Scholars probe interface between arts and science

By Drew Messinger-Michaels

The Chromochord, a new musical instrument invented this year at the University of Chicago, functions as only a UChicago instrument could—through an interdisciplinary approach that leads to deeper insights.

When music composition student Francisco Castillo Trigueros and biochemistry student Josiah Zayner teamed up for their project earlier this year, it wasn’t the first time UChicago students experimented with merging an aesthetic and a scientific perspective to create something quite new. The Arts|Science Initiative has for several years fostered this kind of collaboration and provided the funding for graduate students to develop joint projects.

Castillo Trigueros and Zayner introduced the Chromochord last May, when they revealed their instrument to an audience gathered in the Logan Center for the Arts. With its blinking LEDs and coils of electrical wire snaking outward, the Chromochord could be mistaken for a 1967 Lite-Brite construction built with just-as-dated car parts. The wires connect proteins to a sensor that detects how the proteins absorb light, with variation depending on the proteins’ chemical reactions. The Chromochord then translates these data into sounds that form a novel kind of music.

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