Neuron Conductor by Wild System is a unique collaboration with neuro-engineer Asim Bhatti, using live neuron cells to operate a robot that composes music in response.
Neuron Conductor investigates the effects of biological neuron activity, cultured on a multielectrode array, in response to the introduction of viruses and pharmacological treatments. The responses are visualised through the movement of a robot which conducts a unique musical score. The resulting art/science work presents an alternative means of visualising and understanding neural responses as well as raising awareness and accessibility of the research through a public facing exhibition. The Neuron Conductor investigates real health issues in a unique manner as well as contemplating the role of non-human agency within hybrid biological / digital systems.
Neuron Conductor is a radical multi-disciplinary art-science installation resulting from the collaboration between electronic artists John McCormick and Adam Nash with scientist Asim Bahtti. Live neuron cells cultured on a MultiElectrode Array (MEA) operates a robot that conducts a unique, live musical score in response to the effects of different viruses and treatments on the neural network. Neuron Conductor takes cutting edge scientific research and creates a unique multi sensory installation that conveys the data in an imaginative, provocative artwork.
Hybrid biological / digital systems are prevalent in both biomedical engineering and contemporary artworks. Tightly coupled hybrid systems can enable digital agents to learn from and co-operate with humans in the development of artworks and in understanding the effects of changes to the biological entity's environment on cellular behavior. This project combines research approaches from the arts and bioengineering to create a radical multidisciplinary investigation of hybrid system agency, data visualization and presentation and methods for engaging the public with scientific research through artworks.
In vitro multichannel recordings from neurons have been used as important evidence in neuroscientific studies to understand the fundamentals of neural network mechanisms in the brain. Understanding of information processing through networks of neurons is being used to address neural diseases including seizure disorders (such as epilepsy), movement disorders (such as Parkinson's disease), migraine, delirium and dementia (such as Alzheimer's disease), as well as for the design of efficient neural prosthesis, such as bionic eye, ear, tongue and nose, to overcome the effects of structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities.
Asim Bhatti and team have successfully used rat and mosquito neuron cells to test the impact of DHA fatty acids (for dementia), Abeta drugs (for Alzheimer) as well as the effects of Zika virus and Dengue on cellular behavior. Neuron Conductor combines the live neurons cultured on multielectrode arrays (MEA) with a robot that is controlled by the firing of the neurons to conduct a musical score. The resulting movement and sound describe the neuronal activity in a multi-sensory experience giving a radically different reading and understanding compared to reading graphs of results. New musical scores are created from the hybrid biological / digital system derived from the actions and agency of the system. This project proposes new means of visualizing and presenting significant research, a novel means of developing autonomous artworks, while questioning the role of agency in both non-human and hybrid biological / digital systems.
The research using MEA to test environmental effects (virus and drugs) on neuronal cells is leading to significant advances in biomedicine. However the results are difficult to portray due to the minute scale involved. Neuron Composer proposes a multi-disciplinary solution to a number of problems. The neurons are a living ecosystem that responds dynamically and temporally to changes introduced in their environment. It is difficult to give viewers a sense of the realtime changes that take place in the neuronal behaviour. Introducing human scale physical agency through the robot and fine grained multivariable expression through the conducted music enables multi- sensory appreciation of the real-time neuronal behaviour. Different viruses, different treatments lead to unique musical expressions and physical movement. The project addresses issues of understanding and dissemination of scientific results in an innovative manner. Neuron Conductor also investigates the development of hybrid systems for the creation of autonomous artworks. It challenges conceptions of what constitutes creativity and agency and how it can be enacted. The multi-disciplinary approach will have tangible benefits for both the arts and science. Custom algorithms are developed to enable the firing of the biological neurons to generate movement and music that creatively illustrate their states.
Rat and mosquito neurons are cultured in a dish on top of a multielectrode array which detect the firings of the neurons both at 'rest' and with the introduction of viruses and drugs. Changes in behaviour patterns as evidenced by the neuronal firing are analysed and filtered to realise patterns able to be used by the robot as spatial directions for its movement. The spatial movement of the robot is used as the prime source for the generation of the sound score. Movement can be tied directly to musical variables or influence algorithmically generated musical sequences. A more advanced approach is to use a deep learning neural network to analyse the patterns of behaviour and elicit responses. The combination of biological and artificial neural networks raises questions regarding artificial intelligence, cellular intelligence and challenges the primacy of human-centric agency. The robot uses open source platforms so that the results can be easily shared and replicated. Robot parts are 3D printed to allow customised morphologies that imaginatively integrate with the artistic themes. The primary outputs are an exhibition that engages the public in both artistic terms and in highlighting the important research into neuronal responses.
Note that this work is currently in development.