Interspecies communication: Mycelium to Midi installation

Mycelium to MIDI • interspecies communication May 12th, 2018 University of Toronto. Sidney Smith Hall, Rm 1070

“Bio-sonification,” basically means using technology to turn the bio-rhythms of natural objects into sound.

Biodata Sonification is a process to translate complex real-time sensor data into musical notes and controls, exploring the auditory sensory modality to provide insights into invisible phenomenon.

As an artist, I am interested in how all things sense and communicate.
As a child, I was fascinated by microscopic life. Rather than play with Barbies you would find me covered in mud playing in a local creek bed, often bringing home tadpoles to watch them evolve into frogs, or in amongst the Salicornia pacifica aka Pickleweed growing along the coastal salt marshes searching for insects or collecting marsh water to bring home and look at under my microscope.

Lace lichen from the California Lichen Society

Hiking through the mountains around our home where moss, lichens and mushrooms grew on rocks and decaying wood under the Redwoods, oaks, and Douglas fir. My favourite lichen being the California state lichen, Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii). Though it would be decades later I would make the connection between Lace lichen and Earnst Haeckel inspiring my sculptural work and jewelry!

During this time (it was the 70’s!) every week it seemed, my father would come home from work with a new electronic music album; Tomita, Klaus Schultz, Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon, Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon (Buchla!), Micheal Hoenig, etc., etc. I was well versed in electronic music during my formative years! -thanks, dad.
I knew that someday I too would be creating electronic music, at least for myself to enjoy.

In my work I have looked towards green alternatives when it comes to chemicals I might work with. I really started thinking about ‘green’ alternatives in 1993 when a mentor, Master Goldsmith, Phil Poirier suggested I use citric acid as a pickling agent in my metal work. Bioremediation being in my periphery.

Directly connecting to our surrounding biology.

Electrodes are attached to non-human organisms, and they pick up subtle fluctuations in galvanic conductance on the surface of these organisms. These fluctuations are translated to MIDI using technology based off of Cusumano’s original MIDI Sprout. Through sampling pulse widths and identifying fluctuations, MIDI note and control messages are generated, which are then sent into analogue and digital synthesizers.
I was so excited by my first experiments of attaching electrodes onto Mycelium (I started growing this particular Mycelium in February 2018) that I immediately wanted to share it with everyone! This spawned the Midnight Mushroom Music Podcast. And I am wholly devoted! Every Saturday night at 23:00/11pm EST a new episode goes live through the Mycelium Network.

This June thru August Midnight Mushroom Music will stream from Iceland where I intend to collaborate with lichen, moss and other life forms residing on that magical island.

Midnight Mushroom Music on iTunes:

Midnight Mushroom Music Playlist on SoundCloud:

Nanotopia would like to thank:


Sarah Choukah:

Leif Bloomquist:

Paul Stamets:

Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets:
“At the quantum level, there is no difference between
biology and physics. No difference at all. You talk about
spores. What are they? They are the progenitors of
panspermia. They are the building blocks of energy
across the universe. Physics and biology?
No; physics as biology.”
– Paul Stamets

Shane Boland over at Ecovative:

Pati Tozer, Artist/face model:

Sam Cusumano creator of the original Midi Sprout:

Manuel Domke Builds Bio-sonification boards, sells components. I work directly with Manuel. He sends me parts, pre-flashed chips, & if/when pre-soldered surface mount components.:

Andreas Siagian: Bio Synth concept.

Guttman Laboratory of
Pathogen Genomics & Evolution:

Graduate Student:
Tim Lo,

Lab Technician:
Maggy Middleton,

Mycelium mask

Mushrooms belong to a group of organisms called fungi. All living things are divided into 5 Kingdoms, one of which is the Fungal Kingdom.

Hyphae: Each of the branching filaments that make up the mycelium of a fungus. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi.
Inoculation: When mycelium is added to substrate, the substrate is “inoculated” and the mycelium starts to spread and grow throughout.
Mycelium: Is the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae (sort of like the roots of a plant). Fungal colonies composed of mycelium are found in and on soil and many other substrates. These tiny inter-weaving fibres bind the material together.
Mycelia: Plural form of mycelium.
Substrate: This is the growing media that the mycelium digests and binds together. It is typically composed of a blend of agricultural byproducts such as seed husks and plant stalks.
The Mycelium we are collaborating with use Flax as a substrate.
• The life cycle of a fungus begins as a spore (the reproductive body) that grows when conditions are just right. Out of the spore wall grows a hypha that looks like a clear, microscopic fingertip.
• The body of the fungus is made up of a network of hyphal threads collectively called the mycelium. The mycelium grows in soil or within dead wood or living organisms. When growing conditions are favourable, the mycelium develops fruiting bodies, appearing as what we recognize as mushrooms or as other forms. Unlike members of the Plant Kingdom that use chlorophyll to utilize the energy from the sun to produce their own food, fungi do not have chlorophyll and must obtain their food from other sources. Fungi find nutrition doing one of or a combination of four things:

1. Fungi act as parasites and feed on living things, usually doing some degree of harm. Parasitic fungi use enzymes to break down tissues. Examples: the “Honey Mushroom” (Armillariella mellea) and the “Cauliflower Mushroom” (Sparassis crispa).

2. Fungi form beneficial partnerships (symbiosis) with other organisms such as trees and flowering plants:
a. Ectomycorrhizal fungi grow thick coats of mycelia around the rootlets of trees and bring water and minerals from the soil into the roots. In return the host tree supplies the fungus with sugars, vitamins and other root substances. Examples: the Bolete Family associated with many species of conifer trees, aspen and birch, and the “Dead Man’s Foot” (Pisolithus tinctorius) which helps many plants grow.

b. Endomycorrhizal fungi are microscopic soil fungi and penetrate the cells of plant roots. This relationship may be beneficial to both parties or may be harmful to one of them.

