My latest music is another sonification of the coronavirus genome sequence. SARS-CoV-2_LR757995_1c is released via Hard Return, a new label run by Jack Chuter of ATTN:Magazine that specializes in “extremely repetitive/persistent music”. It’s a single track just over 40 minutes long, made of 3 parts: synth, drums and bass. The bass part is based on the first 1-bar segment of the genome sequence and repeats throughout. It provides a regular pattern in contrast to the non-repeating synth and drum parts. The 4 amino acid bases that make up the genetic sequence (a, t, g and c) are mapped to 4 different notes/drums. The notes and drum sounds are linked, so the same note always plays with the same drum sound, e.g. the lowest note always coincides with the kick drum and the next-highest note always coincides with the snare. [Even though I know it’s like this, it doesn’t always obviously sound like it. At least, that’s my experience of it. I’d be interested to hear if your experience is similar or different.]

The notes are based on Jins Saba, a fragment of an Arabic scale/mode called Maqam Saba. In Western tuning, Jins Saba approximately corresponds with 4 consecutive chromatic notes, each 1 semitone apart. But Maqam music uses microtonal rather than equal-tempered tuning systems, so the intervals in Jins Saba are closer to 3/4, 3/4 and 1/2. I used equal tempered tuning but modulated the pitch of the synth. In Maqam music, different scales/modes are associated with different moods. In performance, a scale is selected and musical patterns are built up through improvisation with the fragments (called ‘ajnas’, the plural of ‘jins’) that make up the scale. Jins Saba is the first thing you hear in this video – it’s the lower part of the Maqam Saba scale:

Arabic Maqam is more than just a scale; it’s “a system of scales, habitual melodic phrases, modulation possibilities, ornamentation norms, and aesthetic conventions” ( I’m learning more about Maqam and Persian music, and I’m getting more data on the coronavirus genome, including data on the genes and proteins encoded by the genome sequence. I hope to use this enriched dataset as the basis for programming timing patterns and chord changes based on the Maqam method.

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