Music of the Slime Moulds

Physarum polycephalum, hereafter referred to as Physarum goo, inhabits cool, moist, shaded areas over decaying plant matter, and it eats nutrients such as oat flakes, bacteria and dead organic matter. It is a biological computing substrate, which has been enjoying much popularity within the Unconventional Computing research community for its astonishing computational properties.”

[For a sample of its astonishing computational properties, see, for example, the work of double Ig Nobel prize winner Toshiyuki Nakagaki and his colleagues.]

If Physarum goo is capable of such feats, then perhaps, reasons professor Eduardo R. Miranda – who’s head of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) at Plymouth University, UK – it can also be harnessed to compose music? The professor presents his ideas in a paper entitled : ‘Harnessing the Intelligence of Physarum Polycephalum for Unconventional Computing-Aided Musical Composition’ in: Proceedings of 1st AISB Symposium on Music and Unconventional Computing (AISB 2013)

“This paper introduces Die Lebensfreude, a pioneering piece of music composed with the aid of an amoeba-like plasmodial slime mould called Physarum polycephalum.”

“The composition is for an ensemble of five instruments (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) and six channels of electronically synthesises sounds. The instrumental part and the synthesised sounds are musifications and sonifications, respectively, of a multi-agent based simulation of Physarum foraging for food. The slime mould, its simulation, and musifications and sonification methods are introduced in this paper. The rational [sic] for using Physarum in music is also discussed.”

Important note: Although the paper describes how Physarum goo was investigated for its potential as a compositional substrate, the musical presentation (Die Lebensfreude) was actually produced via a computer model of ‘slime agents’, rather than by the goo itself. Leaving options open for further goo-based musical research, explains the professor :

“As we move on to work with living matter, essentially we will be harnessing the intelligence of such organisms to compose music with.”

Further explorations: Physarum goo has its own website.

 






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