Dave Soldier


Music Math and Mind - A book on the physics and neuroscience of music

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: how nefarious nonartists cleverly imitate music - An article from thejournal Leonardo that discusses projects including the Tangerine Awkestra, Thai Elephant Orchestra, the People's Choice, and more (pdf)

The Thai Elephant Orchestra, a chapter from the book, Kinship With Animals (pdf )

The Y2K bug was a contest entry by Jaron Lanier, Lisa Haney, and me for a millenial time capsule to preserve an issue of the New York Times Magazine by mutating cockroach DNA and then setting the little rascals loose in Manhattan. It was displayed at the Museum of National History and won second prize from the Times: we're lucky it didn't win first prize or we would have had to do it. Here's (art by Lisa) and the full text by Jaron including sections the Times didn't print, and a "review" in Nature.

Notes from under the floorboard - A chapter on making new opera from a new book Live Movies (2006) on multimedia performance edited by Kirby Malone and Gail Scott White (pdf )

Liner notes for Phill Niblock's string quartet CD, Early Winter. These discuss the aural hallucinations Phill likes to produce in his music.

Liner notes for Otto Luening's orchestral CD An appreciation of Otto at ninety-three years of age for his only orchestral CD on Newport Classic.

The survey from the People's Choice Music (pdf)

A blindfold test with Otto Luening, conducted with Mark Dery from Keyboard Magazine

Liner notes from Phill Niblock's String Quartet record

These notes are from Phill's 1994 CD, Early Winter, consisting of two long works performed by the Soldier String Quartet. His music uses loud drones with that produce notes and melodies that aren't actually played.

At a recent concert, Phill played a tape piece of warm synthesizer-like sounds, suggesting fast-moving arpeggios and distant thunder storms. I told him the sounds were moving, what was the piece? I was embarassed to find that it was one I had recently recorded, Five More String Quartets. In that room, under those conditions, I couldn't recognize the sound of the strings or the music's slowly-evolving structure. But in other rooms, at a different volume, it sounded precisely like an overdubbsed string quartet with pitches moving irrevocably toward unison.

What gives each Phill Niblock work its own identity? Unlike any other composer's work I know of, the personalities of Phill's compositions depend crucially on how the recorded music is played back, the volume, and the sound of the room. This is because sustained pitches promote audible rhythmic beats and high and low tones (sum and difference tones). In Phill's work, these are never played by the performers, but come from the interplay of sound waves during the recording, in the speakers and in the room where you listen, and in your ear. In the string quartets, sounds that are strikingly heard but not played are rhythmic patterns in the cello and thick chords about an octave above the highest violin notes.

That Phill's music can sound different if you move into the hallway or a different part of the room, or even cock your head, must underlie something unusual that occurs when we perform Phill's pieces live. Someone in the audience realizes that the difference tones and other aural phenomena change as one moves. This encourages a few others to move around and after a while the concert hall lookls like it has been invaded by extras from a George Romero zombie movie.

Exactly what are the unplayed pitches that you might hear in this music? The highest pitch played in the String Quartet is roughly a G-sharp resting on the top line of the treble staff. The lowest note is played by the cello, around a G-flat at the bottom of the bass clef. If you hear higher or lower pitches (or pitches in the middle that are not centered around G-natural) and are listening with a good, distortion-free speaker and amplification system, you are hearing genuine auditory hallucinations that are produced in your ear. These pitches, called sum, difference, or combination tones, are determined by the played (fundamental) tones. For instance, if a violin is playing a pitch close to a G-sharp, say 420 Hz (cycles per second), and a viola plays a flatter pitch an octave lower, say 200 Hz, the sum tone is f1 + f2 = 620 Hz, the difference tone f1-f2 = 220 Hz, and the combination tones derived from harmonic frequencies, for example 2f1-f2 = 640 Hz. These auditory hallucinations are audible at sound pressure levels from about 20 dB to 65 dB.

