U.K.-based trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack have taken a page out of a sci-fi novel to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their album Mezzanine. The collective announced on Friday their plans to store their 1998 LP in a ground-breaking new format: by transforming the audio into DNA. This feat marks the first time an entire album has been coded in molecules of DNA, theoretically preserving the album for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
The technology was developed by scientists at the Swiss university of ETH Zurich. Robert Grass, professor at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory, explained the process of translating digital audio into genetic code in the university’s announcement, saying, “While the information stored on a CD or hard disk is a sequence of zeros and ones, biology stores genetic information in a sequence of the four building blocks of DNA: A, C, G and T.”
Grass and his colleagues made the volumes of data manageable by compressing the megabytes of information using the Opus coding format, a compression method for audio-data that’s superior to mp3. ETH Zurich, in partnership with the Zurich-based company Turbobeads and the U.S.-based company CustomArray, are now in the process of creating 920,000 short DNA strands, which together contain all the information of Mezzanine, and pouring the molecules into 5,000 nanometer-sized glass spheres, where the information will be contained. These tiny glass beads, invisible to the naked eye, will be housed in a water bottle, where they’ll be “eternally” preserved. Listeners would then be able to play the music back by decoding the DNA through a computer.
The process is expected to take between one to two months for completion.
Massive Attack have, in a sense, immortalized their work by placing it in a format which decomposes at a much slower rate. While CDs have a shelf-life of around 30 years, Grass reveals in the university’s statement that DNA files can be preserved for “practically an eternity.” The commercial implications of this technology are also ground-breaking, as DNA files may very well be the format in which we experience music someday.
“Compared to traditional data-storage systems, it is quite complex and expensive to store information on DNA,” explains Grass. “However, once information is stored on DNA, we can make millions of copies quickly and cost-effectively with minimal effort.”
Mezzanine will become the second-largest file stored in DNA form, behind Microsoft, who have reportedly stored more than 200 megabytes as DNA a few months ago. Since its conception, Mezzanine has been at the forefront of technological invasion. According to Fact, the album became the first of its kind to be made available as a free online stream using RealAudio player back in 1998.
It only makes sense that the group would want to celebrate the album’s 20-year mark in such an innovative way.
Revisit the music video for “Teardrop,” a single off the aforementioned album, down below. Then, for more Massive Attack-related content, revisit Paste’s list of 10 EDM albums for people who don’t like EDM right here.