When the term “slime mold” comes up in a non-scientific context, it’s usually meant as an insult that combines two disgusting-sounding words into one powerful put-down. But people might change their view of this organism if they learned it has a beautiful singing voice.
Artist Leslie Garcia of Tijuana, Mexico, captured the sounds of a slime mold called Physarum polycephalum, a microorganism found in temperate, tropical forests that lives on decomposed organic matter, and turned it into a synthesized song.
Garcia used an electronic musical instrument of his own design called the Energy Bending Lab. The instrument creates “a real-time sonification” of the microvoltage of the slime mold and amplifies it into a mellow, electronic symphony of sound patterns.
This slime mold can make some beautiful music. Can microorganisms also sign recording contracts? Stephen Sharnoff/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis
The song the machine produces is a collaboration of sorts between the slime mold and the person operating the Energy Bending Lab. Garcia told Wired Magazine he hooked electrodes up to the slime mold in a petri dish and recorded the electrical activity. Then he ran that recording through a computer and used a voltage control oscillator to vary the oscillations of the audible sound so “the aesthetic is decided by us.”
Basically, the slime mold is the musician and Garcia is the producer, except he doesn’t try to steal any royalty rights away from the slime mold by secretly altering its contract or cooking the books.
Garcia could also change the rhythm of the sound by exposing the microorganism to different stimuli. Since slime molds are photophobic, or sensitive to light, shining a light on the mold during a recording can alter the rhythm’s pace.
Garcia has a loftier goal in mind with his slime-mold music besides just showing the world that he can teach microorganisms how to belt out a tune.
“The object [or Energy Bending Lab] 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,” according to Garcia’s website.
This isn’t the first time a microorganism gotten a chance to make its own music. CNET reported earlier this year on composer Eduardo Miranda, who used an iPad loaded with specially designed software and the sounds of fungus cultures to compose his own “Biocomputer Music.”
Take a listen to Garcia’s duet with the slime mold below. It sounds like a weird mix between something produced by Philip Glass on a whole of downers and a depressed Daft Punk. That’s meant to be a compliment.