Massive Attack Are Re-Releasing Their Landmark Album In A New Format: DNA

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British Trip-Hop group Massive Attack is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their third album in a very special way. Twenty years ago, the Circa/Virgin Records album was the first to be streamed entirely for free online. Now, Mezzanine will be the first LP to be released in strands of synthetic DNA.

Massive Attack have announced that they are releasing a limited-edition spray can that contains roughly one million DNA copies of the album. The album’s audio was translated into data, and then again into DNA molecules. The idea was executed in conjunction with TurboBeads Labs in Switzerland, a commercial version of the Swiss science, engineering and mathematics university ETH Zurich.

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“The four DNA bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine are coded into binary digital audio,” Massive Attack member Robert Del Naja said. “If you were to spray, scrape it off the wall and have it analyzed in the correct conditions, you’d be able to play the album back – as soon the right player becomes available.”

As if the process wasn’t confusing to describe already, Robert Grass, professor at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory, explained to Wired how the concept works: “We store digital information in a sequence of zeros and ones, but biology stores genetic information using the four building blocks of DNA. We compressed Mezzanine’s digital audio then coded it as DNA molecules by converting the binary 0s and 1s into a quaternary code – with adenine representing 00, cytosine representing 01, guanine representing 10 and thymine representing 11. The resulting DNA resembles natural DNA in every way, although it contains no useful genetic information.”

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Coding digital information into DNA is roughly $650,000 per 20MB of data. Storing data as DNA promises major potential, as Wired points out that just one milligram of the molecule can store the complete text of every book in the Library Of Congress, and more. DNA storage could paint an eco-conscious future, cutting down on the amount of server farms the world current holds in favor of denser, yet more compact storage.

Each copy of Massive Attack’s limited-edition spray can holds around one million DNA copies of Mezzanine. The spray can will also be carry art by Robert Del Naja, ink-printed using ink containing Mezzanine’s DNA.

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Throughout their career, Massive Attack has worked with Hip-Hop artists including Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey), RZA, RJD2, and Prodigical Sunn, In 2010, the duo released fifth LP, Heligoland.

#BonusBeat: Now may a fitting time to re-explore “Teardrop” from Mezzanine: