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Slime Mold + Algorithms = Music

This bio artist made slime mold a composer, and it sounds like the robot apocalypse.
July 24, 2015, 6:00pm

Spanish artist Oscar Martin loves his slime mold. So he decided to grow some, sync it up to computer software, and create music that sounds, well, a bit like the robot apocalypse.

"I like to explore and create new musical codes that produce alternative perceptions, experiences, thoughts, and emotions," Martin told me. "I do this with the help of microorganisms and algorithms that open us up to non-anthropocentric sensibilities."

Martin first discovered experimental sound art as a student at the School of Fine Arts at the Valencia Polytechnic University in Spain. Later he developed an interest in biological systems, software and open source culture. He decided to mash all these infrastructures together to produce what he calls "new knowledge," with transhumanist undertones.

His creation, dubbed the "bionic sound machina | no human composer" (BSM_NHC_v0.1) is made from a colony of physarum polycephalum (slime mold) that resembles sprawling yellow branches, genetic algorithms intended to mimic natural selection, and electronic devices that read the signals from the physarum's response to light and sound stimuli.


Oscar Martin

Martin explained in an email that a colony of physarum, like all organisms, generates electricity. "The colony responds to external stimuli, which in this case are light and sounds. [...] ," said Martin. "We can read the colony's electrical signals with a sensor/sound amplifier."

Martin describes the sounds as something of a "non-human aesthetic taste."

The main idea is that the physarum colony and the genetic algorithm software on the computer interact. The algorithms generate sound and light based on their readings of the physarum colony's electrical signals, which in turn supposedly respond to the sound and light.

"The main idea is to allow two elements to receive feedback from each other—in this case, a colony of physarum polycephalum and a software based on genetic algorithms. The two elements are going to evolve by interchanging information," he said.

The result is a strangely cacophonous orchestra of bleeping noise and blinkering lights. Martin describes the sounds as something of a "non-human aesthetic taste."

"For BSM_NHC_v0.1, I introduced a form of life (a colony of slime mold) that possesses a series of very interesting behaviours given its ability for collective intelligence, ability to self-organize," he said. Slime mold is a single-cell organism that is known to live by itself, but aggregates and moves together when food is scarce.

"On one hand, I'm interested in learning how other 'intelligent organisms' function by themselves, and in relation to others."

In his installation, according to Martin, the colony of physarum selects the sounds that it "likes" the most, or that "alters" it the most. He expects after a certain period of time to end up with a collection of sounds that have "evolved based on [the colony's] tastes and criterias."

"It's almost a contradiction or an absurdity to speak of a non-human taste, but it's a way to for me to play with some questions: Can an organism like a physarum develop a sonic or musical sensitivity?" he said.

"How far can a bio/software system evolve?"