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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Sound Insects – work in progress show


Sound Insects is a self organising sound system composed of multiple identical and completely independent modules interacting with each other through sound and trying to create ordered musical patterns.


Sound Insects is a research tool to explore how simple rules of interaction in a complex environment can generate emergent behaviour.

The initial inspiration for this project came from a profound fascination for musical improvisation : as intelligent human beings, ensemble improvisation questions our ability to communicate our goals without words, to adapt to an ever-changing environment as an individual and to evolve as a group.

What I’m interested in is to understand how communication between performers through sound – an analog, uncertain media – can at the same time guarantee stability (enabling the system to create a pattern) but can also offer disruption (enabling the system to evolve).


The first prototype of Sound Insects explores rhythmic patterns. It features 10 modules, each of which is composed of a microphone as ear, an arduino as brain and a speaker as mouth.
The algorithm used to generate an ordered pattern is voluntarily extremely basic, as my hypothesis is that simple rules of interaction can generate complex behaviour when those rules meet the complexity of the environment.
As soon as a module detects a beat, it will generate a new beat at a time t after the beat has been detected. Each module’s delay is fixed unless users decide to change it by simply turning a knob on the circuit board.

From this simple set of rules, the patterns observed depend on :
– Where the modules are set in space in relationship to each other (in a loop, in an array, in separate groups, etc)
– How the space carries and transforms the sound signals (the space could be highly reverberant and feedback sound from the system)
– How observers decide to interact with the system (by becoming performers and creating beats, by moving the modules in space, by changing their rules)


This system offers exiting possibilities as a research tool on the one hand and as a performance instrument on the other hand. My aim is to carry out in parallel those two directions as I believe one will inform the other.
The next steps in the development of this projet will be
– to test different sets of simple behaviours on the Rhythmic Sound Insects
– to develop the Harmonic Sound Insects, a similar self organising sound system where modules adapt their frequency in order to harmonise with each other and create different chords in space.



Special thanks to : Paul Bavister, Luca Dellatorre, Sean Malikides, Lucie Trémolières.

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