What sound does a mushroom make?
A New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) exhibit in Sound River has the answer. The Mycorrhizal Rhythm Machine is a hollow sphere about eight feet high people can walk into and listen to the sounds plants make. Artist Tosca Teran of Toronto created the display which has plants and fungi, like oyster mushrooms, sitting on shelves in the sphere. The interior is large enough to accommodate four to five people at a time sitting on benches. Teran achieves the sound aspect by attaching electrodes to the roots which are connected to other units and ultimately to a synthesizer which gives a musical sound to what the plant or mushroom is experiencing. The sounds people hear occur in real time. And if a person touches a mushroom for example, Teran says the nature of the sound changes. “There are also changes to the sounds throughout the day even when no one is around and nothing is going on,” Teran said. The sound artist says the plants and mushrooms produce different sounds and she's learned that mushrooms of the same species can emit different sounds. “I have found that there are differences and that's bizarre,” she said. “They have different patterns and energy. Also the oyster mushrooms have lots of patterns compared to other mushrooms.” Perhaps an analogy to this is to consider that people are all human but as humans we have different sounding voices even though we belong to the same species. Teran plans to record the sounds because she “wants to research further what's going on” in the plants and mushrooms. But Teran's initial takeaway from what the plants and fungi emit is something like a life force or heartbeat. “Also the sound changes when the mushrooms are not looked after or enough changes have taken place in the surrounding conditions,” Teran said. She knows this through a personal experience when she first began experimenting with sounds from fungi. Teran says she normally cleans the electrodes before attaching them to the plant or fungi and uses a solution to rid the electrodes of foreign substances. In this instance she was trying to remove slime mould but didn't get it all before attaching the electrode to the fungi. “The next day the fungi had a dry mould around it and the sound was entirely different,” Teran said. “I interpreted that the (fungi) was freaked out and stressed out because it was being eaten by this other organism.” Since that incident, Teran has been using new electrodes on a regular basis. On another occasion during Teran's earlier days experimenting with sound from plants, she was at the University of Toronto which featured a plant exhibit and a young child was hitting one of the plants. Teran said the hits produced “a horrible sound” from the plant and when the youngster asked what the sound was, Teran told him “the plant was responding to the hits. “So there is some kind of life force at work here,” she told the Nugget. Teran got into sound art when she was growing mushrooms and began wondering if they emitted sounds. By acquiring the proper equipment she was able to hear the plant sounds. “I was blown away from the different sounds,” she said. “It was a mind-blowing moment and I wanted to learn more.” Teran's work led to the development of the sphere now at NAISA. Originally, the exhibit was to have gone up last year but the COVID-related lockdowns nixed those plans. Despite the one-year delay, this is the first time Teran's Mycorrhizal Rhythm Machine is on public display. It takes almost three days to set up. When she was in South River putting up the exhibit earlier this month people coming into NAISA were definitely curious about the eight foot high hollow sphere. Since opening day, quite a few South River and area residents have seen the sound-making machine and Darren Copeland, NAISA's artistic director, said he gets asked a lot of questions about it. Copeland and other NAISA staff look after the plants and Teran says they have flourished in their environment. Because the sphere can be taken apart, Teran is hoping to take it on the road to other communities after Sept. 20 when the exhibit leaves South River so other people can experience the sounds plants and fungi emit.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget