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Massive Attack's 'Mezzanine' DNA album

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Massive Attack’s pioneering album Mezzanine, the Bristol dance act have another world debut: the first album to be released as encoded strands of synthetic DNA.

Kara Melchers

Managing Editor, BITE

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Massive Attack - Mezzanine

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Massive Attack’s pioneering album Mezzanine, the first album to be streamed for free, the Bristol dance act have another world debut – the first album to be released as encoded strands of synthetic DNA.

The band worked with scientists at TurboBeads, a commercial arm of the university ETH Zurich, to create limited edition spray cans each containing approximately one million DNA copies of the album.

Scientists converted the digital zeros and ones into genetic information using the four building blocks of DNA. Each album is translated into a total of 920,000 DNA fragments and then stored in tiny glass beads. A process that takes over two months.

Initial costs to code digital into DNA are relatively high – $650,000 for 20MB of data. Once the transfer is complete, you can make millions of copies more or less for free.

“The storage potential of DNA is huge,” says band member and artist Robert Del Naja. “Indeed, one milligram of the molecule could store the complete text of every book in the Library of Congress and have room to spare. If you think about DNA versus the ridiculous amounts of server farms that have got to be cooled 24/7 all around the world, this looks like a much better solution going forward. It allows us to archive music for hundreds to thousands of years.”

Massive Attack has always pushed technology to its limit. For the release Del Naja is planning to create a print with ink containing Mezzanine DNA.

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