One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs:
“The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.” Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web.
Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs. “Webs could be a new source for musical inspiration that is very different from the usual human experience,” he says. In addition, by experiencing a web through hearing as well as vision, Buehler and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), together with collaborator Tomás Saraceno at Studio Tomás Saraceno, hoped to gain new insights into the 3D architecture and construction of webs.American Chemical Society, “Making music from spider webs” at ScienceDaily (April 12, 2021)
But what does it sound like?
Spooky, right? Especially if you were a fly…
Digitization can make information interchangeable in this way. For example, some researchers managed to encode a short video in DNA. As a recent science paper explains, “genomes appear similar to natural language texts, and protein domains can be treated as analogs of words.”
The researchers also hope to communicate with spiders:
The team is also interested in learning how to communicate with spiders in their own language. They recorded web vibrations produced when spiders performed different activities, such as building a web, communicating with other spiders or sending courtship signals. Although the frequencies sounded similar to the human ear, a machine learning algorithm correctly classified the sounds into the different activities. “Now we’re trying to generate synthetic signals to basically speak the language of the spider,” Buehler says. “If we expose them to certain patterns of rhythms or vibrations, can we affect what they do, and can we begin to communicate with them? Those are really exciting ideas.”American Chemical Society, “Making music from spider webs” at ScienceDaily (April 12, 2021)
We can probably communicate with spiders on a limited range of topics if we can get their attention by manipulating the sounds of web vibrations. Spiders are more intelligent than once thought and they can even be taught simple tricks.
Here’s a discussion with Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator:
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