Some of the physiological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are understood. The fundamental pitches stimulate mechanoreceptive cells, the so called "hair bundles" in the cochlea of the ear, by deflecting a mechanically sensitive area on the cell. This mechanical force results in the opening of electrical ion channels. The changes in cellular voltage produces a vibration of the bundles. Stimulated at a single frequency, a hair bundle will normally vibrate only at that frequency and its first harmonic (the octave). However, since the ion channels jump back and forth from open to closed states and their conformation is one of the components that affects the hair bundle's movement, there is a nonlinear relationship between the auditory stimulus and the hair bundle's movement. †With the addition of a second frequency, the cells also vibrate at the frequencies of the sum, difference, and combination tones. This does not occur after a similar stimulation of an inert object such as a glass fiber; the extra pitch hallucinations are apparently the result of the opening and closing cellular ion channels. The hair bundle's vibrations are transmitted to the ear's basilar membrane and, eventually, to the cortex which appears to be responsible for pitch perception.

- Dave Soldier 's day job is as an assistant professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University.

Blindfold test with Otto Luening

Conducted by Dave Soldier and Mark Dery

Published January 1991 in Keyboard Magazine

Even at 90 years and counting, Otto Luening hasnít quite had the time to hear every new work thatís come down the pike. So we thought weí borrowed an idea from Leonard Featherís classic down beat Blindfold Tests, choose a few provocative pieces, and play them for Luening. His responses offer insight into both his own compositional aesthetic and the material on our selected recordings.

ďTre Nel 5000Ē by John Zorn, from The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone [Nonesuch/Icon].

Luening: The first reaction I have is that the various sections of the piece, where things are coming in and out, project all right in terms of sound. Heís got a pretty good sense of balance, but the shifts, the changes, are pretty fast. Whether the piece is successful depends on whoís supposed to listen to it and how well theyíre supposed to listen. An untrained listener who hadnít listened to much might listen to this and think it was a very exciting thing. A more experienced listener, I think, would begin by saying, ďWell, I get the confusion, but the details donít stay in my mind. I come away with feeling of nostalgia about these genres, a feeling of ĎThe good old days were so beautiful, but my God, all you get now are the terrors.í Itís a daily newspaper reconstituted as music Ö.. If thatís what the composer wants to project, well then, heís succeeded. Itís not exactly what I would do myself, because I get that sort of information from television; I donít need it in music.

ďSvabata,Ē from Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares [Elektra/Nonesuch].

Luening: Whoever wrote this piece has a pretty good sense of vocal writing, and heís also very sensitive to speech. He employs a scale formation which he uses sufficiently to sketch in a harmonic idea so that the general sound sinks in. This means that heís able, as a result, to do a great deal with speech rhythms. He gets counter-rhythms and other things going. He also knows the value of repetition, even in a short piece, but also the value of not doing it too long. In other words, he has a sense of proportion, even in a piece of this length. Iím prejudiced toward short pieces; I like the condensed statement. The harmonic concept here is very interesting. Heís got a kind of contrapuntal movement, mostly around this certain scale formation. It isnít tonal and it isnít chromatic; itís a modal adaptation, a scale that heís picked up somewhere or made up himself. But he sticks with the scale sufficiently for the harmonic structure to come through.

ďYoung OnceĒ by Scott Johnson, from Patty Hearst: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Eleketra/Nonesuch].

Luening: The composer sounds as if he was trained in this country; he doesnít sound like a European. On first hearing, I would say that he knows something about harmony, about the overtone series; in certain spots, the music gets polytonal. He has a lyric quality, thatís his main drive, but he must have composed a fair amount because he also has enough sense to know that canít go on with the lyric thing forever. So he shakes his lyric things up and has contrapuntal devices going, some imitations and some figuration, to keep things from sagging. Where I feel heís lacking a little is in the articulation of the phrasing to bring out his thoughts; he gives it to us in a big puddingĖa pudding with some very nice ingredients, but itís a pudding nonetheless. Another thing Iíd say about it, technically speaking, is that he ought to get his instruments moving a little more. He sits on them on pedal points that donít help much: instead they detract from listening to some of the nice things that are going on in the higher registers. You canít hear them because youíve got that glue down there, gumming things up.

