Anthesizer IV

Sound Installation
Byungkyu Lee, Romy Jiwoo Song
Opto Interruptor, LEDs, Daisy Seed, Ultracal 30 Plaster, Acrylic cylinder, Wooden panel, Aquarium sand, Epoxy Resin, Paint Spray
MaxMSP, Arduino IDE
ant sp.
Pogonomyrmex Rugosus

Ant + Synthesizer
Soundscape of an ant colony in real time

Anthesizer IV is more than just an exploration of sound; it serves as a window into the nuanced communication methods of ants.

While pheromones are their primary means of interaction, the sonification of their movement amplifies our understanding of their social dynamics. By giving voice to these creatures, the installation illuminates the rich social structure and behavior of ant colonies, giving the audience a different perspective of observing nature.

Exhibited at CALARTS EXPO 2024SOUND PEDRO 2024

Ant Colony = Human Brain?

Ants might even shed light on the complex organization of the organ we use to study them — the brain

The behavior of an ant community resembles the organization of neurons into a functioning brain, Hölldobler said. “Each neuron is relatively dumb, but if you take billions of neurons, they interact in a way that we have only scratched the surface of understanding.”

Reference: The remarkable self-organization of ants | The Guardians

Q: How simple individual interactions can give rise to complex group behaviors?

A: Three key elements transform simple interactions among individual worker ants into complex group behaviors: Epigenetic Rules, Stigmergy, Self-Organization

1. Epigenetic Rules

You can think of it as a social algorithm that individual ants follow based on their sensory inputs and interactions with their environment. These rules could consist of binary decision points that determine an ant’s behavior in response to specific stimuli or conditions.

These genetically inherited rules play active role of decentralized, but complex group behaviors in ant colonies. For instance, one binary algorithm with three successive decision points has only eight outcomes. But seven such algorithms in combination have over 2 million outcomes.

Then you might think ants are mere automatons blindly following genetic rules. But that’s not true. Ants can also learn from experience through a process called Stigmergy.


2. Stigmergy

It is a mechanism of indirect coordination in social insect colonies, where individual agents’ actions modify the environment, leaving cues or “signs” that influence the behavior of other agents. This feedback loop between action and environment drives collective behavior and self-organization.


3. Self-Organization

It refers to the spontaneous emergence of complex, coordinated behavior from the interactions of individual agents without centralized controlThis is the result of epigenetic rules and stigmergy which shows problem-solving and strong adaptation in ant colony.

Wait, but what if we can manipulate their genetics and repogram their epigenetic rules

Complex Behavior -> Algorithm

Just as many worker ants come together to form a large colony,

I wanted to use the concept of multiple simple sound elements coming together to create a complex soundscape.

The software that I am using is MaxMSP, a virtual programming environment.

First, I created a short, single-cycle noise waveform consisting of 512 samples. The value of each sample changes based on parameters such as offset and scale.

Each sample can be seen as analogous to an individual ant, where their combined movement forms a dynamic, ever-evolving waveform that resembles an active ant colony. The way these samples interact and move according to the parameters reflects the concept of Epigenetic Rules.

This patch is stolen from inspired by Umut Eldem’s Procedural Wavetable Synthesis Tutorial from his YouTube Channel Hearing Glass. All credit goes to him.

P. californicas at Placerita Canyon Nature Center

At first glance, the movement of ants appears chaotic, much like the sound and appearance of a noise. However, upon closer and longer observation, underlying patterns and rules emerge.

This makes Noise Wavetable Synthesis an ideal choice for translating the complex behavior of ants into a sound algorithm!

But there is another important element in this sound algorithm which is called, Tropical Additive Synthesis.

Tropical Additive Synthesis is distinct in that each voice influences the others.

Unlike traditional additive synthesis, where signals are simply summed together, this approach calculates the minimum value between two signals at a time. The result is then successively combined with the next signal, continually calculating the minimum value in a chain-like process.

This unique process not only creates interesting texture of sound, but also mirrors the concept of Stigmergy by having each voice influence the subsequent ones through a chain of minimum calculations, akin to how individual actions leave traces that guide the behavior of others.

I used procedural wavetable synthesis for each voice, multiplying the fundamental frequency by 2, 3, 5, and 7 to create interesting combinations of partials.

This method is devised by Giorgio Sancristoforo. Here is his academic paper, and thorough explanation by himself on his YouTube Channel. All the credit goes to him.

(Also explain MC soundscape method)

Ant-triguing Motion Interface

Unlike previous versions, Anthesizer IV does not utilize piezo microphones as sensors.

Instead, it uses opto-interrupters.

An opto-interrupter works by detecting interruptions in a light beam between an emitter and a detector, which occurs when an ant passes through and blocks the light.

I used a Daisy Seed and the Arduino IDE to interface with the opto-interrupters, LEDs, and to transmit signals to MaxMSP via serial communication using DaisyDuino. I appreciate Takumi for helping me a lot on this. All credit goes to Takumi-sensei.

Given the limited number of analog inputs on the Daisy Seed, I employed a 74HC4051 multiplexer to connect multiple opto-interrupters.

There are four nests positioned around a central outworld, interconnected with clear tubing. The clear tubing allows both audience observation and opto-interrupter detection of ant movements.

Each nest is assigned its own distinct sound algorithm, combining noise wavetable synthesis and tropical additive synthesis.

To mix the sound between the four nests, I used vector synthesis technique. When a nest is triggered, it dynamically adjusts the mixer towards the corresponding nest, altering the soundscape based on the detected movements.

The Outworld is assigned multi-channel soundscape with green LEDs in the center.

Soldered Network: Artistic Integration

Photography by Jinyeob Jung

Adding a new dimension to the project, Romy Jiwoo Song integrates her unique solder objects to envelop the nest chambers, resembling a thorn bush, which not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the installation but also symbolizes the intricate connectivity and network of the ant colony.

The metallic texture of Jiwoo’s solder objects beautifully contrasts with the gray plaster nests, accentuating the juxtaposition between nature and technology. This blend of organic and synthetic elements reinforces the theme of interconnectedness and collaboration, echoing the symbiotic relationship observed within ant societies.

Thank you

Thank you everyone who visited Anthesizer IV
@CalArts Expo 2024 @Sound Pedro 2024

I will see you next time with Anthesizer V

Until then, take care!

Photography by Abraham Perez

Link to MaxMSP and Arduino file on Github
Link to photos and videos behind the scene

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