The Music of the Microbiome Questions our Identity as Humans

Microbiome music mycophone

Slovenian artists Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj and Anil Podgornik explore the meaning of human identity by letting their microbiome play music. 

Have you ever wondered what the microbes that live in and on you would tell you if you listened to them? A group of Slovenian artists decided to let their own microbes make music, building a device called the Mycophone that the artists describe as a biohacked music box that lets the microorganisms produce sound. What’s even cooler, the artists assure that when you pet their hairy mycelia, their voice changes and produces a sort of purr.

This extravagant idea was developed by an interdisciplinary team composed of Saša Spačal, a multimedia artist and graphic designer; Mirjan Švagelj, who has a PhD in Biomedicine; and Anil Podgornik, an electronics and physics enthusiast.

Their work brings us closer to beings that are part of ourselves, and without which we couldn’t live. Bacteria and fungi have been historically linked to dirt and disease, but in the last decade, a whole field of microbiome research has emerged, studying the essential role microbes living in our gut and on our skin play in our health. Some are even studying how to make them help us fight cancer or treat Crohn’s disease.

After building the Mycophone, the artists decided to take it one step further and use it as an instrument to question our identity. The result, Mycophone_unison, is an installation that makes visitors interact directly with the microbiome of the artists.

In the corner of the table sit three petri dishes with bacteria and mold growing in them. These microbes come from the artists themselves through samples from their own bodies. At the other side there’s a fingerprint that, when pressed, sends the signal to the device to transform the combined signals of the microbes into sound.

Thus, Mycophone_unison therefore presents the human not as a single entity, but many, each with its own rythm, though at the same time connected to each other to create life. Microorganisms and humans working together, blurring the boundaries that seemed so clear years ago. Questioning the anthropocentric view of the world that dominates our culture.

The artist trio keeps working on exploring our relationship with microbes and presenting their work in exhibitions across Europe. Their next stop is at Art Laboratory Berlin, where they will exhibit their latest work from the 30th of September to the 26th of November.

All visual material via Mycophone

Explore other topics: BioArtMicrobiome

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