Fibers AND Coils was written in April/May 2015 for Music of the Spheres - a project/installation by the artist Charlotte Jarvis, utilising new bioinformatics technology developed by the scientist Nick Goldman to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet into DNA. There were various starting points in generating the musical material: the time spent in the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) server rooms (i.e. the improvisations that emerged among the machine noise); the middle, already existing (encoded) movement of the larger composition; and, on a fundamental level, Charlotte’s idea of drawing a parallel between the universal qualities of DNA and music.
I found some of the arising concepts and symbolic associations very exciting to work with: for example, throughout the piece, the four players (‘nucleobases’) weave a textural and harmonic fabric together, as if they are all contributing towards a superior string instrument; in the process, there is frequent (but varied) pairing of the instruments; on a larger scale, the material is organised in clear waves/spheres (as beads on a string, and as in chromosomal DNA packing), smaller coils are embedded within larger coils, etc. At the same time, the ‘Music of the Spheres’ idea seemed to find a natural manifestation in the context of the string quartet, given the fundamental presence of Pythagorean tuning (i.e. the prominence of the pure fifth, 3:2 frequency ratio), which was then combined with other pure intervals and organised within a network of harmonic series, naturally arising from the vibration of the open strings.
Finally, this piece is an exploration of some physical aspects of sound and the mechanics of its production on string instruments – aiming not to ‘extend’, but to enhance their natural sonority, and that of the string quartet as a group.