cellF with Ensemble Offspring (11th July, 2016)

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cellF performing with Claire Edwardes and Jason Noble, Ensemble Offspring (Percussion and Bass Clarinet) (11th July, 2016)

As part of ‘The Patient’ exhibition, curated and produced by Bec Dean
The performance took place in the Cell Block Theatre, National Art School, Sydney.

cellF is a collaboration between Guy Ben-Ary, Nathan Thompson, Andrew Fitch, Darren Moore, Douglas Bakkum, Stuart Hodgetts and Mike Edel

Produced by: Bec Dean, Guy Ben-Ary
Sound Production by: Marshall Cullen of Foghorn and Damien Gerard Studios
Lighting by: Richard Manner
Laboratory Support by: Brooke Farrugia at UNSW Biomedicine
Videography by: Dara Gill

Supported by the National Art School, University of NSW, Performance Space, SymbioticA and the University of Western Australia and LaSalle College, Singapore.

This project has been supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body and the Government of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts.


cellF is the world’s first neural synthesizer. It is a real “wet-alogue” Synthesizer. cellF’s “brain” is made of a biological neural network that grows in a Petri dish and controls in real time an array of analogue modular synthesizers that were custom made to work in synergy with the neural network. It is a completely autonomous, wet and analogue instrument.

In 2012, Guy Ben-Ary received a fellowship to develop a biological self-portrait, and decided to portray one of his juvenile dreams: to become a rock star.

Guy Ben-Ary had a biopsy taken from his arm, then he cultivated his skin cells in vitro in the labs of SymbioticA at UWA, and using Induced Pluripotent Stem cell technology, he transformed his skin cells into stem cells. When these stem cells began to differentiate they were pushed down the neuronal lineage until they became neural stem cells, which were then fully differentiated into neural networks over a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA) dish to become – “Ben-Ary’s external brain”.

The MEA dishes that host Ben-Ary’s neural networks consist of a grid of 8×8 electrodes. These electrodes can record the electric signals (action potentials) that the neurons produce and at the same time send stimulations to the neurons – essentially a read-and-write interface to the “brain”.

There is a surprising similarity in the way neural networks and analogue synthesizers work. In both voltages are passed through components to produce data or sound. cellF’s neural interface juxtaposes these two networks to creates a continuum between the networks. With cellF, the musician and musical instrument become one entity to create a cybernetic musician.

Human musicians are invited to play with cellF in special one-off shows. The human-made music is fed to the neurons as stimulation, and the neurons respond by controlling the analogue synthesizers, and together they perform live, reflexive and improvised sound pieces or “jam sessions” that are not entirely human.

The sound is specialized in the space to 16 speakers. The specialization is controlled by the neural network and reflects the special pockets of activity within the petri dish. Walking around the performance space offers the sensation of walking through Ben-Ary’s external brain in real time

In human brains music can entrain neural activity, and early music training in children alters brain structure and function. As a therapy in adults, music also enhances activity in brain circuitries after stroke or in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. cellF provides a unique opportunity to understand how coherence and plasticity in neural circuits can be induced by rhythmic (and perhaps frequency) dependent inputs, with potential translational benefits.

cellF is a collaboration between artists Guy Ben-Ary, Darren Moore, Nathan Thompson and Andrew Fitch, and scientists Stuart Hodgetts, Mike Edel and Douglas Bakkum.

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