I was blown away when I first heard about a project that tried to tap into the electromagnetic communication potential of mushrooms. Using wires, radio waves and circuits — not psychedelics — the project's off-kilter quest to find (and listen to) "electromagnetic fungi" was nonetheless more art than science. But who says mushrooms have the right to remain silent?
The overall idea was that we could use technology to extract sounds embedded in the biological world — or compressed there, we might say, to use the language of MP3s — tapping into living systems that would not normally be thought of as sonic resources.
But — hey — it's a fair question: why not tune into the sounds of mushrooms or listen to mould the way you might listen to a radio? It's weird as hell but surely there's only something to be gained.
Think of it as Fungal FM: a grotesque, scientifically unnecessary, but utterly mind-bending way to eavesdrop on nature's silent signals, tunes sparking and firing through the organisms of the world around you.
A more recent project — by a group calling itself Mycophone — sought to tap into the sounds of mould spores and mushrooms in an equally artistic but somewhat more technically applied way.
Mycophone used an utterly nutso-looking custom music box, signal processors, and what appear to be contact microphones, all woven and wired up into a mixing board for sonic spores.
The result is what they describe as "a new kind of biotech organism," a kind of acoustic creature "that makes sounds like many biological organisms do." Except this one purrs.
That's right: "If you pet it on its hairy mycelia fur," they add, "its voice changes... it could be said that it starts to purr."
So, sure, we're basically talking about people — grown adults — standing around and touching mould, jacking headphones into myco-electrical mixing boards, and making music from the experience, grooving out as mushrooms purr into their headphones, turning living fungi into a personal hi-fi set.
But it's delirious and awesome — a technological experience so eccentric it is indistinguishable from drugs — as if we've somehow now found a way to zoom down into the deep world of life only to find a humming soundtrack there, living and evolving amidst the splitting of cells and the roots of trees, a radio dreaming biological songs for those of us who know how to tune in.