Tag Archive for: sensors

An Evening of Mushroom Delights

Maria Finn is one of my favorite people. This summer she took me on a huckleberry foraging trip at a secret spot that was at, well, secret. She told me nature stories, we laughed a lot, went swimming in a lake, and I came home with several cups of huckleberries that I used for infusions.

A few weeks ago, we collaborated on Fungitopia, which was an evening of food, conversation and art that combined her talents as a chef and storyteller along with my work: a sound installation that generated “Mushroom Music” from the electrical activity of mycelium.


We packed people into my home studio at Xenoform Labs and sold out the event. Folks left feeling satiated, informed and excited about the sound installation.

Maria concocted a tasty evening of mushroom delights such as  a mushroom-centric grazing table, mushroom pizza, infused bourbon and even a desert.

But what impressed me the most was her talk on how truffle have seduced humans.The culture with the longest recorded use of desert truffles were the Bedouins of the Negev desert, who refer to desert truffles as “the thunder fungus”. Science now shows that lightning may pull hydrogen from the air and deposit it into the earth, helping truffles grow. Truffles were revered by Etruscans, considered aphrodisiacs by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and outlawed as “witches stones” during the Middle Ages.

She also talked about how by training a truffle dog, she is learning how scent moves through the forest and how she is developing a language with her dog that is teaching her to be more connected with the animal and plant world. Plus, her dog, Flora Jane, is adorable.

I decided to use the name Fungitopia for my future sound installation, which is currently a work-in-progress. What this video shows is my first generation of it and what I plan to do is to develop a slowly-changing soundscape, where new instruments will play and old instruments will fade out, so that it shifts without you really noticing it.

This direction is hugely influenced by Brian’s Eno’s 77 Million Paintings, which I enjoyed at YBCA over a decade ago. As I watched the slowly shifting digital paintings. I could barely notice the work changing, but 15 minutes later, it looked completely different.

We’ve trained ourselves for immediacy and my sensor-based sound work celebrates nature-time: tree time, plant time, fungus time and slower cycles of nature.


DIY Water Sensors Workshop

This write-up is a bit tardy, but that’s what happens when the holidays hit. In December, I hosted a DIY Water Sensors Workshop at Autodesk Pier 9 in collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Autodesk, first as an artist-in-residence (2014) and for the last few years, running their Electronics Lab and more recently their Simulation Lab (VR/AR). For the workshop, we hosted a combination of journalists and members of the Autodesk community.

The idea for the workshop sprung out of my Sonaqua artwork. The project sonifies (makes sounds from) water quality by testing for electrical conductivity (EC), which is an correlates to pollution — the more heavy metals and minerals, the higher the EC. It’s one of a number of measurements that scientists make in the field, along with indicators such as pH and Dissolved Oxygen.

That’s a brief summary of the artwork and what I wanted to do was make basic module circuit available for anyone to use. We breadboarded the basic circuit and within a couple of hours, everyone was up and running, making sounds from water samples that they brought in.

Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was valuable — afterwards, we got into a long discussion about data journalism. I was impressed with their breadth of projects and related works which include:

Sonifying the Seismic Activity in Oklahoma – tracks earthquake activity increases due to fracking

Wet Prince of BelAir – uses satellite data to find water-wasters during the big drought.

Cicada Tracker – a project by WNYC & Radiolab using Arduinos to predict the cycle of 17-year cicadas



After a few hours, the breadboarded circuits were complete! I mailed circuit boards, designed in Autodesk EagleCAD to the workshop participants a few days later. There are always production delays, but they did get the boards in time for the holidays.

Photo credit, Blue Bergen, Autodesk