A fungus is to duet with a piano at an upcoming arts festival. The Physarum polycephalum mold responds to music in what the pianist calls a creative way.
It’s the work of Professor Eduardo Miranda, who specialises in the crossover between music and science, His previous work includes a collaboration between a traditional string quartet and four computers generating music from brain information via electrode caps. Another project included a computer playing a piano not by striking the keys, but by remotely activating electromagnets placed inside the piano to directly vibrate the strings.
Miranda’s latest project, titled Biocomputer Music, involves growing cultures of the fungus on a circuit board. The resulting mold is able to contribute to the performance because it has the same electrical property as a memristor: its resistance changes over times based on the voltage that passes through it.
The mold forms part of the biocomputer, which as with the previous project, activates the electromagnets to vibrate the strings. The performance will be based around a call and response pattern. The idea is that Miranda will play a prepared sequence of notes, which are fed into the biocomputer. The computer will try to repeat it, but it will differ in two ways.
Firstly the sound will be different because the strings are directly vibrated, creating an effect the BBC describes as ethereal. Secondly, there’ll be some variation in the notes and pitch because of the effects of the mold’s varying resistance.
Miranda will then in turn respond to the biocomputer’s output, setting up a lengthy sequence of exchanges. Exactly how the music will develop should fall somewhere between controlled and predictable, and completely random.