Truce at Spark (2009):
In their seminal paper “Flying in Tune: Sexual recognition in mosquitoes,” University of Greenwich researchers Gabriella Gibson and and Ian Russell note an inspiring phenomenon: To find a partner of the right species type, male and female mosquitoes rely on their ability to “sing” in tune.
Mosquitoes vary the buzzing sounds they produce by changing the frequency of their wing beats in flight. Through this phenomenon, male mosquitos synchronize to female wing beats to within a millisecond or less, allowing a harmonized buzz and mid-ﬂight copulation. Truce mediates the mosquitoes’ natural synchronization behavior by analyzing a mosquitoes buzz, and inserting a computer generated voice into the equation. Through reciprocal musical interaction between insect and machine, Truce engages the mosquito in song.
Driven by audio analysis of a mosquito's buzz, the computer produces a vocal sound derived from the North Indian classical vocal tradition of Dhrupad. Each of our three mosquitoes independently tune their buzz to the computer generated voice. Triggered by the buzz, the computer produces three separate electronic voices — one for each mosquito — at the same pitch. These three electronic voices move in and out of harmony with one another depending on the insects’ ability to remain in sync with the stimulus sound.
Each mosquito is equipped with:
-A loudspeaker that delivers the Dhrupad stimulus sound
-A microphone to pick up the mosquitoes’ buzz
-A camera for giving us a closer look at the insects on-screen
-A wire that holds the mosquito in a tethered position that allows wing flapping while remaining -stationary
-A muscle-wire driven contraction that contracts to let the mosquito rest every few minutes
-A light bulb that brightens/dims with respect to the loudness of the mosquito's buzz
Truce relies on the assumption that every living thing uses its environment as a tool to perform cognitive tasks. As such, our environment becomes a direct extension of the cognitive process. It effectively opens up the physical shell of our minds to include a much wider field of interaction.
With this externalist philosophy in mind, we envision Truce as a computing environment in which an artificial stimulus is, in turn, interpreted by the natural activity of living creatures. In this unique environment, the interaction between mosquito and machine brings forth musical motives and harmonies that we experience poetically as circular insect-machine love song.
Truce is made in collaboration with Robin Meier.