Fourth Etude (ďFanfaresĒ), by Gyorgi Ligeti, from Gorgy Ligeti: etudes pur piano {Wergo].

Luening: Iíve heard some playing along these lines, most of it done by that guy in Buffalo, Yvar Mikashoff. This piece is very funny because itís hard to tell whether itís a live piano or a mechanical one. Itís a live piano playing very mechanically, but nice mechanical. It sounds very much like Nancarrow. Itís probably by a pianist, or if not a pianist by somebody who is associated with pianists like Ursula Oppens and that bunch, who are very good at this sort of thing. Stockhausen could do something like this. People like him and Cage want to astonish you, and theyíll come up with something entirely different that theyíve never touched before. Itís a skillful piece of music, very well constructed. Within the virtuosity, itís terrific. Iíll tell you what my criticism of the piece is: the overdoing of the scale. Itís like the overdoing of the beat, or overdoing of anything. I donít need it, I get the point, and Iíd like to be able to hear the other things heís doing, which interest me more. I like the crashing chord at the end; he has to do that to over the mechanical thing and come to some sort of a conclusionÖ. It reminds me of a friend of Beethovenís, Czerny, an excellent composer who wrote some concert etudes that sound like this, where heís doing everything under the sun. Itís not the same things as Liszt where when he does an etude, he does all sort of other things besides virtuoso display or Chopin, which is a whole different ball gameÖ.At any rate, this piece could be by Elliott Carter, who sometimes does stuff like this. And it could easily have been figured out by Milton Babbitt. Will, I give up.

Gyorgi Ligeti.

Luening: Ligeti? Iíll be damned! I admire him enormously as a composer, but I would never have figured heíd write something like this! But this is another example of what you get with the basic training: A guy can turn around and, if he has to, write a virtuosos piece for piano. And heís done it so beautifully. Heís really managed to capture the character of Nancarrow on a real piano, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Liner notes for Otto Luening's orchestral CD

These notes are from Otto's (only) orchestral CD, Otto Luening: Orchestral Works Newport Classic, recorded by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, Richard Auldon Clark conductor, in 1993. Otto was 93 at the time, and it was a chance to thank him for being a mentor. Incidentally, following Schoenberg's lead, he didn't charge for lessons.

Otto Luening has a quality in greater abundance than any other working composer, and perhaps the best name for the quality is perspective. Through times of optimism and eras of social and personal tragedy, Luening continues on an astonishing path to rediscover himself. The orchestral works performed here range over seventy-five years from those by a Luening in his late teens under the spells of Richard Strauss and his mentor Ferruccio Busoni, to a Luening in his nineties with a tremendous formal and stylistic breadth. But more stunning than the length of this journey is the realization that this composer of incomparable experience chooses now not to write in some easily digested style for a mass audience, but to write some of the craggiest, most challenging work of his career. One suspects that Otto is telling us that the greatest gift an artist can bestow is not something smoothed over or simplified in an attempt to be universal, but to give one's own singular honest view of the world.

One of the perspectives from Luening's vantage has to do with the silliness of identifying oneself by ready-made labels, like "experimental" or "conservative" composer. During some periods, Luening has been portrayed as America's most experimental composer. For example, in collaboration with Vladimir Ussachevsky, he produced the first electronic pieces on this hemisphere, developed means to combine acoustic and electronic instruments, and helped form an audience for electronic music; he knew Benny Goodman, "Fatha" Hines, and other members of the Chicago jazz school in the early twenties and wrote a large scale concert jazz piece with Ernst Bacon, Coal Scuttle Blues, before Ellington or Gershwin; became immersed in Vedic philosophy nearly seventy years ago, and as a result wrote the Trio for Flute, Violin, & Soprano,† as Henry Cowell stated, the first aleatoric concert work; performed as a pianist/composer for the original Dada events with Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara in Zurich in 1917; wrote some of the first music based directly on the overtone series as explored by the German polymath Helmholtz; studied Schonberg's Harmonielehre when he was twelve years old; and was a close confidant of Edgar Varese, Cowell, Carl Sandburg, Martha Graham, and Harry Partch - in fact, Partch thought that Luening, who arranged his first New York concert, first financial backing for his work, and critiqued his theoretical works, was his earliest major supporter in the musical world and asked him write the introduction for Genesis of a Music.

