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Signal: Take a Look Inside the Making of the World’s First Living Playable Media

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Signal: Take a Look Inside the Making of the World’s First Living Playable Media

August 11
19:54 2022
This year’s Paradise Art Lab Festival premiered the world’s first living playable media, with music made from the sound of actual living yeast cells. Find out how it was made.

We all know yeast. It gives us some of our favourite things – bread, beer, wine, vaccines. Now, it’s found its way inside the world’s first hollow record. Named Signal by its creator, Mikael Hwang (a.k.a. ‘Psients’), the 12” record was made to share with the world how science and art can meet to captivate our curiosity and inspire further study into sound and its use in our lives.

Signal was showcased in an exhibition as part of Paradise Art Lab Festival 2022 in Paradise City, Incheon, South Korea, from 20-29 May 2022. There, thousands of visitors saw the record on display and heard Psient’s music that sampled the actual sounds of living yeast cells.

“I felt it was important for this to be experienced in a particular manner, which is why I developed an experiential installation with Jeffrey J. Kim, head of AESCA Design,” said Mikael. “Music, of course, is the focus but creating a space for people to experience what it could sound like, and what the future of music could be if it were biological was what I ultimately wanted to convey with this work.”

Jeffrey Kim, a trained architect and installation designer, was an instrumental collaborator in making sure the record and music existed in a complementary space. He devised a circular space, resembling a yurt, with a hanging 8-metre circular screen that reflected patterned projection beams that coloured the intentionally muted space in subtle grayscale hues. Visitors were invited to lie on one of the ten bean bags placed along the edges of the exhibition to view the ceiling projections during the 16-min long soundscape. All of these considerations were to ensure that the space could prioritise the music and record while providing a comfortable environment for visitors to meditate on what they were experiencing. 

Mikael has funnelled his decades of scientific research and knowledge into this project. He channelled his unwavering passion for electronic music and drew inspiration from the pioneers of sonocytology, or the study of cell sounds, Jim Gimzewski and Andrew Pelling. Mikael had a vision. Then, he found help to turn it into reality.

To create Signal, he collaborated with Splinepro, a Bulgarian product development company, and Borislav Yordanov, an independent record lathe operator. Splinepro assisted with the design and manufacturing of the record, and they’ve shared the inside scoop on how they did it. 

“When Mikael first approached the Splinepro team, he wanted to create a 12-inch hollow vinyl record that had to also be transparent in order to insert his work inside and cut the sound on it,” said Vladimir Kartov, Splinepro’s Founder and Head of Design. “We got really interested in the idea since we are melomaniacs ourselves.”

Like any product development team, Splinepro had to create, evaluate, and tweak their work a few times before their ultimate success. They concluded the need for a valve that is designed to open only when the internal pressure of the record reaches high values. This valve, made from a 3D printer, doubles as an entrance for Mikael to insert the yeast.

Then, Kartov had a breakthrough. 

“This is actually how the Splinepro team operates. We like to make educated decisions based on actual information, results, and brainstorming sessions,” said Kartov. 

That moment changed the course of this process and set Splinepro on the path to success. Kartov broke the design up into three segments that required simple CNC machining – Computer Numerical Control machining. The top and bottom disks take the form of classic vinyl records, and along with the usual centre hole where it sits on the record player, Kartov designed an outer ring that was thick enough to keep the record hollow. Finally, two metal rings would be designed for structural support and to create an opening for the valve.

Though the vinyl was good, it wasn’t quite ready. Mikael knew that it could be thinner, and though still three times the thickness of a normal record, the Splinepro team was able to shave off one millimetre. That may seem like such a small difference, but considering the width of a standard vinyl record is three millimetres, the change was of great consequence.

“That was a bit of a challenge, however, the Splinepro team loves a good challenge,” said Kartov. 

By using two different materials, and changing the valve to be made from the same material as the disk rather than from a 3D printer, the Splinepro team lowered production costs and perfected the prototype of the world’s first living playable media. Of course, this manufacturing process wouldn’t be over until one of the most vital steps was completed: lathing Mikael’s music onto the prototype. 

The lathing process requires heat to carve the disk, which would compromise the vinyl if it was lathed whole, so the Splinepro team disassembled the record and shipped them to be carved. After carving, they sent it on its way to Mikael, the visionary eager to assemble and see his concept spin to life. 

Thanks to the numerous experts behind the project, Signal was showcased to the people of South Korea this past spring and has begun gaining worldwide traction over the summer with the release of the music from the exhibition in the form of an EP on 16 June by Universal Music Group. It is available to stream online on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.

“Ultimately, Signal, in all of its parts, is the first idea of creating an instrument that is alive, and the object, the music, and the installation serve as a prototype idea – a pilot – to envision a future where the future of sound is biological,” said Mikael.

Mikael knows that science and creativity know no borders. So he strives to show the world his creation and inspire others with the mission to break the barriers of scientific bureaucracy with a more accessible medium for communication – music.

Media Contact
Company Name: XWECAN
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Country: South Korea