Bacterial Orchestra at Takt Gallery in Berlin (2007).


Bacterial Orchestra (2006)

A self-organizing evolutionary musical organism. A world wide sound pandemic in the making.


Bacterial Orchestra (2006) is a self-organizing evolutionary musical organism. The installation consists of several audio cells. Every cell listens to its surroundings and picks up sounds, trying to play together in a musical way. The musical material comes from the background noise, people talking or sounds played by other cells.

If you happen to be in the same room as Bacterial Orchestra – interact with it. The complexity of the generated sound doesn’t come from the mechanism of every single cell, but from their interactions. The music is played by the organism as a whole. Listen to the orchestra, not to its members.

Every cell has a unique DNA. Only the ones that are musical fit enough survives. If the surroundings doesn’t meet up to its conditions – too noisy, too quiet or no distinct pulse – the cell dies and is reborn with a new set of DNA.

The result is a musical organism adapting to its environment, growing and evolving with neighbouring cells and spectators.

Bacterial Orchestra is a musical installation. It’s built around a number of autonomous cells communicating exclusively through audio.

The idea is simple. Every unit consists of a microphone and a loudspeaker. A cell is born with a set of random parameters (its DNA) determining how to respond to its surroundings.

It triggers on peaks in the audio volume. At the first peak it starts recording, at the second it stops. Then the cell plays the sound – using the time between the two peaks to calculate the rhythm. Then it starts listening again.

Simultaneously the cell remembers the melodic phrases it hears, and use that information when playing back tones.

If a cell is born with a DNA that makes it unable to trigger – it dies from starvation and is reborn with a new set of parameters. Similarly a cell receiving too strong triggers dies from over stimulation. Only cells responding well to the current environment will survive, in a Darwinistic fashion. That way the whole installation evolves and becomes smarter and smarter – in a musical sense.

Every cell is simple, but together they create a complex whole.

The installation and the ideas behind it can be traced from different areas such as chaos theory, self-organizing systems and neural networks. Bacterial Orchestra is a musical organism that gets smarter. The communication between the cells can be compared with the communication between neurons in the brain, ants in an anthill, Miles Davis and John Coltrane – and other organizing systems.

Since the cells communicate exclusively through audio, Bacterial Orchestra can be scaled to any size. It can be built around 20, 40 or even hundreds of groovy little musical cells – if hosted on several separate computers.

The goal? A world wide sound pandemic, of course.