But Luening's music also comes from Wagner, with whom Otto's father closely collaborated, Richard Strauss, and his teachers Busoni and Philipp Jarnach. He says that he† became hooked on music by singing folk songs as a small child on the farm in Wisconsin. Like Bach, Brahms, and other musicians of the European "classical" tradition, he practiced music from different perspectives; as conductor, composer, a performer on flute, piano, organ, and percussion. His experience as a conductor alone is astounding; after working under the greats of the early part of the century (he maintains a particular fondness for Arthur Nikisch and Strauss), he conducted in Zurich, in vaudeville, on Broadway, for the first opera company devoted to American opera and opera orchestras formed by the W.P.A., premiered Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All and Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, revived Paisiello's Barber of Seville, and led a Croatian folk choir based in a Chicago tavern. And in his seventies when he noticed he had begun to lose some of his amazing power of memory, he reversed the decline through daily memorization of a new movement from Haydn's piano sonatas. (Otto will read through your orchestra score and later quote to you what the French horns are doing on the two hundredth measure.)

All this makes Luening an uncomfortable subject for music writers and musicologists, who need to invent categories and hierarchies to try to make sense of a complex real world. Luening says that he has long felt justified in using any style to make a musical statement and that he will tailor the style to the temperament and specialties of a particular performer. Still, one of his favorite pieces of advice for the em-erging composer (Otto now refers to himself as a sub-merging composer, and feels a great kinship between the two) is "Don't let them tell you who you are. You tell them who you are."

Luening's perspective on the history of the culture can be a bracing tonic. Recently we discussed cocaine abuse in New York. He said, "This is the third cocaine epidemic I've experienced. The first was in Wisconsin, when some of my father's university students were addicted to cocaine sold as patent medicines in pharmacies. The second was in Zurich during World War I, when many of Jung's followers and the Dadaists developed a habit." Indeed, one can be quite intimidated knowing that the man to whom you are speaking followed Lenin and his entourage as they boarded the train on their return to Russia following the Bolshevik revolution, that he attempted to visit the Dachau concentration camp in 1936, that he investigated the musical foundations of Irish-spoken English with James Joyce during the period Joyce was writing Ulysses, that he knew the traditional culture of the Bavarian peasants as a participant. Whenever one demonstrates something one thinks is a new musical idea to Otto, he will say "Well, you know this direction was explored in detail by such and such fifty or several hundred years ago. You really should study the scores of Byrd, or Carpenter, or Debussy, or Ziehn, or Varese, and see how they did it." I find that Otto is always right about recommending these unexpected sources and suspect that the innumerable composers and performers he has supported over the years have found the same thing.

Luening's perspective also provides the foundation for an amazing iconoclasm in taste. For instance, during my last visit he was rhapsodic in praise for the contemporary composer/flutist Robert Dick and the singer/composer Mary Jane Leach. These opinions are startling not because Luening has more than fifty years of experience over these musicians, but because he doesn't feel any need to be cautious and wait until their work has been established into some hierarchy. One comment he made was "People say that Leach's music is hard to listen to. Well, Beethoven's music is hard to listen to - at first." He has also expressed enthusiasm to me for works by the Bulgarian Woman's Choir, Gil Evans, Gyorgi Ligeti, and Frank Zappa.