3. Fungi decompose dead plant and animal matter. Called saprophytes, they act as recyclers of dead organic matter, obtaining food from this material. Hyphal tips release enzymes that eventually decompose and release organic materials into the surrounding environment. Saprophytic fungi appear on dead trees, logs, plant litter such as leaves, and even dead insects and animals. Examples: “Gem-studded Puffball” (Lycoper- don perlatum) and the “Turkey Tail” (Trametes versicolor).

4. Fungi break down inorganic matter such as rocks in order to obtain nutrients. It was recently
reported by Dr. Torguy Unestram of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Uppsala
that fungal hyphae, along with bacteria, dissolve rock to release nutrients.
Mycelium is vital in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for their role in the decomposition of plant
material. They contribute to the organic fraction of soil, and their growth releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Ectomycorrhizal extramatrical mycelium, as well as the mycelium of Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increase the efficiency of water and nutrient absorption of most plants and confers resistance to some plant pathogens. Mycelium is an important food source for many soil invertebrates.
One of the primary roles of fungi in an ecosystem is to decompose organic compounds.
Petroleum products and some pesticides (typical soil contaminants) are organic molecules (i.e., they are built on a carbon structure), and thereby present a potential carbon source for fungi. Hence, fungi have the potential to eradicate such pollutants from their environment unless the chemicals prove toxic to the fungus. This biological degradation is a process known as bioremediation.
Mycelial mats have been suggested (Paul Stamets) as having potential as biological filters, removing chemicals and microorganisms from soil and water. The use of fungal mycelium to accomplish this has been termed mycofiltration. Myco-remediation.
Since 2007, a company called Ecovative Design has been developing alternatives to polystyrene and plastic packaging by growing mycelium in agricultural waste. The two ingredients are mixed together and placed into a mold for 3–5 days to grow into a durable material. Depending on the strain of mycelium used, they make many different varieties of the material including water absorbent, flame retardant, and dielectric.


MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The development of the MIDI system has been a major catalyst in music technology. The system first appeared in 1982 following an agreement among manufacturers and developers of electronic musical instruments to include a common set of hardware connectors and digital codes in their instrument design. In 1983, the MIDI 1.0 Specification was formally released by the International MIDI Association* as Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai and Sequencial Circuits all came out with MIDI-capable instruments that year. A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device.

The original goal was to connect or interface instruments of different manufacture to control common functions, such as note events, timing events, pitch bends, pedal information, etc. A note, patch change or pedal applied to one instrument would have the same effect on another connected via MIDI cables, even if it was of a different brand. As microcomputers, such as the Apple II became available, it wasn’t long before instruments were hooked up through a MIDI interface to the computer as well as each other. This allowed programmers to write MIDI sequencing and editor/librarian software.

MIDI technology was standardized in 1983 by a panel of music industry representatives, and is maintained by the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA). All official MIDI standards are jointly developed and published by the MMA in Los Angeles, and the MIDI Committee of the Association of Musical Electronics Industry (AMEI) in Tokyo. In 2016, the MMA established the MIDI Association (TMA) to support a global community of people who work, play, or create with MIDI.

“…I’ve been having a MIDI-life crisis.” – David Bowie (Romona A. Stone/I am with name.)

Mycelium disrupting video via Midi-Max/msp

P. polycephalum, aka Slime Mould, is a single celled Eukaryotic organism that grows in the understory or damp, dark places (i.e. rotting material). It is typically yellow in colour and consumes other microorganisms, such as fungal spores and bacteria. Slime mould is sensitive to light, although this is what triggers spores to be produced. With a tendency to be very easy to cultivate in the lab, it is used to study mitosis, streaming/cell motility (the movement), and basal forms of intelligence.
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Myxomycota
Class: Myxomycetes
Subclass: Endosporeae
Order: Physarales
Family: Physaraceae
Genus: Physarum
Species: Physarum polycephalum
Note: Some scientists are now classifying this organism in the kingdom Protista because of the way it moves around and feeds.

The dominant phase in the life cycle of Physarum polycephalum is a giant, diploid macroplasmodium (1) which can reach sizes of several cm2 and is capable of amoeboid movement. The organism forages in the damp, dark soil and feeds on dead organic matter. It forms a transportation network of veins in which a vigorous shuttle streaming of cytoplasm can be observed.
When exposed to light and lack of food, the macro plasmodium differentiates into fruiting bodies (sporangia, 2) in which innumerable haploid spores are formed. The spores are globular, with a diameter of about 8 to 11 μm, displaying tiny spikes on the surface. Within each spore there is a single, uninucleate myxamoeba which hatches in the presence of water (3).
Myxamoeba of different mating types can fuse and form a cell with two nuclei in a process called plasmogamy. The two haploid nuclei are now together within the same cell. These two nuclei will then fuse, creating a diploid zygote with one diploid nucleus. The zygote grows while the nucleus undergoes multiple mitotic divisions. A specific feature of acellular slime moulds is that the nuclei divide many times, but the cell does not divide. The result is a multinucleate cell of considerable size with amoeboid characteristics. From this zygote (4), the young plasmodium originates and grows into a large macroplasmodium.
A recent topic of interest and study, this organism has been found to have a form of external memory. As the mould grows and pulsates throughout its environment, it leaves behind a trail of slime marking where it has been (hence the name). When exploring a petri dish, it would not double back to where it has already been before. With no real brain or any way to internalize information, this organism essentially remembers or is reminded of where it has already been
when it encounters its own slime again. This type of navigation can be likened to that of the pheromone trails used by ants or bees. Through experimentation, it has been found that slime mould can solve mazes and u-shaped traps to successfully locate a food source. The BLOBfungi

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