Australian-based artist Guy Ben-Ary has created a synthesizer that is controlled by his own stem cells, generating what he calls a “posthuman sound piece.” The project began in 2012 when Ben-Ary received a Creative Australia Fellowship to develop a “biological self-portrait,” and reached its finale in October of this year when the piece – entitled CellF – was premiered at the Masonic Hall in Perth.
Describing himself as a specialist in biotechnological artwork, Ben-Ary created CellF by first fashioning a network of neural stem cells which he calls his “external brain.” This was achieved by taking skin cells from his arm and converting them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which resemble undifferentiated embryonic cells. This process involves the introduction of four specific genes, using viruses to transport them into the cells in a laboratory, which essentially reprogramme the adult cells to revert back to their embryonic state. Scientists at the University of Barcelona were then able to convert these iPSCs into neural stem cells, or those that give rise to the various cells of the brain.
Human-made music was then recorded and converted into electrical impulses, which were used to stimulate the neural network via a grid of electrodes. This, in turn, caused the neural cells to generate electric signals, which were then relayed to the synthesizer, resulting in the creation of new electronic sounds.
Image shows the mechanism by which CellF uses human-made music to stimulate a neural network, which then controls a synthesizer. Credit: Guy Ben-Ary
On his personal website, Ben-Ary explains that CellF “was inspired by an ultimately narcissistic desire to re-embody myself,” basing the project on his childhood dream of being a rock star. Via his “external brain” and “sound-producing ‘body’ comprised of an array of analogue modular synthesizers,” the artist has found a novel way to “perform live, reflexive and improvised sound pieces or ‘jam sessions’ that are entirely not human.” To get an idea of how this sounds, check out the video below.