The widely popular saying, “music is a universal language,” implies that music can be understood and appreciated by people all around the world. But what if we told you that this saying also applies to fungi? Yes, you read that correctly — fungi can also produce music, but they require a little bit of help to be audible to human ears.
Mushroom music is taking the internet by storm as several artists have been producing tunes through the bioelectric energy of fungi. The mesmerizing beats are definitely something that you’ve got to hear to believe!
Like the human nervous system, fungi also send electrical signals to gather information and respond to environmental changes. Plus, they can use these signals to communicate with other plants and fungi within their network. Although mushrooms can’t directly speak or create music that we can hear, the electrical impulses produce vibrations that can be turned into music in a process called Biodata Sonification.
When mushroom or plant music is made, the natural matter is connected via electrodes to a device that can measure galvanic conductance from outside the organism’s skin, similar to how a lie detector works. The averages and standard deviation calculations detect changes in the electrical impulses, producing MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) notes and control changes. MIDI standardizes how software and electronic devices can transmit and store digital music. It uses timing, tone, and pitch imput as information to transfer sound to a device of choosing,
This kind of science has been used on plants, but lately, mushrooms have taken the lead as the growing interest in fungi captivates the minds of a growing fanbase.
Sam Cusumano, an educator and art engineer, runs a project called Electricity for Progress that demonstrates how data from nature can be transformed into sound and, ultimately, music. He explains, “While the raw presentation of data from the plants may not necessarily sound like ‘music,’ the biodata can be partnered with the sounds of specific instruments and filtered to play in specific keys and note ranges chosen by a composer.” The same goes for mushrooms. Initially, they create sounds, yet those sounds can be transformed into musical beats with the help of instrumental machines. In the case of the most popularized mycology music, artists use a synthesizer as the instrument of choice, leading to the hypnotizing trance music that’s been fascinating music and mushroom lovers alike.
With the availability of devices such as PlantWave and PLANTChoir, creating mushroom music is simpler than ever. Yet, putting together some catchy, popular tunes requires a great deal of talent.
Take Noa Kalos, for example, a mycologist who goes by the name Mycolyco on Tiktok and Youtube. Since 2020, she has been creating electronic music with mushrooms, gaining over 65,000 followers on her channel, with several thousand views on each video. Mycolyco gained widespread popularity by showcasing her home-grown medicinal and culinary mushrooms connected to machinery to produce high-quality musical compositions. Her videos include the “joyful” screams of mushrooms being harvested and even one where she plays the flute alongside a cordyceps tune. Kalos’s music has even gained attention from celebrities like SZA, Lizzo, and Paul McCartney, with the potential to collaborate with some of these big names in the near future. A London record label contacted her to produce a full-length music set, but unfortunately, they gave her tracks to a producer who took her artistic vision on a completely different route. As a result, she discontinued her work with them and decided to release his work independently.
Despite the fame, Kalos does not take all the credit. “It’s a creative collaboration between humans, mushrooms, and machines,” she says in an interview with Rolling Stone. Kalos recognizes that technology is an essential tool that can help to connect humans with the natural world further.
Tarun Nayar is another talented conductor in the mushroom music scene who, like Kalos, regards his music as “a beautiful practice of connecting and collaborating with nature,” as stated in an interview with the LA Times. Nayar, known as Modern Biology on TikTok, has gathered over 736,000 followers and 17 million likes on the social media platform. He has been showing off his mushroom beats since 2021 and has even dropped a few of his hits on Spotify. Nayar combines his training in Indian classical music with his education in biology to create music that highlights the hidden secrets of nature, noting that “It demonstrates, in a very immediate way, how mushrooms are alive like we are alive.”
Nayar notes that although the mushrooms may not be conscious, they’re still the stars of the show in the music he creates. He may be in charge of the synth’s audible tunes, but that’s as far as his work is concerned. In an interview with STIR, he explains,
“It’s that I’m not making the melodies, and I’m not making the rhythms. …Like, there’s no chorus, there’s no hook: there’s very little human-ness, as it were, in these compositions. And that also influences the way that I can go back and listen to them over and over again, because it’s not really me that’s being represented. It just feels like something completely different.”
As his songs gather more traction, Nayar uses his platform to give back to the natural world from which he gets his melodies. He claims that he’s using his work to gather awareness and collect funds that will go toward protecting and preserving nature.
We may be listening to fungi and the rather mystical sounds they produce, but as it turns out, they might also be listening. Fungi cannot hear as we can due to a lack of auditory organs; however, research has found evidence that they do respond to sound. In one instance, scientists studied how sound waves can affect the growth of a fungus. They found that a sound wave at 5 kHz made it hard for the fungus to grow mycelium and prevented it from making spores (1). Another study found that lower-frequency sounds could be beneficial to a fungus’s growth. During the research, scientists found that the mushrooms treated with light acoustic sound had better growth and bigger yields than the ones without sound. The sound also made the mushrooms firmer and darker (2). Between the two studies, there is a clear correlation between sound frequencies and how fungi react to it, demonstrating that they do recognize sound in some form, even if only through the vibrations it produces.
World-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets has hypothesized that the low-frequency sounds of thunder serve as a warning for mushrooms of incoming rain. As a result, the mycelium pushes forth nutrients to the mushroom and the forest around it in anticipation of the nourishing rain to come. Though Stamet’s claim has yet to be backed up, it is a great guess as to why the previous studies gathered such results.
Furthermore, scientists have found that fungi, like humans, can communicate with each other by sending electrical signals. A recent study connected four different types of fungi to a device similar to the one used to make mushroom beats. Through a mathematical analysis of the electric impulses, scientists found that the signals have shockingly similar patterns to human speech (3). Each of the four fungi species produced its own type of signal, and the signals could last up to 21 hours with varying levels of strength. Scientists think the signals are organized into words, just like in human languages, with up to fifty “words” or electrical communication spikes.
Mycelium is known to connect with other plant and fungal species through electric signals to communicate changes in the environment and transfer resources to struggling organisms. However, we are still figuring out the other hidden capabilities of fungi and how mycelium plays an immense role in these complex processes. Although we may never fully understand precisely how fungi respond to noise or communicate, we can still appreciate their scientific complexities and their immense role in our natural world. Whether they’re making beautiful tunes or sending minerals to a nearby tree, fungi can connect with the human and natural world in ways beyond our comprehension. That’s something to consider as you vibe out to Mycolyco or Modern Biology’s groovy mushroom playlists!