Have you made it this far into 2023 without a mushroom crossing your path? It’s hard to imagine. Perhaps the latest addition to your coffee shop's menu, a sneaky vegan burger or in one of the many mushroom supplement brands popping up. Mushrooms continue to hold their reign in the spotlight, this time for a very obscure reason.
Biodata sonification; there isn’t a single "discovery" date of it, but you can trace its history back to the mid-20th century when early electronic music pioneers and
researchers began exploring ways to represent data as sound. Nowadays it has evolved from its purely research use into enjoyment and fascination.
A quick search on any social media platform will reveal accounts reaching millions of views for their videos of mushroom music, this movement doesn't stop there, there are even concerts and guided walks to experience these bizarre sounds for yourself.
Let’s take a quick step back and learn what these noises are and how they are made.
What is Biodata Sonification?
Biodata sonification is a captivating fusion of science, technology, and art that revolves around a fundamental concept: the transformation of biological data, derived from living organisms, into audible sounds or music.
At its core, biodata sonification breathes life into raw biological information by translating it into sonic landscapes. This transformation goes beyond mere data visualization, engaging our auditory senses to help us perceive, understand, and appreciate complex biological phenomena. The result is a symphony of sound that reflects the hidden rhythms and patterns within the living world.
Before you start pressing your ear to mushrooms hoping to groove along, it's crucial to understand that the mushrooms themselves do not inherently produce these sounds. Instead, it is the skilled musician or artist who takes the raw biological data, such as electrical signals, and carefully selects synthesis techniques and parameters to convert that data into the mesmerizing and otherworldly noises we hear.
Let’s meet the creative mavericks giving us mushroom music
“At these events we tap into the bioelectric changes of flora and fungi by translating electrical changes into cv and gate signal synthesizers…” Tarun Nayar, a modern biologist, guides mushroom-music field trips across the world (this autumn in Stockholm, London, and Amsterdam). With an overall social media following close to 1 million his videos reach tens of millions of views. And it’s not hard to see why;
“I recorded this track with a red-belted conk – a shelf fungus that was growing on an old fir tree in the forest near my house. I love the idea of composing with decomposers – and took my modular synthesizer setup into the woods for an early spring session. I used the bioelectricity of the mushroom to inform the main synth lead line by using small changes in conductivity to trigger note changes in the synth. I then went back to the studio and used other odds and ends (and some field recordings) to make a song out of this mushroom recording. I was actually out in the forest recording mushrooms for an upcoming Earth Day NFT project with the well-known artist Fvckrender. I was so happy with the way the recordings went that I decided I should release a version of the music as an actual song. When I got back to the studio and started layering in basslines and supporting pads - I became pretty fixated on the idea of this as a single.”
Meet another social media star who experiments on an array of fungi: Mycolyco
The world renowned mycologist, author and advocate, Paul Stamets has also dabbled in this. Overall, his work has had a significant impact on our understanding of the vital roles fungi play in the natural world and their potential applications in various fields.
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The link to the mushroom renaissance
Biodata sonification is more than just a scientific curiosity; it's a bridge to help people connect with mushrooms in a simple and enjoyable way. It allows us to explore the hidden rhythms and patterns within the living world while avoiding the stereotypes that often surround mushrooms. In doing so, it encourages open-mindedness and a deeper appreciation of these remarkable organisms.
A final word
biodata sonification serves as more than just a scientific curiosity; it's a bridge connecting people to mushrooms in a simple and enjoyable way. It allows us to explore the hidden rhythms and patterns within the living world, all while steering clear of the stereotypes that have long surrounded mushrooms. Through this unique lens, we encourage open-mindedness and foster a deeper appreciation for the fascinating and bizarre world of fungi.