Nanovibrancy and the Listening Microscope: An Auditory Performance of Nanoscale Resonance


Session Title:

  • Nanoart

Presentation Title:

  • Nanovibrancy and the Listening Microscope: An Auditory Performance of Nanoscale Resonance




  • The emergence of haptic imaging technologies in the field of nanoscience has extended our perceptual reach into sub-cellular spaces beyond the reach of conventional optics.  In particular, the Atomic Force Microscope lowers a probe onto the surface of the sample, touching and allowing its surface forces to direct the cantilever deflections, algorithmically converting this data into image.  By attaining information through physical resonance rather than light, the AFM offers a poetic extension to ocular-centric observation methods.

    The probe thus becomes an antenna for our eyes and ears into the nanoscale, tapping into the acoustic milieu of cells and their constituents, where all matter is vibrant, energetic, albeit silent.  Tapping these vibrations and presenting them as themselves – oscillatory, sonic energies – stretches the image out into an evolving soundscape.  This process of listening alludes to the function of the AFM as a super sensitive microphone; and by positioning a mammalian tympanic membrane as its sample, this project suggests the creation of a simple techno-scientific listening body, where the diaphragm is probed to echo its miniscule surface interactions with and within ambient sound.

    Nanovibrancy extends previous Sonocytology research by Nanoart pioneers Jim Gimzewski and Andrew Pelling by challenging the veracity of the imaging device as an interactive tool.  By immersing the AFM in the sound of its own making, a feedback loop is created in real-time across the nano and human-scale, thereby implicating each visitor’s very presence in the space as sonic stimulus -a movement of air molecules that alters the surface character of the membrane.

    Nanovibrancy presents fertile ground for a discourse between visual and sonic modes of information processing.  In particular, the paper will discuss the abstraction of the visual image through the primacy of listening, as well as exploring the multiple instances of technological mediation that challenge the accuracy of the eventual signal.  While discussing the body as technology, the premise of sound as an immersive and subjective form of art also draws a distinction between mechanical resonance and embodiment.

    Nanovibrancy is developed at SymbioticA and provides a unique opportunity for inter-media art at the intersection of nanotechnology, sound and biophysics.

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