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Digital 3D spider web creates eerie, string-strumming music inspired by arachnids

By Jeff Spry

If you're bored to death with your iPod's current playlist, maybe it's time for some strange tunes to jazz things up, created by our eight-legged friends from the arachnid realm.

While attempting to create an entirely new category of nature-inspired music and have a bit of experimental fun in the process, researchers at MIT orchestrated a virtual test whereby they manifested 3D scans of spider webs to use as a type of digital string instrument that could be plucked to create musical notes that are positively other-worldly.

Per an official press release presented during this week's meeting of the American Chemical Society, a team of scientists designated certain notes to each cyber strand, then composed and recorded an eerie song which represents the web's patterns and the methods by which spiders spin their intricate nets.

Have a listen...

“The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” said Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, in the press release. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.”

Buehler and his team -- which included Isabelle Su, Ian Hattwick, Christine Southworth, Evan Ziporyn, and Eran Egozy -- began with the notion of extracting rhythms and melodies from non-traditional, non-human sources, while utilizing natural "instruments" like arachnid webs. Collaborating with Tomás Saraceno at Studio Tomás Saraceno, they wished to achieve new understandings of the 3D architecture and construction of these elaborate webs.

“Webs could be a new source for musical inspiration that is very different from the usual human experience,” Buehler added

To conjure up their digital facsimile, scientists scanned an existing natural spider web with a laser to capture 2D cross-sections, and then employed computer algorithms to reconstruct its 3D network.

“The virtual reality environment is really intriguing because your ears are going to pick up structural features that you might see but not immediately recognize,” Buehler notes. “By hearing it and seeing it at the same time, you can really start to understand the environment the spider lives in."

web music

“The sounds our harp-like instrument makes change during the process, reflecting the way the spider builds the web," Buehler continues. "So, we can explore the temporal sequence of how the web is being constructed in audible form. The spider’s way of ‘printing’ the web is remarkable because no support material is used, as is often needed in current 3D printing methods.”

Taking it one step further, these music-minded MIT researchers hope to play their computerized concerto for an exclusive arachnid audience to discover if they can use the unique musical vibrations to affect spider behavior and tap into their communication skills.

“Now we’re trying to generate synthetic signals to basically speak the language of the spider,” Buehler explained further. “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.”

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