Sounds of HIV: Music Transcribed
From DNA (Azica) Composers take their inspiration where they find it, and for Alexandra Pajak that has proved to be in the genetic code of the human immunodeficiency virus. “Every segment of the virus is assigned musical pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties,” explains the 23-year-old Pajak, a former music major who is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Georgia. That yields a sequence of basic musical material — single notes or scales — that represent HIV’s 9,181 nucleotides and the resultant amino acids. Thus armed, Pajak divides this parade of tones into 17 movements (52 minutes), adds touches of harmonization, sets some of the pitches in counterpoint, and distributes the music among the six instrumentalists of the appropriately named Sequence Ensemble. You may be surprised to discover that HIV sounds vaguely like the music of Janácˇek. Still, this virus is no Johnny One Note: part of a section devoted to “Protein 1” suggests Copland with a hangover, and “Proteins 5 and 6” seem to have been loitering at a John Tesh concert, God love ’em. Often the musical grammar of this DNA seems out of kilter — the sort of thing that sounds odd when, for example, Chinese folk songs are arranged as piano concertos or string quartets. But, of course, we already knew this particular virus marches to a different drummer.
— James M. Keller