Luening's interest in creating a climate for others to make music led him to cofound artist's cooperatives including the American Music Center and CRI Records. This selfless support of those who would be creative musicians continues, and he is currently coaching a composer just out of college, Dan Cooper. Dan joins a list of such stylistic breadth that only Otto could understand it, including Harvey Sollberger, Gil Goldstein, Partch, John Corigliano, Ezra Laderman, Nicholas Russakis, Malcolm Goldstein, William Hellerman, Charles Wuorinen, Alice Shields, William Kraft, and Wendy Carlos. Yet despite the fact that these people and the many others may feel as if they have nothing in common, they seem unified in following some of the specific lessons that Luening teaches. Among these are 1) Pay attention to register, since counterpoint changes according to the audibility of overtones, a point he thinks neglected in musical education. He also feels that careful study of counterpoint is important no matter what one's style, and that even if one's writing is not contrapuntal, all good composers are united with a foundation in contrapuntal hearing. 2) Pay attention to dynamics and phrase markings, parts of the language of written music that also feels are usually insufficiently addressed. 3) Acquire real life experience as a performer, whether as an instrumentalist or conductor. 4) Study cultural history, because "what is old is new". He also repeats Busoni's maxim that every experiment needs to result in a piece with a beginning, middle, and end. 5) There is no handed-down path for a composer, and everyone must try to figure it out as an individual. This point seems to grow out of Luening's lifelong personal motto and koan, "Know thyself, physician heal thyself."

Beyond his concern for the artistic development of others, Luening continues his own musical odyssey. For the latest addition to his canon of over fifty orchestral works, we thank the wonderful young conductor Richard Auldon Clark and his Manhattan Chamber Orchestra. Luening tells me that he would like to continue in this direction, particularly in writing shorter orchestra pieces, but is somewhat concerned about the costs of copying parts. Frankly, this country should not allow such a situation and one hopes that the evidence on this recording will generate support for Luening's continued orchestral compositions. Still, just as he would advise emerging composers, he is currently writing for smaller forces, setting poems from James Joyce's Chamber Music for voice and piano. Although others can set these poems to music, only Luening was a member of Joyce's theater troupe, The English Players, in Zurich during the second decade of the century, and only Luening was coached by Joyce in his approach to words and diction. This return to a singular personal history tempered by a tremendous journey of development in discipline, achievement, and reflection, results in the individual perspective that makes the work of artists like Joyce and Luening so important for the wide world.

A Time Capsule that will survive One Thousand Years in Manhattan

Submitted by Jaron Lanier, with the collaboration of David Sulzer and Lisa Haney

May 3, 1999


An archive of the New York Times Magazine and other materials will be encoded into the DNA of cockroaches which will be released in Manhattan.


The familiar New York City cockroach predates the cityís geography. It has survived ice ages, earthquakes, famines, and floods. It has watched the dinosaurs come and go. It has resisted determined efforts by mankind to remove it even from individual buildings. It would survive a nuclear attack. It will probably outlive all other contemporary fauna on Manhattan, including humans.

Some of the cockroachís genes are extremely stable. They have not changed substantially for millions of years, and are therefore extremely likely to remain stable for the next one thousand years. Associated with these genes are DNA sequences known as introns which serve no known purpose. While it is possible that these sequences serve some unidentified function, their content is gibberish.

Recombinant techniques will be used to overwrite this gibberish with the archival materials. While computer memory is made of bits, which exist in two states (zero or one), DNA is composed of four "base pairs"; so it has four states. Therefore a given sequence of DNA can store twice as much information as a similar length of computer memory.

A single cockroachís introns will easily be able to contain the articles, letters, and other primary texts of one full yearís editions of the Times Magazine.

Certain types of information will be written into mitochondrial DNA sequences, which are inherited matrilinearly and are not subject to sexual recombination, instead of introns. DNA in this location is not as stable, but will nonetheless remain useful for the required period of time. Mitochondrial DNA is well suited to data such as digitized photographs, audio recordings, and crossword puzzles. The continuous nature of photographic and audio materials makes them useful even if there are slight modifications to the data; indeed even the best preserved photographs are constantly undergoing slight changes which are not perceived by casual observers. While crossword puzzles are made of discrete information (text), it is presumed that the further in the future the puzzle is decoded, the more advanced the civilization will be; therefore any errors caused by the passage of time will simply generate an appropriately difficult puzzle.

Once an archive is selected, it will be written into a computer file and coded into DNA base pairs. The sequences will then be synthesized by conventional protocols. Then the archival DNA will be ligated into cockroach intron DNA via injection into eggs.

Once the archival roaches are born they will be cultivated until the population achieves at least the specified volume (8 cubic feet). The roaches will be released in selected locations in Manhattan. Further cultivations and releases will follow, carefully calculated to assure that the archive is widespread enough to survive for the specified period of time.

Within approximately fourteen years, the archival roaches will inexorably become so endemic as to become an ubiquitous and permanent feature of the island.

In order to decode the archive, a future historian would make use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to amplify and then sequence the fragments, turning the DNA sequence once again into the contents of a computerís memory. In order to facilitate decoding, the archive will not make use of data compression or encryption technologies.


This proposal is not intended as a joke or social commentary. It is the best technological solution to meet the demands of the constraints presented.

a) The time capsule is to be placed in Manhattan, yet last for 1000 years. Manhattan is one of the least desirable locations on Earth for archival storage. It is a likely target for terrorist or military attack during the specified period of time. Furthermore, Manhattan might very well be subject to political pressures that would cause future residents to make unplanned use of its spaces and other resources. Even "sacred ground" such as Central Park, might become vulnerable to exploitation because of unforeseen changed in technology and society. For instance, travel might become restricted and parklands on Manhattan might be needed to produce food. New forms of transportation, such as spaceports, might become available that require large amounts of space and are demanded in population centers rather than at the peripheries, where contemporary airports are found. New space might be required to house artificial phases of human life, such as cryogenically preserved bodies or disembodied brains. Existing residential areas will be needed for conventional human living, so spaces such as Central Park might be drafted into unforeseen service. The archival cockroach will be a robust repository, able to survive almost all conceivable scenarios.

b) The requirement that the time capsule survive rising oceans and other ecological catastrophes presents a dilemma. Suppose a conventional capsule was placed on high, sacred ground, such as the grounds of the cloisters. As the seas rise, that ground will become ever more needed for habitation and vital services; it will lose its sacred status in precisely those scenarios in which that status would be most needed. The archival cockroach occupies the whole of the island and is immune to changing ideologies of land and resource use.

c) The desire was expressed to have multiple copies of the time capsule, including perhaps one in the basement of the New York Times. The archival cockroach easily meets this requirement.

d) The archival cockroach exceeds the materials specifications: it is water tight, impervious to changes in weather, easy to locate, impossible to destroy. The data will last for well beyond the initial millennium specified.

e) Because the archival cockroach will exist in so many copies, it will be easy to read the data without altering or destroying the archive. This is the most attractive aspect of the archival cockroach. No future historical revisionist will be able to locate and destroy each copy.

Potential problems and solutions to them:

a) Will there be ethical or public safety objections? The DNA in which the archival data will be placed is nonfunctional. The cockroaches will not have an altered biological function. They will also not be harmed or distressed in any way.

b) Will genetic drift erase the data? In order to combat this problem, seven copies of each article will be placed in introns. This number has been calculated to assure that data will be recoverable even after the most severe genetic drift that might occur within the specified period of 1000 years.

c) Any single genotype, such as the archival genotype, would be vulnerable to changes in the environment. This is why biodiversity is important in wild populations. The initial population of archival roaches will be generated from a wide ranging sample of roaches in residence in New York City (Periplaneta americana). In this way, pre-archival biodiversity will to some degree be represented in the archival population.

