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Earthworms for your iPod

Workshops conducted by ISRO

an you make music out of bacteria? And if you could, what would it sound like? These are some of the questions that a collective of artists, scientists and musicians called the Indian Sonic Research Organisation (I.S.R.O) are looking to answer. In fact, they can even make you hear what 100 years of rainfall sounds like.

"There is a very strong visual culture in our society. There is also a lot of important information that sound gives us which is ignored. We use this information in our experimentation," says Yashas Shetty, an artist and the man behind the group. The Bangalore-based collective explores unconventional methods of making music, and in the process has created a series of new, homemade musical instruments.

They started out in 2006, when they conducted a small workshop to teach people DIY methods of making small toys that made sound. The group currently conducts several workshops at the Centre for Experimental Media Arts (CEMA) and sometimes at Jaaga, the creative space in Bangalore. At these workshops, people learn to make their own musical instruments. At one of the workshops conducted at Jaaga, a group of students created an instrument called the Cyclotron. They converted a bicycle into a percussion instrument which produces beats on being pedalled.

In their search for newer methods of producing sound, the collective has even experimented with bacteria and earthworms. "We created our own microscope using cheap webcams. Using a software that can detect images, we associated different sounds to particular kinds of images. When there is any kind of movement, the software detects it, and in this way, you can listen to how the bacteria moves," says Shetty.

The group has also converted metrological data into sound waves, which has enabled them to 'listen' to 100 years of rainfall in Kerala. "We downloaded rainfall data from weather stations. There is a sort of pattern to the data as precipitation levels peak near June and July, and then decrease over the year. By associating sound to the peaks, we were able to hear what data corresponding to a hundred years of rainfall sounds like," says Shetty.

Many might not consider the sounds produced by the group as music as it is very different to what we otherwise hear everyday. "There are no boundaries in music. Music is basically structured sound. All we are doing is exploring the traditional concept of music by mixing it with technology," says Shetty.

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