Listen carefully next time you pass a mushroom cluster.
Composers are turning the sound generated by “singing” fungi into the latest underground hit.
DJs are seizing on the electrical impulses mushrooms use to communicate with plants and trees through their under-soil roots as a new source of music.
This week’s Woodland episode of Sir David Attenborough’s BBC Wild Isles series featured a specially-recorded piece from Jason Singh, a nature sound artist and composer, who used sensors attached to fungi roots to capture their electrical signals.
Singh converted the noise into a burst of music to soundtrack a sequence illustrating the underground fungi communication network called the Wood Wide Web.
A number of composers are now using musical mushrooms to make experimental “fungi rock”. The signals can be translated into notes on a musical scale and beats, using synthesisers.
Mushroom music has soundtracked forest raves and club nights. But its ambient qualities can also have therapeutic benefits, and even psychedelic uses, its practitioners claim.
It is also a corrective to the negative image of deadly infections and poisonous toadstools that people often associate with fungi.
The composers are passionate about spreading the message that fungi play a vital role in the planet’s biodiversity, decomposing plant debris when they are not composing their own musical messages.
Singh told i: “The incredible symphonies of music mushrooms produce is a form of communication. You’re literally hearing those networks of signals moving backwards and forwards, sometimes sending messages of help or warning.”
“It is responding to its environment so the signals can be quite minimal and ambient but at other times it’s a percussive pulse.”
For Wild Isles, Singh went to Dartmoor with an expert forager, where they found “a perfect area of Fly agarics (Bright red mushrooms with white spots) with beautiful mycelia (the fungi’s branch-like body) connected to tree roots”.
Singh measured the electrical voltage fluctuations between different parts of the mycelia and converted the voltages into pitch information to create his recording.
“The Wild Isles piece was 95 per cent the raw recordings of the communications between those networks. People have compared the sound to an old dial-up modem.”
There is an audience for mushroom music, the composer says. “I do raves and parties where I connect plants to synths and drum machines and people dance. People listen to the more ambient soundscapes for wellbeing,” said the composer, who is currently recording a 2,000 year old yew tree.
Another environmental composer, Cosmo Sheldrake, recently uploaded to Twitter a video of his performance, “Music for a solenoid and fungi”.
“It’s like placing a stethoscope onto the amazing electrical activities of fungi. You wouldn’t get anywhere near that insight with just visual or other audible means,” Sheldrake said of his recordings.
He added: “The best outcome of the music is if it helps cure fungal blindness and helps us move closer to an understanding of fungal intelligence.”
Chris Howard, Wild Isles producer, said the team set out to challenge negative perceptions of fungi. “The Wood Wide Web wasn’t a cheap sequence to make but we convinced the BBC we needed to do it,” he told i.
“Fungi have been demonised for years. Most people associated them with molds but they have such positive potential for humanity and medicine.”
“They’ve now found that fungi can decompose plastics and nappies. We’re in such a mess as a species, it’s time we looked to fungi and the plant kingdom for solutions.”
“We have whole university departments dedicated to zoology but fungal research is underfunded.”
Sheldrake and Singh are concerned that ‘fungi rock’ will become a novelty as trend-seekers being uploading their own attempts on TikTok and Instagram.
“Creating melodies from plants and trees is permeating into the world we know as music,” said Singh, whose work has featured on Countryfile and at the BBC Proms.
“But you have to be patient and listen to the natural world when it speaks. I was recording plants in Kew Gardens and I had to wait 45 minutes just to get eight bars of beautiful melody.”
Sheldrake, who has recorded fungi music for Radio 3, recommends new listeners try the work of American avant-garde composer Michael Prime, who creates trippy music from Psilocybin mushrooms, known for their psychedelic properties.
Sheldrake’s biologist brother Merlin sent Prime a copy of his book about fungi, Entangled Life. Prime sent back a composition, “Entangled Life, being devoured by a fungus”, which used an oscillator signal to create a real-time sonic representation of the book being devoured by oyster mushrooms.
Wild Isles ‘Woodland’ episode is available on BBC iPlayer. The series continues on BBC One, 7pm, Sunday March 26