Microscopic Opera

Biologist Mathijs Munnik is interested in organizing the world’s first microscopic opera. He is trying to get c-elegans – tiny worm-like microorganisms – to perform an experimental opera, in which the creatures control sound through specially designed software. A USB microscope will capture the worms’ movements and transmit this signal to a computer, which in turn will process the signal using software specially designed by Munnik himself, in order to finally generate sound from the data.

At a time when microorganisms are becoming increasingly important in various fields of microbiology, Munnik is interested in seeing whether they could also be applied to the world of theatre and art. Part of him wants to beautify the common perception of microorganisms as ugly, disgusting creatures.

His choice of the specific c-elegans type of microorganism is not arbitrary. The first reason is that the c-elegans – the name basically says it all – has a particularly graceful, snake-like way of moving. More importantly, scientific research has demonstrated that this particular strain of microorganism is especially prone to genetic mutation. As a result, each individual c-elegans has slightly different traits, which in turn affects the way it moves; some move in corkscrew motion, some emulate something similar to twitching, and some are hyper-obese and don’t move much at all (I imagine these will fulfil the role of the heavy brass instruments, the tubas of the orchestra).

This genetic mutation is valuable to Munnik’s experimental opera, because it means that the microorganisms have the potential of producing a unique combination of sound. What this symbiotic symphony, or cacophony, will actually sound like remains to be seen.

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