Find out what coronavirus sounds like on International Strange Music Day

Mark Temple

In time for International Strange Music Day, a Western Sydney University scientist has created ‘Coronacode Music’ – a unique musical composition which substitutes regions of the coronavirus genome with computer-generated musical notes.

International Strange Music Day is held on August 24 as a means of encouraging people to broaden their musical horizons, and experience a different type of music that they wouldn’t ordinarily listen to.

For Dr Mark Temple, from the University’s School of Science, the occasion provides an opportunity to share his work with a broader audience.

Before completing his PhD in molecular biology, Dr Temple was a professional musician – well-known as the drummer in Australian indie-rock group, The Hummingbirds.

In 2017, he  published a study in BMC Bioinformatics,(opens in a new window) on how audio can be used to distinguish a gene sequence from repetitive DNA.

“DNA is a long, string-like molecule made up of repeating G, A, T and C bases. When you think about it, these bases can easily be converted into a long sequence of musical notes,” he said.

“By replicating the pattern of a DNA sequence in an audio format, the study found that it’s possible to hear mutations in the gene sequence that might not be obvious by visual inspection alone.”

Dr Temple has continued to experiment with Sonification – creating a wide range of musical renditions and melodies that convey the information content of a DNA sequence – or even the coronavirus RNA sequence.

To produce a sound that is suitable for International Strange Music Day, Dr Temple went back to his roots as a drummer and with the help of guitarist Mike Anderson, added their own unique style to the computer-generated music from the coronavirus genome.

“To me, it sounds a little like ‘math rock’ – which is a style of progressive and indie rock with roots in bands such as King Crimson and Steve Reich,” he said.

Dr Temple shares his work with the broader community via public performances and YouTube. He has also created a DNA Sonification (opens in a new window) website, where people can experiment themselves with creating sounds from DNA.


24 August 2020

Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer