Music as a Symbioorganism?

A symbioorganism, according to mathematician Nils Barricelli, is any “self reproducing structure constructed by symbiotic association of several self-reproducing entities of any kind.” Notice how wide of a net Barricelli casts with the word ‘structure.’ “According to the theory of the symbiosis of genes,” Barricelli writes, the genes were originally independent, virus-like organisms which by symbiotic association formed more complex units.” The theory of symbioorganisms usually works within the¬†biochemical. It is associated on a cellular and viral level.

Barricelli, however, thought it could translate to the digital.

In fact, Barricelli’s experiments with symbioorganisms of code was a way for him to rigorously test the theory of symbiosis. Over thousands of generations, the progress of these symbioorganisms could be observed. The readings could tell the tale of the evolution of one strain of code, how it bounced off other strains to strengthen itself, how it contributed to the existence (or demise) of other strains. That is what Barricelli found.

His legacy resides in the symbioorganisms that constitute music in the digital age. One song, digitally condensed into lines of code, is copied and downloaded across a swath of computers, entering various networks. Whether it be Youtube or Itunes, the song’s line of code has to interact with that website’s own network of codes. In this interaction it is transformed, continuing this process as it goes on CD’s and torrent sites and other computers.

Thanks to the digital, music is now a symbioorganism. We are dealing with music being alive in a way that we have never seen before. What repercussions are to come from this new property?


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