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Tomas Saraceno's Arachnid Orchestra Weaves Terrifying Arrangements

Listen to spiders and musicians scratch out symphonies.
Percussion performance of wolf spiders (Lycosidae) recorded using a laser vibrometer, 2015. Video Still. Courtesy Studio Tomás Saraceno

What better soundrack for spooky season than the strumming of spiders on their webs? That subtle tune is normally too quiet for the human ear to hear, but architect, artist, and arachno-phile Tomás Saraceno has spent the last seven years studying spidery behavior to accomplish just that.

The result is Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions, a new exhibition at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore that displays the sonic aspect of his research.The tiny symphonies spiders strum in the corners of our attics, woods, and abandoned buildings is made audible, and paired with three musicians for a human-arachnid duet sure to send shivers down your spine.


Saraceno's creativity often gets caught in the enigma of spider webs. With architectural and scientific experience fortifying his curiosity, the Berlin-based artist has built cloud cities, flying sculptures, and solar balloons on the foundation of his obsession with these fibers. “When cosmologists or astro-physicians were trying to explain how the universe formed, the way they were trying to describe it was through this type of cosmic web and the geometrical analogy was a tridimensional spiderweb,” he explained when we visited his Berlin studio last year. Now his findings are scuttling their way into the sound art community, thanks to three experimental musicians performing alongside the irregular acoustic rhythms.

Spider Salon: Jam session with Evan Ziporyn with Cyrtophora citricola duet on Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola, eight weeks, on September 28, 2015. Courtesy Studio Tomás Saraceno

On October 24th, NTU hosted Singapore-based artist Brian O’Reilly's jam session with the eight-legged musicians, and experimental musicans Bani Haykal and Joyce Beetuan Koh will collaborate with them on November 7 and December 2, respectively. The exhibition also includes a dedicated website, which will operate as a research platform and playful hypertext of musical tuning.

We got to chat with Saraceno about the project and his fascination with critters often relegated to Halloween decorations or objects of fear. His answers are echoed within this website’s polyphony of voices, connecting those behind the project: the artist, the scientists, the philosophers, the sound engineers, and, last but not least, the spiders. They're also what his PR representative would describe as "enigmatic," and what we would describe as "pretty much beat poetry about how rad spiders are." You can listen to an exclusive of the music here.


Tomás Saraceno. Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola-eight weeks, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

The Creators Project: How did you first become interested in spiders and spider webs?

Tomás Saraceno: Spiders are the pilots of the Aerocene, they are blind builders of a Space elevator… The cosmic web, is how we astronomers talk about how the universe as a whole presents itself and how galaxies are arranged on large scales.

What made you decide to work with real spiders and webs for this project?

The voice is dim… your ears like brooms… reverberate in your eyes… galaxies appear…

Recording of Cyrtophora citricola duet on Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola, eight weeks, 2015. Courtesy Studio Tomás Saraceno

Test Set-up to detect vibrational communication using Piezo elements, 2015. Courtesy Studio Tomás Saraceno

What kind of sound equipment are you using?

Communication can be recorded using piezoelectric pickup systems and with the help of laser vibrometers. But mainly, we search with fingery eyes, we care.

How long did it take to design and build the equipment? 

Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions developed out of a strong collaboration with spiders, arachnologists, engineers, and musicians, which started in 2008.

[Learn more about the artist's work in our documentary, 'In the Studio with Tomás Saraceno.]

Do you think spiders are misunderstood?

Assume your animality. And do so relationally: which is to say, compositionally.

Do you think people who are afraid of spiders can benefit from this work?

What does it offer them to keep the fear at bay? Knowledge of sensible realities comes to life inside the tissue of experience. It is made; and made by relations.

What have you learned about yourself from making art with spiders?


The entangled practices of knowing and being are constantly on the make, and ethics is about making.

Tomás Saraceno. Hybrid solitary, semi social musical instrument HDF 4-473.0: built by one Nephila clavipes-four weeks and a pair of Cyrtophora citricola-seven weeks, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

What was the biggest challenge you overcame for this project?

Even earth-bound animals, such as frogs, mice, snails, and worms, appear to move freely in nature. This impression is deceptive. In truth, every free-moving animal is bound to a specific habitat and it remains the task of the artist to speculate its limits.

Where do you feel it fits in to the rest of your body of work?

Spider threads in altitudes of 10,000 meters have been spotted from airplanes and it is known that they are transferred with the winds over the Himalaya. Some spiders live at heights of more than 6,000 meters. Timed air moves the room…

What's next for you as an artist?

More art!

Studio rehearsal for Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, 2015. Courtesy Studio Tomás Saraceno

Keep up with Tomás Saraceno's work on his website.


[VIDEO] Exploring Cloud Cities and Solar Balloon Travel with Tomás Saraceno

Enter the Cosmic Spiderweb Sculptures of Tomás Saraceno

Step Inside a Multicolored Sphere of Upcycled Plastic

Solar Bell Is A Flying Sculpture Powered By The Wind