As I attempt to grow Pink Oyster Mushrooms in my office at home (in a very low-fi DIY version) I am equally disgusted and excited by the presence of the mycelia. I have never tried growing any sort of mushroom before and the process triggers lots of questions and reflexions. 

I am not cultivating the fungi for culinary reasons – although I might end up eating them anyway. Rather, as part of the Living Room project at Medical Museion, I am interested in metabolic processes (in short: the organic processes in a cell or organism that are necessary for life). Prompted by this interest and through convoluted and fun discussions with the Living Room collaborators an experiment is taking shape: We want to cultivate Pleurotus djamor (the Pink Oyster Mushroom) in discarded materials from Medical Museion… and attempt to record the tiny sounds of the interaction (or intra-action[1]) of the matters – museum objects and fungi. 

Because of the lockdown due to the pandemic spread of Covid-19, I have kick-started the cultivation process at home.

Young Pink Oyster Mushrooms grown in my home office.

My personal entry point into the experimental design stems from a fascination with small (almost inaudible sounds) as well as the-more-than-human perspective which both permeate my artistic practice and PhD. 

I am an interdisciplinary artist working in the medium of sound/performance/live art. Currently, I am undertaking a practice-based PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; exploring and manifesting the ideas of radical environmental philosophy through multi-sensory performance (and/or installation) experiences for audiences. 

Through my work I seek to challenge dichotomies of human/nature and self/world: to think (and attend to) that which is beyond the human.

Setting up these preliminary home experiments I’m wondering: What are the sounds of it all? How does the material involved sound? The room, the box that we hope to grow the mushrooms in, the growing mushrooms?

What are the sounds of metabolic processes of growth and decay? 

In my pursuit, I am very influenced by sound artist Jez Riley French’s method of durational listening[2].

 Field recording artist Jez riley French on location. Photo by Chris Saunders.

But to be honest I am not of a very patient disposition myself. Nevertheless, my fascination for the tiny almost inaudible sounds of the more-than-human, drives me to devote the time to listen in on these exchanges of matter (the discarded museum-objects and the Pleurotus djamor) for extended moments of time – to tune in to how they intra-act as participants in this experiment. Yet I’m puzzled by how to listen in on these tiny intra-actions: when is a sound so quiet it stops being sound? And is it possible to imagine the sound before recording it – and what is the relationship between the recorded sound and the ‘real’ sound?  

This pursuit of the ‘real’ sound also emphasizes my human perspective. But can I set aside my human perspective and what would it mean – also in a sonic way? To this question, I wonder if it has to do with the word trying. I can never fully set aside my human perspective – my own human bias. No matter how hard I try – my outset is always that of the human.  

Despite of the entanglements (and intra-action) of all beings, separation seems somehow to be an existential given, as the Philosopher Frédéric Neyrat points out in his “ecology of separation [3]. 

BUT! what happens if we try to tune in and listen nevertheless! Listen past our differences – listen past the ecology of separation and try to REALLY TRY to – move beyond our anthropocentric viewpoint 

Trying might offer an opportunity to channel the focus away from ourselves and attempt to engage with the other (be it person, matter, species etc.) and may grant us embodied insights into that other-than-human-perspective.  

I am searching for ways of doing this – trying to connect and perhaps hereby also trying to practice radical empathy through listening. 

I am trying to overcome my own disgust and excitement over the unknown (in this case the fungus-like bacterial colony I’ve invited into my office) and search for ways to make it more accessible for others to try and connect – even if only in quirky and abstract ways…. Sensuously. Embodied. Acoustic ecology.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the act of ‘getting to know’ or connecting/empathizing with mycelium organisms involve some imagination and speculation, but it is also a very practical series of actions.

Cooking discarded paper and cardboard to cultivate the mycelium in.

First practical steps in my attempt to connect with the Pink Oyster Mushrooms: 

– Research into what Pink Oyster Mushrooms generally like. Apparently, they thrive in various materials – they’re just particularly picky about how clean things are.  

– I’ve collected discarded paper and cardboard, torn it into smaller pieces – washed it in a tub with dish washing soap. Pasteurized it in big pots (approx. 70 degrees for 2 hours). Hereafter disinfected everything; and sifted the water from the pasteurized cardboard-mush. 

– Left it to cool down on disinfected tabletops and mixed it with pink oyster mushroom mycelium (min. 10 % of weight). 

My husband helping out with the mixing of mycelium and the
pasteurized cardboard-mush. 

– Filled it all into containers and sealed tightly with zip ties. Punched holes in the containers with disinfected knife and hung the mini logs containing the mycelium-mush to fruit. 

– Then I’ve waited for the mycelium to take over (kept it away from direct sunlight in a room temp. at 21 degrees).  

– I have been sitting and watching the containers – some of them transparent, others concealed. I have also tried to listen (not recording yet). 

DIY containers for the fungi growth experiment.

– and at night I have dreamt weird dreams of mushrooms growing out of my lower back. Disgusting dreams – very real and exciting dreams. 

– As the mushrooms now are beginning to appear out of the logs, I am giving them a bit of moist on a daily basis. 

 The next steps of the process will most likely include: 

 (informing all of these steps are underlying considerations of how best to invite visitors/audiences to experience the sonic experiment) 

– to cultivate a second batch of fungi in discarded paper/cardboard from Medical Museion. 

– to record the Pleurotus djamor with JrF contact mics. 

– to move the second batch from my office at home to the Living Room at Museion and let them inhabit a custom-made perspex box with discarded museion objects and record the intra-actions. 

– to come up with ways to process these tiny recorded sounds (that is if we manage to record any at all!) Coming up with ideas of processing the sounds might involve self-invented fantasy/dream journeys where I try to embody the perspective of the fungi organism… and/or development of experimental intra-action rituals???  

Stay tuned for the next stages… 

_________ 

[1] Intra-action is a term (coined by Karen Barad) used to replace ‘interaction,’ which necessitates pre-established bodies that then participate in action with each other. Intra-action understands agency as not an inherent property of an individual or human to be exercised, but as a dynamism of forces in which all designated ‘things’ are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably. (Click here to read more about it: https://newmaterialism.eu/almanac/i/intra-action.html )

[2] Durational listening is listening with intend for an extended duration of time. JrF on his sound piece teleferica: My enjoyment, my practice is durational listening, often at micro-levels. I listen for hours, days, the weather conditions impacting the teleferica; storms approaching, heat peaks shifting the drones, insects and birds resting or calling through the structures and the ever present, seemingly infinite detail of the locale. (Click here to read more about it: https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk/teleferica.php )

[3] ‘ecology of separation’ is an approach that recognizes the interconnection of all beings (human and nonhuman), but overcoming a “generalized” idea of interconnection that fails to recognize the “distance” between humans and nature. (Click here to read more about it: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329379862_The_Unconstructable_Earth_An_Ecology_of_Separation )

Some of the most important influences/inspiration to the experiment so far include:  

Michael Prime’s bioelectrical sounds/music of fungi: (Click here for a video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efSXd56gMCg )

Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life (Click here to read more about it: https://www.merlinsheldrake.com/entangled-life )

Donna Haraway’s thinking – especially Staying with the Trouble (Click here to read more about it: https://www.dukeupress.edu/staying-with-the-trouble)

Brandon LaBelle’s book Sonic Agency (Click here to read more about it: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/sonic-agency )

Jez Riley French’s thinking & practice (Click here for JrF’s website: https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk )

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