P-ART JOURNAL

52

 

LISTENING TO LIVING CELLS

AUDIO MICROSCOPE by Joe Davis and Katie Egan (USA) allows the observer to image particular living cells while simultaneously listening to their greatly amplified- and species-specific-microacoustic signatures.

During the Festival ARS ELECTRONICA 2000 (Linz, Austria), Joe Davis and Katie Egan were invited to present their "sound and video library" of wild protist cultures collected in their so called "microbial farm".

Artist Joe Davis: "Experimenting with spectrum analysis, I found that slightly different acoustic signatures corresponded to slightly different species of microorganisms. The signatures of a given species however tend to be uniquely distinct to that species. So as it turns out, the two plants of the same species must indeed 'sing the same song', unless perhaps the Ecuadorian brujo knows of some exceptional organism unlike those we have observed to date. "

What 's about this Ecuadorian link?

A pre-med student returned from South America where she had carried on field work in the Ecuadorian rain forest. There she had encountered a Native American brujo or "medicine man". The brujo had told her that a given species of plant in the mountains sings a different song than the same species of plant in the valley. The student wanted to know if it was possible to "listen" to plant cells.

All acoustic phenomena, including "sound", are the result of mechanical movements of physical objects within or upon steel, air, water, etc.. In the case of "sound", the movement of physical objects occurs at or close to audio frequency so that the resulting waves or pattern of waves passing through an acoustic medium do so at audio frequency. When these audio frequency waves impinge on the human listening apparatus (the inner ear), the result is that "sound" is perceived in the human brain.

"At the time, there were to my knowledge no existing microphones of sufficient sensitivity to register microacoustic signatures of individual (microscopic) cells. The function of conventional microphones generally depends on the mechanical motion of crystals or diaphragms that react to impinging sound waves. Sound waves generated by individual cells or microorganisms are simply too weak to effect such movements in mechanical listening apparatus."

Referring to the ground-breaking invention of A.Graham Bell's "sensor converters", Joe Davis used optical detectors and specially illuminated stages and microscope slides that allow only light reflected from the surfaces of specimens to enter the objective lens of microscopes . "These optical signals are then transduced into electrical signals via detectors mounted on the microscope eyepiece. The electrical signals are subsequently routed through more or less conventional audio equipment so that they may then be perceived as sound in the brain of the observer. "

Last but not least, I still believe the medicine man in his words that plants in the mountains sing a different song than their "brothers and sisters" in the valley.

Extented introduction of Joe Davis' NEXT SEX INSTALLATION , "audio microscopie," is available at: http://kultur.aec.at/.

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