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Dirty Beats: Hear Music Generated from Bacteria

The Interspecifics Collective sits on the intersection between nature, science, and art.
Bacteria: Physarum polycephalum. All images courtesy of the artists

Germs aren't usually the first things that come to mind during conversations about music. The Interspecifics Collective, however, a self-described “nomadic multispecies collectivity” in Mexico City, might change that.

Long interested in the relationship between science and art, their past work has included explorations into signal communication between plants and biological effects of acoustics on a living organism. Now, they've translated the bio-electrical activity of different organisms (such as slime mould and E. Coli) into sound for a project called Energy Bending Lab. They explain on their blog: “Microbial fuel cells harness the power of bacteria and convert energy released in metabolic reactions into electrical energy… the bacteria break down food wastes and sewage to generate an electric current and continue to replicate producing power indefinitely as long as there is a food source from which get nourished [sic].” The lab then uses very specific sound equipment to harness the electrical energy already found in the bacteria in order to amplify its sonic qualities.


Phychip teaser from LessNullVoid on Vimeo.

They then convert these sounds into recordings known as "Non-Human Rhythms" and post them online. In an e-mail, they state, “the object explores the relationship between waveforms, matter, and the physical form of frequencies, seeking a pattern-based understanding of our context to illustrate the underlying order within the universe and human consciousness that appears to be intimately related to vibration.”


Full Energy Bending Lab module (amplification, Voltage control oscillators,  voltage dividers, serial interface, midi and vco controllers)

"Non–Human Rhythms One," made from bacterial consortiums, starts with a deep tone, much like what you hear inside an airplane, that seems to grow in intensity as if building suspense for something in a movie. It's interrupted occasionally by what sounds like glass falling, the pluck of a musical string, the jingle of coins, or a rev of cartoon engines. Eventually, a heartbeat-like rhythm emerges even deeper in tone than the main line of sound that soon turns into a more hollow drum-beat, as though someone is banging on a bucket very far away. 30 minutes long, the sound develops and changes in tone and pitch, but that original low rumble remains. It's eerie at first, but could be interpreted as ultimately comforting and relaxing in its rhythm, depth, and complexity. Other tracks, like the ones made from slime mould in "Non-Human Rhythms Two" vary in personality, but all retain a recognizable electronic sound that is juxtaposed with the constant reminder that this comes from nature.


Although specifically named and described as intentionally non-human, it’s difficult not to try and explain it in human terms. The project starkly reminds the listener of the intimate part that electricity, which is normally associated with man-made technology, plays in nature.

Click here to learn more about The Interspecifics Collective.


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