d) If other cities choose to adopt copycat archival strategies, there is a danger that roaches imbedded with an archive of, say, the Washington Post, would interbreed with carriers of the New York Times archive. In that case the roaches of Philadelphia would eventually contain a mixed text record. This is not as great a difficulty as it might seem. As significant sequence similarity is required for recombination to occur, genetic crossover between Washington Post and New York Times articles is extremely unlikely. Indeed, if crossover were to occur, an earlier of instance of plagiarism or reprinting would be implicated. At any rate, as long as each article is stored with its proper reference data, it will be possible for future historians to reconstruct both archives from a sample of roaches.

e) How will historians know that the material is present? The beginning of each archival segment will be comprised of a digital sequence that serves as the "masthead". This sequence will spell out "New York Times Magazine Time Capsule, 2000AD". A "Rosetta Stone" graphic will be widely reproduced. It will contain the masthead base pair sequence represented graphically, along with the letters the base pairs represent, pictures of the mouth positions associated with each letter, and pictorial representations of the cockroach. This graphic will be published in the magazine, of course, but will also be chiseled into all future city monuments. It will also be etched in industrial artificial diamond disks the size of CDs. One thousand of these disks will be hidden in locations in Manhattan.

The team:

Lead designer Jaron Lanier is joined by Dr. David Sulzer, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University. Dr. Sulzer will supervise the design, sequencing, and ligation of the archive. Lisa Haney, technical illustrator, is responsible for presentation graphics as well as the design of the Diamond Disk Rosetta Stone.


This project could be completed for the given budget of $75,000 at some point in the very near future, as the costs of biotechnology services come down. In order to complete it before the year 2000, it will be necessary to accept a significantly higher budget and make use of available tools and services.

Operon Technologiesí published charge for creating DNA sequences is 60 cents per base pair, but we are confident we will be able to negotiate a substantial price break due to the quantity we require.

Since four base pairs are required to contain the information of one byte, and one byte is used to represent each letter in the common ASCII format, sequencing will cost $2.40 per letter, unless we negotiate a discount.

A selective archive should fit comfortably in a 1000 page book. Assuming a rate of approximately $1 per letter after negotiations, a page of text will be sequenced for approximately $1000. The archive can therefore be created using existing commercial services for under $1,000,000. It need only be sequenced once, even though it will be inserted seven times into the cockroach genome in order to achieve redundancy.

The cockroach genome must be mapped. This might sound daunting, but it must be remembered that the cost of genome mapping is falling rapidly. The cockroach genome is presumed to be similar in size to that of the grasshopper; around 10,000 million base pairs, or about three times the size of the human genome. There are probably about 15,000 cockroach genes with roughly 5 introns per gene. The cockroach easily has over a billion base pairs in its introns, which will have a capacity to represent over 250 million letters. That is far in excess of what is needed for the archive, even with the requirement of redundancy.

Plasmids, enzimes, vectors, and microinjection paraphernalia will be needed- totaling approximately $126,500. Housing and care for the cockroaches and their eggs will be first rate, but will still only cost only a few thousand dollars. Even though DNA has not been introduced into cockroaches before, the technique is already established for Drosophila flies and some mosquitoes. A research staff will be established in Manhattan in order to adopt these techniques to cockroaches. While the initial DNA microinjections will be expensive, costs will fall once the techniques are better understood. Total budget for staff and physical plant should come in at approximately $1,132,000 up until the time of the release of the archive into the environment.

The Diamond Disk Rosetta Stones will cost approximately $193 per disk. This technology is also becoming less expensive at a rapid rate, so it would make sense to wait a few years to fabricate and place the disks.

It must be re-emphasized that, while at todayís prices this proposal must be considered as a "conceptual" entry, prices are falling so rapidly that the given budget constraint can be met in the very near future. It would be entirely reasonable to select and capture the cockroaches at the present time, display them to the public for a few years, and then insert the archive into their eggs once prices have come down to the specified level.


The Archival Cockroach is shown in top and side views. Inserts picture the encoding of text taken from the May 2, 1999 edition of the New York Times Magazine.