Music

Classic Massive Attack album encoded in DNA and put into spray paint

Classic Massive Attack album e...
Spray cans containing around one million copies of the Massive Attack album, Mezzanine, stored in DNA
Spray cans containing around one million copies of the Massive Attack album, Mezzanine, stored in DNA
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A limited number of cans will be produced and shipped by the end of the year
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A limited number of cans will be produced and shipped by the end of the year
Spray cans containing around one million copies of the Massive Attack album, Mezzanine, stored in DNA
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Spray cans containing around one million copies of the Massive Attack album, Mezzanine, stored in DNA

Earlier this year iconic British electronic music group Massive Attack revealed it was storing its classic album Mezzanine in DNA molecules. Now, it has been announced the synthetic DNA will be available in a limited release of spray paint cans, with each spray can estimated to contain around one million copies of the album.

For the last few years scientists have been exploring ways to harness the immense storage capacity of DNA. In 2012 a Harvard professor demonstrated the process by encoding a book into DNA, resulting in the equivalent of 70 billion HTML copies of the text being transferred into around one gram of DNA.

More recently, a team from ETH Zurich developed a process that encapsulates the synthetic DNA in 150-nanometer silica spheres, protecting the DNA from environmental degradation. In April of this year the ETH Zurich team took on the challenge of encoding Massive Attack's classic album Mezzanine using this technique.

"This digital bitstream of the album (0s and 1s) was first translated to 901'065 DNA sequences (A, C, T and Gs), each 105 characters long," says ETH Zurich's Robert Grass, explaining the encoding process. "The 901'065 individual sequences were then chemically synthesized resulting in a synthetic DNA sample, which fully represents the digital bitstream of the album."

A limited number of cans will be produced and shipped by the end of the year
A limited number of cans will be produced and shipped by the end of the year

After encapsulating the DNA in tiny synthetic glass beads they were added to spray paint. As well as producing a limited number of DNA-encoded spray cans, the DNA paint will be used to produce a small number of ink-jet printed artworks.

"We ensured that every spray can contains at least 0.1 micrograms of the synthetic DNA, which is equivalent to 1 million copies of the album," says Grass. "This is only possible due to the immense data capacity of DNA (about 100 exabytes per gram)."

At this stage it's unclear exactly how much one of these data-laden cans of spray paint will cost, but the band suggests a limited number will be produced and shipped by the end of the year. Founding member of the band Robert Del Naja, also a graffiti artist, amusingly says the unique characteristics of the DNA spray paint will not exactly be broadly adopted by street artists.

"It's an interesting way to vandalize your back catalogue," says Del Naja, "although DNA-encoded spray paint is unlikely to be adopted by street artists seeking anonymity."

Source: Massive Attack Facebook

4 comments
Jonathan Colvin
As if we needed more proof as to who Banksy is...
Gregg Eshelman
If there's no way to read it, I don't care what you call it, it's not a book, or a music album. May as well do something like cutting the pages of a book sideways so there's one line per strip, then mixing that into concrete. You can say the data is in there but it's not readable, it's not a book.
Martin Hone
Other than as an example of technology being used to promote a product that is not accessable or able to be used for its primary purpose, like reading a book or playing music, what the hell is the point ?
ShahbazParsipour
1st came the still mysterious Bitcoins barely anyone understands what is't all about ... and now this ... and no one has a clue if it works, or even if it does, is it legal or ...!?! (next will be?)