts DNA sequences into sound, assisted by geneticist Charles Strom, who guided Gena towards essential physical properties of DNA and amino acids, usable together with sonic parameters in formulas for a physio-musical conversion.

A note from Dr. Peter Gena about the DNA Music presentation

For 20 years now, most of my computer-assisted work realizes DNA sequences into sound.  The physio-musical conversion takes place via a series of formulae that were worked out in a manner based on physical properties of DNA and sonic parameters.  This was done with the assistance of my close friend, geneticist Charles Strom (M.D, Ph.D.), who provided essential information regarding the makeup of DNA and amino acids, while guiding me towards physical properties that could be used in formulas for a  physio-musical conversion.  I created a virtual DNA Mixer (which combines multiple sequences much like our cells) to output them directly as digital sound, and/or as notation for instrumental performance.  This programming is done in MAX/MSP.  A variety of virus and tissue cells suggested by Dr. Strom has been realized and widely presented, including red blood cells, HIV, liver proteins, cold viruses, botulism, measles, and others.  The sequences can be realized electronically and/or with intrument(s).  There are several that incorporate both end results: the instrumental score is generated as notation while the electro-acoustic channels are simultaneously produced from the DNA mixer.  Typical performances employ a computer realizing the synthesized DNA sequences live, as the performer plays notated sequences.  The DNA Mixer in action is normally projected on a large screen, where the codons of the sequences appear in order, as they are outputted as sound.  Writings are provided on the site:
The DNA Music Installations, as presented in Chicago, Glasgow, Biella, Beijing, Milan, France and Cologne, etc.,  are continuous, stand-alone, interactive gallery pieces consisting of the DNA Mixer, complete with some 25 sequences as presets.  Up to six DNA strings can be selected for simultaneous realization.  The user/viewer/listener can choose sequences, overlay them at will and select the speed at which they move.  If left unattended, the mixer randomly chooses and plays preset combinations of sequences indefinitely.
Subsequently, MAX/MSP has gone through a number of revisions and improvements.  In addition, given my life-long interest in stochastics, a secondary project produced a sonic mapping of the human immunoglobulin system.  Our immune system is made up of multiple random generators that continually produce billions of unique DNA sequences that reside in the blood stream in the event that they are needed to fight off invading diseases.  Once called upon, the matching antibody is mass-produced until it overcomes the intruder.  It then relocates in the bone marrow where it remains for life—prohibiting its target virus/bacteria from subsequently taking hold in the body.  Each immune gene consists of one of three fixed lead sequences, and a variable region stitched at the head of a randomly generated string to complete the gene.  The installation, Immumonglobulin, The programming effort involved a basic random generator combined with an algorithm that initiates the lead sequence.  We were intrigued by the idea of a piece that would require perpetual regeneration just like our immune system.
A logical next step for our DNA music was to regard the natural occurences ot billions of sequences being generated at any time in an organism as a literal symphony of DNA with no conductor or time keeper.  Hence, the theoretical probability of sequences acting together in some existing musical structure, though rare, is possible.  DNA-PNO, the next DNA music generator, can be programmed to arrange DNA into musical forms dating from Medieval to the present.  There is a series of pieces that explore the notion of sequences in canon excercizing typical treatments as used during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
-- P. Gena

About Dr. Peter Gena

Peter Gena (PhD, SUNY at Buffalo) studied composition with Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman.  He is currently a Professor at the School of the Art Institute.  Recent exhibitions/performances include: Le Cube and Palais de Tokyo (Paris); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Coruña, Spain); Forum Alternberg, (Bern); Hearth: l’art au cœur du territoire (Nantes), Les Nuits Numériques #7—Nanomonde at Le centre culturel Saint-Exupéry (Reims, France).  Publications include: The Waltz Project  (C.F. Peters); A Physiological Approach to DNA Music; Cage and Rauschenberg: Purposeful Purposelessness Meets Found Order (MCA); A John Cage Reader (TriQuarterly and C.F. Peters); Apropos Sonification: A Broad View of Data As Music And Sound (Artificial Intelligence and Society). Gena is decorated by the French government at the rank of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

About Charles M. Strom, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.M.G., H.C.L.D.

Expert in molecular genetics diagnostic testing, particularly of Fragile X Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis carriers, Noninvasive Prenatal Diagnosis, Molecular Oncology, Down syndrome and other developmental disorders
Charles M. (“Buck”) Strom, is Vice President for Genetics and Genomcis at Quest Diagnostics . In this role, which he has held since February 2015, Dr. Strom is responsible for research and development and medical consultations in the areas of cytogenetics, biochemical genetics and molecular genetics. A board-certified pediatrician and geneticist, Dr. Strom has led and participated in research and development efforts by Nichols Institute that have enhanced the medical community’s ability to detect developmental disorders affecting infants and children.
Dr. Strom is board certified in Pediatrics, clinical genetics, biochemical genetics and clinical molecular genetics. He currently holds the position of assistant clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. Prior appointments include director, Medical Genetics and DNA Laboratory in the Departments of Pediatrics and OB-GYN at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he focused on the development of the field of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Other positions held by Dr. Strom include assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, and assistant professor, Department of OB-GYN at Rush Medical College.
Dr. Strom holds more than 4 patents or patents pending in the areas of molecular diagnostics. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry cum laude from Yale University and his medical degree with honors from the Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago. He subsequently completed a residency in pediatrics and fellowship in medical genetics at the University of California, San Diego. He received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Chicago.
Dr. Charles Strom
Dr. Peter Gena