The City Recital Hall has re-commenced its series of lectures entitled “This Sounds like Science” and one entitled “Coronavirus Music” sounded too topical to miss.
It started with an unlikely premise. The drummer from an indie-rock group, turned molecular biologist, merging his two interests by creating music from the RNA sequence of the Covid-19 SARS virus.
I only wish I could describe the process called “sonification” with some degree of confidence. It was something about mapping subsets of the RNA sequence onto musical notes through a set of algorithms. You try out different mapping techniques and different algorithms until you find a combination yielding sounds pleasing to the ear (whose ear?) and then jam them with a few friends with guitars, a keyboard and a Moog synthesizer.
And the result of all his labours?
Someone once said that if you cannot find anything good to say about something, you should just say nothing.
A number of audience members gave the music an extremely enthusiastic reception, which made me think that perhaps I am missing a gene; the gene necessary to appreciate phrenetic (and, no doubt, very skillful) drumming supported by loads of electronic noise from players whose appearance is soulless and cerebral. Perhaps readers may like to judge for themselves by looking at some of the lecturer’s music videos on his YouTube Channel: Mark Temple – YouTube. These give some idea how the musical ideas are derived from the RNA sequence, but do not do justice to the final performance.
However, not all was lost, as my expedition to the City had two purposes. The other was a huge success: locating a rare second-hand copy of a now out-of-print Australian book for a friend in the UK at a superb shop with extremely helpful staff and a very welcome coffee-shop on site.
Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.