(Richard Powers, 2014)
And in that moment, the idea came to him. It assembled itself in Els’s head as he stood and watched Fidelio baying: music for an autumn evening, a ring of thanksgiving, with no beginning or end. He’d signed on for the full ride long ago, and all that remained was to be true to the dreams of his youth and take them to their logical extreme. He could make his great song of the Earth at last – music for forever and for no one…
A few days earlier, on the radio, lying in bed before falling asleep, he’d heard soundtracks extracted from DNA – strange murmurings transposed from the notorious four-letter alphabet of nucleotides into the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. But the real art would be to reverse the process, to inscribe a piece for safekeeping into the genetic material of a bacterium. The precise sounds that he inscribed into the living cell were almost immaterial: birdsong, a threnody, the raw noise of this arboretum, music spun from the brain that those self-replicating patterns had led to, four billion years on. Here was the one durable medium, one that might give any piece a shot at surviving until alien archaeologists came by to determine what had happened to the wasted Earth.
Digitize a composition into a base-four strand, then put the tape inside the player. You’d have to allow for the slow drift of mutation that reworked every genome. But that endless change in the musical message would be more like a feature than a bug. As far as Els knew, the medium was virgin territory. Soon it, too, would be covered with graffiti. But he could get there early and play for one last moment in a newfound land. No storage medium longer-lasting than life.
He would spend his remaining days seeing what might be done in the form, and learning to hear a little of life’s great ground bass along the way. With a little time, patience, a web connection, the ability to follow instructions, and a credit card, he might send a tune abroad again, into the very distant future, unheard, unknown, everywhere: music for the end of time.