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Listen to the Sweet Sounds of Slime Mold

Two artists transform the bioelectricity of microorganisms into song

(Carolina Biological/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Slime mold is pretty unassuming at first glance: It's gooey, yellow and lurks in dark and damp crevices. But a pair of artists recently captured the dynamic (though microscopic) life of slime mold, translating the electricity emitted as it grows into some spooky sounding songs.

The device—dubbed the Energy Bending Lab—records the tiny bioelectric impulses produced by microorganisms, Liz Stinson writes for Wired. A gadget called a voltage control oscillator amplifies these electrical impulses to audible sounds, which are then digitized into an eerie croon. In the last step of the process, the device’s creators, artists Leslie Garcia and Paloma Lopez, set these rhythms to melodies. 

Garcia and Lopez envision the project as a collaboration between human and slime mold, giving their songs the moniker Non-Human Rhythms.

Slime mold grows fastest in the dark, so the duo manipulated the rhythm of their gooey collaborators by changing the brightness of grow lamps. The brighter the light shines, the less the slime mold grows and the slower the downtempo beat, Stinson reports.

This surprisingly isn't slime mold's first musical appearance. Scientists initially harnessed the microvolt electricity of the mold with sound in 2012. For this experiment, researchers at Plymouth University in England coated electrodes in slime mold food, tricking it to grow over the electrodes and share its spooky song, Phys.org reported.

Even so, these rudimentary beats sound like effects from old science fiction movies compared to Garcia and Lopez's polished music. But beyond making hypnotic tunes, the duo also has scientific aspirations for the project.

"We’re looking for patterns and we think a good way to find patterns is sound," Garcia tells Stinson. "Sound lets you have a more three dimensional experience of the phenomena."

The duo hopes that the tunes will help scientists learn about how these organisms perceive their environment, writes Stinson. Who knows? Perhaps soon all biologists will be rocking out to the beat of slime mold. 

You can listen to more songs and sonic experiments by Non-Human Rhythms on their website.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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