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This band is selling one million copies of an album in a spray can. Wait–what?

One of the great albums of the late 90s is Mezzanine from Massive Attack. When it was released in 1998, it instantly became a trip-hop classic and is an excellent recording to use when evaluating any kind of audio gear.

Normally one would expect an album of this stature to receive some kind of box set treatment for its 20th anniversary. But that’s boring. Massive Attack has chosen to re-release the album in a spray can.

DNA–deoxyribonucleic acid–is so tough and dense that scientists have been able to extract information from ancient preserved species (Jurassic Park, remember?) Massive Attack has encoded all eleven tracks into approximately 920,000 strands of DNA. Those strands have been stuffed into a spray can containing approximately one million copies of the album. And that’s not all: the strands are mixed with black matt paint, meaning you can create graffiti with the actual album. (Note that Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja is also a graffiti artist and is one of the people rumoured to be Banksy.)

The process by which this encoding was done is fascinating. Dr. Robert Grass of TurboBeads, a company based in Zurich, explains (via FACT)

This digital bitstream of the album (0s and 1s) was first translated to 901’065 DNA sequences (A, C, T and Gs), each 105 characters long”, says Grass. “The 901’065 individual sequences were then chemically synthesised resulting in a synthetic DNA sample, which fully represents the digital bitstream of the album.”

Then, in order to “guarantee information stability”, the DNA sequences were encapsulated in “synthetic glass fossils”, which were added directly to the spray can. According to Dr Grass, each can “contains at least 0.1 micrograms of the synthetic DNA, which is equivalent to 1 million copies of the album.”

Right. Of course.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38431 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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