Genetic Messages

genMessInvite1A composer as well as a painter, Marilyn Belford has produced in her show (displayed below) an environment combining music and visual art. Inspired by the structures set up within the genetic code, she has taken these patterns and has uniquely made them create their own music by transposing them literally onto a player piano roll. The musical scores are displayed on the walls and consist of the patterns air-brushed onto Mylar film. A player piano is at the gallery space for those curious to know what, for example, the replicating activity of E. Coli in the intestines might sound like. Click Here for Genetic Messages Music. (Note: This file is 1.3 megabytes and runs for approximately 3 minutes. It is only a section of the entire work. The music will open in a new window and you can switch back to this window to continue reading while you listen.) (Temporary alternate WMA file) For the Molecular basis of “Genetic Messages” scroll down to lower half of page.


The Molecular Basis of “Genetic Messages” A Musical and Visual Exploration of DNA Genes are the elements which contain all hereditary information and the medium whereby hereditary features are transmitted from one cell to the next, either in the same organism or from parents to offspring via the fertilized egg. Experiments indicated that the same genes occupy the same position on the chromosomes and this really demands a structural continuity through the life of the cell. The problem that has attracted the most attention and is possibly the most fundamental that biology has to offer is that of the nature of the genes. The important material of the genes is known to be Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) made up of nucleotides. The information necessary to make, maintain, and propagate each living cell is encoded in DNA molecules in the cell nucleus or nucleoid. (In a few viruses the information required for synthesis is stored in RNA instead). This stored information is transcribed in the nucleus or nucleoid into an RNA “message”, copied from the DNA. The RNA message is then transferred to the cytoplasm where it directs the assembly of specific proteins, including both structural proteins and cellular enzymes. DNA is the cell’s most precious macromolecule; once DNA is lost or destroyed, its information content can never be retrieved. Over billions of years of evolution, those cells which developed the best mechanisms to ensure the fidelity of replication and to repair damaged DNA have always had a selective advantage. Faulty genes, those which no longer code for their intended proteins have alterations (mutations) in their DNA, and the resulting physiologically defective cells (or organisma) are called mutants. Painstaking research is needed to characterize a single protein or nucleic acid. Electrophoresis and autoradiography are two of the techniques used in the laboratories to determine the structure of the aforementioned materials. For example, in electrophoresis, appropriately treated pieces of DNA are placed on a slab of gel. Under the influence of an electric current the molucules migrate through the gel and form patterns which are then stained for visualization. The patterns can also be visualized by autoradiography if the mixture is radioactively labelled; In this case, a piece of x-ray film is placed in contact with the gel and a pattern appears on the film corresponding to the positions of the DNA molecules. In this show I have utilized patterns produced by methods similar to the ones described above and translated them onto a piano roll, punching holes for their position and size. The music then represents the patterns as transcribed for a player piano. On the walls one may see the “musical scores” air-brushed onto Mylar film; that is, the patterns of “fingerprints” of fragments of RNA and DNA research. Marilyn Belford 1979

The following paintings are only based on DNA fingerprints. They are not exact replicas of any particular sequence. They are acrylics on canvas and measure 96“ X 48“.


1 thought on “Genetic Messages

  1. Absolutely amazing what Ms. Belford does with the quilting, but I was most interested in what she does with the DNA/RNA and the player piano. My mother and her siblings learned to play the piano when they were girls, and so therefore me and my siblings were exposed to that as well. My husband has Huntington’s Disease which involves a mutation (actually a repetition) in the huntington gene along the DNA which causes deterioration in the brain and for which at this time has no cure. I listened to the sample included in this article, and thought it fascinating, and wondered how differently someone with HD might sound, and even if one might be able to actually hear the difference.
    Super article from the Cortland Standard, Cortland, N.Y.,Lori Eaton & Katie Keyser.
    I enjoyed it very much!
    Thank you.

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