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HIV, Music to Your Ears (Literally!)

April 11, 2011

Listen to two excerpts from Sounds of HIV: "Prelude" and "Protein"

Listen to Audio (1 min.)

Listen to Audio (1 min.)

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Have you wondered what HIV sounds like? Well, you are about to find out.

Last October, Alexandra Pajak, a University of Georgia grad student working on her second master's degree in clinical social work, released an album entitled, Sounds of HIV. For this 17-track, 52-minute HIV symphony, Pajak carefully studied the different types of HIV DNA and assigned musical pitches to each individual strand.

"DNA is kind of like strings of letters that make words that, taken together, form a story," she told, further explaining, "I assigned musical pitches to the various letters and the sounds you hear take you on an 'aural journey,' much like reading a book. I transcribed the DNA into musical pitches and created my own rhythms and harmonies."

She was inspired to make the album while working with HIV-positive clients during her ongoing work in mental health counseling. She saw how HIV, "an enormously human disease," destroys so many lives, yet also connects people.

"I was interested in doing a piece that was socially relevant. I've had clients with HIV and AIDS and I've worked with AIDS awareness nonprofit organizations. I ran the idea by them, and they all were really enthusiastic about the CD as a way to raise awareness and money for research," Pajak added.

It's not the first time she's composed music based on DNA. A couple of years ago, she created a symphony based on the DNA of Agnes Scott, the mother of the founder of Agnes Scott College, her alma mater where she studied music. But still, Pajak's album is a new concept in music.

It's also an innovative way of understanding HIV. During the process, Pajak became the first person in history to "hear" HIV, which to her is "a cool thought, and a little scary." After adding her own rhythms and building musical sequences, she enlisted the help of instrumental band Sequence Ensemble to play piano, flute, clarinet, oboe, French horn and cello. They recorded the album at Kennesaw State University under the Azica Records label. What resulted is poignant, sometimes calamitous, yet beautiful music.

Since Sounds of HIV's release, all the responses have been favorable. Pajak has received a lot of appreciation from many people living with HIV.

"I've gotten many e-mails from HIV-positive [people] who bought the CD and told me how much they liked the music," she said, adding, "One person said it helped him 'understand' his disease. It was really touching and humbling."

Carl Schmid, from The AIDS Institute, told AOL News, "Anything to raise awareness and educate the public about AIDS is a good thing. By connecting AIDS to music, the album could even help reduce the stigma associated with the disease. I've never heard of anything quite like this."

You can buy the CD or MP3 album off of Amazon. A portion of the proceeds is being donated to the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, Ga., to help fund the center's HIV vaccine research. A part of the proceeds is also going to the University of Georgia School of Social Work.

Warren Tong is the research editor for and

Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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