This is what singing slime mold sounds like

When the term “slime mold” comes up in a non-scientific context, it’s usually meant as an insult that combines two disgusting-sounding words into one powerful put-down. But people might change their view of this organism if they learned it has a beautiful singing voice.

Artist Leslie Garcia of Tijuana, Mexico, captured the sounds of a slime mold called Physarum polycephalum, a microorganism found in temperate, tropical forests that lives on decomposed organic matter, and turned it into a synthesized song.

Garcia used an electronic musical instrument of his own design called the Energy Bending Lab. The instrument creates “a real-time sonification” of the microvoltage of the slime mold and amplifies it into a mellow, electronic symphony of sound patterns.

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This slime mold can make some beautiful music. Can microorganisms also sign recording contracts? Stephen Sharnoff/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The song the machine produces is a collaboration of sorts between the slime mold and the person operating the Energy Bending Lab. Garcia told Wired Magazine he hooked electrodes up to the slime mold in a petri dish and recorded the electrical activity. Then he ran that recording through a computer and used a voltage control oscillator to vary the oscillations of the audible sound so “the aesthetic is decided by us.”

Basically, the slime mold is the musician and Garcia is the producer, except he doesn’t try to steal any royalty rights away from the slime mold by secretly altering its contract or cooking the books.

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Yamaha allows top Music Schools to audition online…

via fastcompany.com

Yamaha’s Player Piano Brings Auditions To The Cloud

Students audition for music schools on the other side of the world with cloud-connected pianos that record and re-create how they played.

Getting into a top music school like UCLA (where John Williams studied) or Boston College (where conductor Robert J. Ambrose studied) requires more than a demo tape. Tiny nuances distinguish the very top musicians from the merely great ones, and judges really need to hear and see an audition in person to tell the difference.

Piano maker Yamaha has convinced 20 U.S. schools, so far, to conduct in-person auditions without the actual person, using a line of Internet-connected player pianos called Disklavier. This allows students from as far away as China to audition for U.S. universities and conservatories, and use the same recorded performance—stored in Yamaha’s cloud network—for applications to multiple schools.

The Disklavier line of pianos may, at first glance, seem a bit gimmicky. It uses MIDI—a digital encoding system for musical instruments—to play back a performance recorded on another Disklavier (or on the same piano earlier). During playback, the piano keys depress and the pedals move up and down as if the instrument were possessed.

These pianos are extremely precise. On the top-end Disklavier PRO models (with list prices starting around $100,000), pedal positions are measured with optical sensors and reproduced with piston-like solenoids on up to a 256-level gradient (an 8-bit level of detail). The speed of the hammers striking the strings is measured and re-created at 1024 levels (a 10-bit level).

“A lot of intersecting musical parameters would result in a response from a listener,” says George Litterst, a music instructor who runs Yamaha’s online audition program, called Disklavier Education Network, or DEN. Take tempo. “Even when we perceive it to be steady,” he says, “there is a certain sense of ebb and flow.” Rubato—Italian for “stolen time”—refers to the slight speeding up or slowing of tempo for artistic effect.

While music schools are starting to use audio and video recordings to evaluate prospects who can’t afford to fly in for an audition, it’s hard to get a nuanced recording from a piano. “It’s just a difficult beast to record,” he says, requiring careful placement of microphones and adjustment of audio levels—not the kinds of things a typical student can do at home. The quality of the playback equipment at schools varies, too.

Yamaha’s DEN audition system also records a silent video of the player, which is synched to the MIDI file on the piano. “It becomes almost a virtual reality experience, as if you’ve beamed the student into your space and they are playing right in front of you,” says Litterst. “You very quickly lose track of the fact that the body of the performer is not on the stage.”

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