Algorithmic bugs

24 July 2022

An exploration of an inspiration of the sounds of crickets and other related insects. As a recent emigrant to Spain, I was homesick for the springtime cacaphony American Appalachian jungle. And so, I thought, I will build myself a jungle of my own.

The project combines digital and analog electronics, electromechanical sound producers (relays, beepers, buzzers), and networking. Each ‘bug’ makes a sound (eg, a chirp), and then ‘listens’ through a shared network for chirps from neighboring bugs. Over time, through a simple yet surprisingly dynamic algorithm, the bugs slowly synchronize their chirps, then drift away from each other. In various implementations, the bugs are influenced by their surroundings: nearby radio signals, lightness/darkness, phase of the moon, backscatter of smashed atoms, Twitter happiness, and more.

first prototype with beepers, lights, and relays

second prototype with relays

artist talk on 21 June 2022

I presented ‘Exploring the music of nature through electronics and algorithms’ for the British Council’s World Music Day celebrations. This was the pitch:

John Labovitz is an artist and recent emigre to Spain. Feeling homesick for the chaotic yet musical chorus of the Appalachian jungle in the eastern US, he began exploring how crickets, birds, and other creatures perform and coordinate these ‘songs of nature’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Combining electronics, mechanics, sound & light, networks, and algorithms, he creates small systems that ask us: who are the musicians of the natural world, and how do they play their songs?

(click image to link to Facebook Live video presentation)

Facebook Live

third prototype

I have moved the hardware platform from the Raspberry Pi over to the ESP32. The ESP32 is a little more constrained, and certainly more work to program for, but also is fun to explore. And I enjoy how my software is the only thing this little ‘brain’ is thinking about, as opposed to the Raspberry Pi, which is more of a general-purpose computer with many functions.

I’ve modified the algorithm, and I think it’s not as interesting a sound as the earlier versions. If I think about it biologically, perhaps it’s a different species?

The black squares on the top/left of the board are new relays with a different sound. They are also spread out in clusters. The software knows where each cluster and each bug is, in its universe. Each bug ‘listens’ (through network signals) to what’s nearby, and tries to adapt to what it hears.