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Digital Music Gets Genetic

The band OK Go initially garnered attention for its innovative one-take music videos, using choreographed treadmills, trained dogs, or a mass Rube Goldberg machine, to name a few. But the band’s latest creative endeavor will transcend its endearingly dorky-yet-clever viral videos: OK Go’s fourth studio album Hungry Ghosts—already out digitally, CD and on vinyl—will be released on DNA later this year.

OK Go is working with Sri Kosuri, a biochemist at UCLA who, in 2012, converted a book into DNA. “We are starting to reach fundamental limits of how densely we can store data on microchips,” Kosuri told the New Yorker. “We need new ideas.” And his idea, true to roots, is DNA. “It’s information,” he said. “Our bodies use it to code for life, but it could be anything.”

The process essentially converts the binary code in music files (consisting of ones and zeros) into genetic code (consisting of strings of A, G, T and C bases) using an electrophoresis machine. The end result is a vial of DNA dissolved in water—a few nanograms potentially containing about 100,000 copies of the album. “So, if we sell just one or two droplets, we’ll have the highest-selling album of all time,” Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go, told the New Yorker.

This idea, however, has equally sophisticated complications.

 “Legally speaking, it’s unclear whether we will be able to sell the DNA to anyone, or how we would physically get it to them,” Kulash said. “Obviously, it’s an artistic gesture and a scientific project, not the most efficient way to actually buy our album.”

The following music videos by OK Go illustrate the band’s imaginative one-take tendencies, ranging from the largely elaborate to the charmingly goofy.

2006: “Here It Goes Again,” one of the first truly viral videos:

2010: “This Too Shall Pass,” the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine:

2010: “End Love,” spanning three days and captured in one take:

2012: “Needing/Getting,” a Super Bowl commercial gone rogue:

2014: “I Won’t Let You Down,” their latest video, filmed from an aerial drone:

Image by Stuart Cale, licensed under Creative Commons.