Network: Morphing to the sound of a hi-hat

Virtual DNA is the inspiration behind a new graphics package. By Matt Jones
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The Independent Culture
Until recently, the only use for a PC in a nightclub was to count the takings at the end of the night. However, with their powerful graphics capabilities, they are now branching out into the entertainment side - not as games machines but alongside the light and laser systems of a club's visual arsenal.

Dancer DNA is a new software package that uses a "virtual DNA" string to create kaleidoscopic virtual lifeforms that mutate and grow in response to music. Hooked up to a sound system and projector, it provides a mesmerising lightshow that is a perfect complement to the sensory overload of the leading London clubs.

What is most surprising, though, is that the inspiration for the software comes not from some hardcore clubber but from the leading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who was collaborating on a multimedia CD with Dancer DNA's creators, Notting Hill Publishing, the electronic publishing company created by Andreas Whittam Smith, the founder and former editor of this newspaper.

In The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins theorised that human DNA and the binary information storage systems used by a computer were very similar: "Instead of just the two states 1 and 0, the information technology of living cells uses four states... There is very little difference, in principle, between a two-state binary information technology like ours, and a four-state information technology like that of the living cell."

Dancer DNA blends this ultra-Darwinist theory with high-speed computer graphics. Just about everything is customisable, from a creature's rate of morphing and spin to the threshold at which the effects take hold. A frequency analyser allows the user to specify different parts of the music that it responds to (hi-hats, vocals, bass, etc) to trigger different effects, so the package can be programmed to accompany certain tracks. Dance music, with its defined peaks and troughs, is the ideal soundtrack to Dancer DNA; although it gave interesting results with many other genres, including heavy metal and country and western - as demonstrated at a recent show at the ICA in London.

There are 15 species provided on the CD, with more available from the Dancer DNA website. A few mouse clicks creates a "genespace" for your species and gets them dancing to whatever music you have in your CD drive. Customising the species couldn't be easier - the cut'n'paste method ensures that new strains can be easily created and mutated.

Dancer DNA has already strutted its virtual stuff at the Blue Note, Orb and the End clubs in London, as well as on the BBC's Clothes Show, and is set to perform alongside New Order and Underworld at the Alexandra Palace New Year's Eve spectacular. Entertainment from evolutionary theory - who would have thought it?

Dancer DNA (, pounds 19.99; order on 01634 297123