Massive Attack Rereleases ‘Mezzanine’ in a Can

Mezzanine DNA
Photo: Massive Attack.

British electronic band Massive Attack are celebrating the 20-year anniversary of their groundbreaking 1998 album Mezzanine by rereleasing it in a can of spray paint. The album content and data is being stored in DNA molecules, by using the technological know-how of ETH Zurich. Not only was it a game-changer in electronic music upon its release, it is now also pivotal in what music storage means to the entirety of the music industry.

Robert Grass, professor at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory explained that through this method, music can be archived “for hundreds to thousands of years,” as opposed to CDs, which are estimated to last for only 30 years. Along with his colleague, Reinhard Heckel, former ETH scientist now working at Rice University, the album’s digital audio was translated into genetic code. Normally, data on CDs is stored in the binary form of a sequence of ones and zeros, whilst biologically, genetic information is stored in a complex sequence of the four DNA building blocks. Using the Opus compression software and coding format, scientists were able to compress the music file down to 15 megabytes, passing it on to a US company that was to produce 920,000 short DNA strands, which collectively, should hold the entirety of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. The final step was up to TurboBeads, an ETH subsidiary, that was responsible for packing these molecules into 5,000 almost microscopic sized glass spheres.

Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, one of the co-founders of Massive Attack, commented that this project is a “creative way to store your back catalogue, although DNA-encoded spray paint is unlikely to be adopted by street artists seeking anonymity.” Del Naja started out as a street artist in the 90s, long before Massive Attack was even on the radar. It is therefore no surprise that it was a spray can, of all things, that was selected to carry the nano-sized DNA of Mezzanine.