Cicadas is a sound installation for tiny robotic insects, that I constructed with electronic components (relays, piezos, buzzers) and AVR microcontrollers.
A singing insect is shaped by means of a programmed microcontroller (the brain) connected to a vibrating component (which is the sound producing part). A small battery cell and a on-off switch complete the body of the insect, which is soldered and then ready to begin its life in the outer world.
SCULPTURE. Each insect is sculpted and tuned to the specific sound production qualities its body (relays can produce only “clicks”, piezos will do only high frequencies, and so on), and the final “brain” code yields a behavior that mimics the daily life of a singing insect, with noisy “wake” times alternated to silent pauses.
CODE. Different “sound synthesis” techniques were used, including very basic granular scores, bare-bones MIDI players and non-audio mathematical functions, which are brutally converted to sound as they come out from the chip, yelding surprising lively results.
INSTALLATION. As soon the Cicadas are turned on, they start interacting with the ambient they’re in, giving very different results depending on the sonic dialogue with the context. In a quiet and empty room, the sound installation will turn the focus on the insects themselves. But in a natural, more lively soundscape, the insects will just join in, lost in the millions of sonic events being created by man and nature.
«I built “Cicadas” in Berlin, where real cicadas can’t live, as they need constant warm temperatures. Feeling a deep fascination for this kind of mediterranean soundscape, I started analyzing the way in which these insects sing, in order to imitate it. Their sound production is very simple and mechanic: they emit little “clicks” at a very high speed, so that a swarm of cicadas will generate millions of them.
In the digital realm there’s a similar sound synthesis technique, called “granular synthesis”. Million of digital grains can be coordinated to produce “clouds” of sound, in the same way cicads do. I started viewing the behaviour of the real insects as a great granular algorhythm, a wonderful natural synthesizer that can be imitated not only virtually (with a software, for example), but also concretely, building singing robot insects».