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Grad Student Uses HIV DNA To Make Music

First Posted: 11/08/10 02:48 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:10 PM ET

Sounds Of Hiv

University of Georgia graduate student Alexandra Pajak's new instrumental CD draws inspiration from an unlikely source -- HIV.

"Sounds of HIV," released by Azica Records on Oct. 26, is a 17-track, 52-minute long musical adaptation of the fatal virus' genetic code. Pajak assigned pitches to the four basic nucleotides in DNA -- A for Adenine, C for Cytosine, G for Guanine and D for Thymine -- but the score contains much more than these for notes. Pajak explained the process to AOL News:

I stayed very loyal to the DNA. Every segment of the virus was assigned music pitches that correspond to the segment's scientific properties. The sounds literally reflect the nature of the virus... There was a lot of logic involved in this. I also broke down 20 amino acids and proteins and assigned pitches to those. I used the A-minor scale for the amino acids based on their level of attraction to water. So, when you hear this CD, you're literally hearing the entire genome of the HIV virus.

According to Scientific American, Pajak -- who has embarked on similar projects in the past -- became interested in HIV when the genome was sequenced in 2009. The ambitious composer says that starting with a scientific blueprint provides a helpful structure, but that working with -- in this case -- 9,181 nucleotides is not easy.

After months of composing, Pajak recruited the band "Sequence Ensemble" to record her album.

Part of "Sounds of HIV"s proceeds will go towards AIDS research at the Emory Vaccine Center, and AOL reports that AIDS Institute representative Carl Schmid is excited about the project - "Anything to raise awareness and educate the public about AIDS is a good thing. By connecting AIDS to music, the album could even help reduce the stigma associated with the disease."

Below, a segment from the album:

Do you find this weird? Beautiful? Disturbing? Let us know how you feel.

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Filed by Danielle Wiener-Bronner  |