Real-time sonification of an ant colony, unveiling parallels between ant and human societal structures.

Bioacoustics Exhibit

Scenic Designer • Modelmaker • Fabricator

Anthesizer, a blend of 'Ant' and 'Synthesizer', is a project that delves into the intricate logistics of harvester ant colonies by transforming their social behaviors into a real-time sound synthesis, offering a unique auditory insight into the natural rhythms and operations of these fascinating insect communities.

Conceived in collaboration with Sound Designer and ant enthusiast Byunkyu Lee, "Anthesizer: Spine" delves into the intricate logistics of harvester ants (Veromessor pergandei) as they meticulously transport, store, and distribute food and nutrients. Predominantly seed feeders, these ants engage in a systematic process, collecting various seed types and sorting them into chambers, before relocating them to deeper storage chambers within their nest. This process unfolds within a network of small, interconnected modular nests, reminiscent of a freight train or the human spine—the structural core that underpins our body, echoing the crucial role of logistics in both ant and human societies.

An otherworldly space serves as a stage for the ants, where they engage in foraging, patrolling, and seed gathering. Through this artistic interpretation, ants are portrayed not just as insects but as "performers" and "improvisers," encouraging a broader, more empathetic perspective on auditory display and social interaction.  


The Scenic Design features a meticulously crafted outworld, complete with embeded fiber optic lighting and a UV-reactive landscape that responds to sound-reactive lighting.  Four contact microphones are strategically placed within the Outworld, each monitoring a seed-filled area designated as site A, B, C, and D.

The Nest functions as the residence for the queen and her broods, and also as the primary site for food storage. It is divided into two distinct sections—Nest 1 (Sorting Chamber) and Nest 2 (Storing Chamber)—with each section equipped with a single contact microphone.

Piezo microphones are ingeniously embedded within each nest, capturing the subtle audio signals produced by the ants. These signals are then amplified and processed through MaxMSP, a sophisticated sound synthesis software, transforming the colony's activities into an immersive soundscape. 

This project is part of Byunkyu Lee's 'Anthesizer' soundscape series, blending art, science, and engineering. Inspired by the striking similarities between ants and humans, it explores their world through a unique lens that fuses scientific inquiry with artistic expression. These thought-provoking works challenge our perception of the world and invite us to reflect on our complex relationship and interconnectedness with nature. Click here if you want to see more

This project was showcased at CalArts Expo 2023, Maker Music Festival 2023, ICAD 2023 (Sweden) and SEAMUS 2023 (New York).

Sound Designer and Ant Keeper
Byunkyu Lee