Reverb, A Genetic Opera is a body of work expressed through a series of performances, collaborations, and new media, in which mitochondrial DNA is transposed into song, as a regenerative bridge to our matrilineage.

Each performance of Reverb is an intimate experience involving a multi-relational performance between an opera singer, the invited participant, and a large audience who experience parallel expressions of a personalized soundscape scored from the participant’s DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA uniquely retains genetic material that is passed only through maternal lineage. Reverb guides individuals through their matrilineal line—contemporary to the beginning of time—through notes of magical realism, connecting them to their feminine origins.

A mother sings to her child, nestled in her womb. This is us. When we are first introduced into the world, we are often sung to. But oftentimes, we do not recall such an early memory. In the same way song does not reach us—as we forge our own paths, ancestry can feel lost on us. Accessing our ancestry nowadays means logging into a portal, analyzing a diagram that resembles a tree, branching to a sea of faces.

Reverb, A Genetic Opera is a performance in which mitochondrial DNA is transposed into song, as a regenerative bridge to our matrilineage.

While looking at the results from the genomics lab, I found that we are all connected. Scientists theorize that we all hold the genetic data of Mitochondrial Eve, our recent common matrilineal ancestor from Africa.

Through biology, we are all connected. But, modern kinmaking opens up the possibility for us to choose our family and forge new ancestries. Experience kinmaking in the way that feels right to us.

This is an interesting revelation, but how can this connection not only be known, but be felt? Through the same way we’ve always connected since days of old: through lore and song.

Yes, ancestry can feel fragmented or even cold when scanning a family tree. But we can reunite under the banner that is our shared song. If our sense of ancestry has waned over the years, let us galvanize a new form of kinmaking.

Special Thanks to Connie Bakshi, who conceived of Reverb with me, and my team Emma Goldberg Liu, Kyle Chang, Alex Darby, Jon-Luke Fillippi, Danielle McPhatter, Ryan Siciano, Drew Burrows, and Peter Fedak. Early participants Michelle Millar Fisher and Mary Rinaldi. Ji Won Choi for creating Reverb’s gown, and for designing her Adidas collection that I so adore. Angela Bac and Jeane Kim for their mad graphic design chops.

My gratitude to NEW INC, Karen Wong, Bruce Nussbaum, Paola Antontelli, Sabrina Dridje, Taüs Jafar, Salome Asega, Maddie Aleman, & Biodesign Challenge.

Arthur Nelson and Joseph Chen are sponsors. Reverb is fiscially sponsored by New York Foundation for the Arts—donate here.

Ān, the Soprano—performed by Emma Goldberg Liu

Person X—participant 

Ān’s coiffure is 35 different 3D-printed parts pieced together & wrapped in hair

Stills from an iteration of the performance using the artist’s DNA

{Episode One} The first short in the series features Michelle Millar Fisher, whose essay ‘Childfree’ from Designing Motherhood recounts her relationship to her mother, Ellie Millar. Millar’s matrilineal story resonated with this body of work as a woman, daughter, and curator who explores notions of motherhood. Michelle’s mitochondrial DNA was sequenced and transposed into an aria, performed as a daydream that takes place in her familial home as she recounts memories of her mother.


Reproduced from Biodesigned, Issue 9, Code


My grandmother is one of nine wives.

She is perhaps the last wife alive, but her husband, a rope factory tycoon from the Philippines, purchased only eight graves. He is positioned in the center among his wives. But not next to my grandmother.

She was born in 1914, and turned 107 last month. That’s two World Wars, The Korean War, The Cold War, Vietnam, Mao Zedong, the Tianamen Square Massacre, the end of apartheid in South Africa, 9/11, and two pandemics.

I prayed that I would inherit her invincibility. When she was 80 and I was five, she leapt with incredible athleticism to retrieve my balloon, which had gotten stuck on the ceiling. I’m convinced that this was the moment that jump-started my sentience.


But inheritance is fickle and sometimes family is chosen for us. A decade later, I was riding shotgun beside my older sister, Angel, who had picked me up from school. While we usually feel psychically intertwined, that afternoon I felt a void between us. As we zoomed past the Los Angeles County Arboretum and its lawns, a peacock strutted out onto the road—a normal occurrence. Angel slammed on the brakes. The peacock, emerald feathers in full display, cruised past us as we stared out the windshield.

“We’re not blood-related,” Angel blurted.

“What?” My world stopped.

“To our grandmother,” she said.


Today the revelation from 10 years ago still feels jarring. I eventually learned that my grandmother had fostered a community of orphans in Xiamen, China, and among them was my mother. She and my grandmother later moved to Hong Kong together, where I was born before we all moved to California. Obvious questions emerged for me: Who is my blood grandmother? Where has she been this whole time?

Though I idolize the grandmother I grew up with, I also wish I’d have known my biological grandmother. In my imagination, I sometimes picture my childhood self tucked into bed with the two of them sitting side-by-side singing me to sleep. The lullaby I conjure is not just theirs, but one that traces back to the first woman in my lineage.

I turned to technology to meet my unfulfillable desire to connect with the women who have come before me. Last year, I began to compose an opera, which translates the patterns of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs found in a person’s DNA into musical notes. DNA is the molecular legacy that our ancestors pass down, and I wanted to interpret it through a ritual similar to a lullaby—a keepsake that can be passed for generations from parents to children. The name of the artwork is Reverb, and it’s designed as an experiential installation and performance.

Each performance and composition is tailored to the individual audience member who signs up for the experience. As a first step, my team collects the person’s DNA from a saliva sample. We then translate the DNA sequence into music. Finally, the individual is invited inside a chamber where an opera singer sings their lullaby, which is entirely unique to them, for eight minutes.

I heard my song this past summer in one of the world’s quietest anechoic chambers. It was so quiet I could hear my own blood rush in my head. Sitting in the chamber, I listened to opera performer Emma Liu as she sang and played the part of Ān, which translates to peace in Mandarin to honor my birthplace. Ān stood above me dressed in a gown designed by Ji Won Choi. As she looked down to find my eyes, the long strands of hair draped down her headdress—a wild and untamed coif I co-created for Emma to wear.

Her voice chilled me. I found myself contemplating the infinite continuum between now and the past. I was mesmerized—how could my reality feel so hauntingly ethereal? I was proud to be in the presence of my ancestors.

When Ān reached a refrain, a wave of sorrow washed over me. I felt sharp needles under my tongue and along my sides as I imagined my biological grandmother’s pain. I did not know why she had to give up my mother. But the feeling was new. Anger became empathy and finally became my own suffering. Perhaps it’s okay not to know why my grandmother made her decision.

After Ān reached her last note, she said to me: “I am you. You are me.”