Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The CellF Project - University of Western Australia

I was very fortunate to attend the premier of the "CellF Project" last weekend (Sat/Sunday 3 Oct, 2015).
CellF is pronounced "Self". This was held on the campus of the University of Western Australia in collaboration with LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore.

This pic was taken on the Sat arvo during the setting up phase.


Guy Ben-Ary, Nathan Thompson, Andrew Fitch (NLC), Darren Moore (drums & patching the synth), Douglas Bakkum, Stuart Hodgetts, Mike Edel. Nathan's brother Mark Thompson, welded this together.

The organic design of the CellF synth is care of Nathan Thompson.... a bit like the tail of an insect or scorpion. I think it reminds me of a old school gramophone or a cochlear implant. And notice how the end loops back. ... alluding to feedback loops which are part of the performance.

This is a printed sculpture of the CellF Synth.

The very top of the central square tower houses the live human neurons. It's an incubator which maintains a constant temperature & atmosphere The cells look like this:
The neurons are grown on an array of 60 electrodes which connect the cells to the synthesizer.
The arrays are two way. That is they both detect electrical signals from the neurons and send signals back (about 1V p-p) from the outside. "The neurons give off a constant chatter called 'neuronal noise', something like white noise but it seems a lot easier on the ear.....maybe more organic ;)" (Andrew Fitch).

Some of the neurons give off spikes called 'action potentials' . These occur in various ways, sometimes erratically and sometimes with patterns.

The neurons themselves were once skin cells harvested from Guy Ben-Ary over 3 years ago.
They were converted into stem cells & then into neurons.
Below the cells, is the amplification section. Of course the neurons themselves produce very tiny voltages.
These need to be amplified (about 100 times) to get synth level (5V) neuronal noise signals. The action potentials are extracted using comparators to get synth level triggers. Another circuit converts synth signals into triggers (approx 7ms trigger, 1Vpeak to peak) at a voltage and shape pleasing to the neurons (large falling edge). They seem to like this feedback, without it they tend to get bored and inactive.

To prevent feedback loops there are 60 analogue switches to momentarily turn off the processing circuits when a stim signal is sent

To the left & right of the centre console is the synth itself. They appear to float on two wings.
This amplifier section sits just below the incubator. The cables patch control voltages from the neurons to the synthesizer itself.
The synth is composed of two CellF voice, two CellF action panels, two multiband distortions,8 Frigates (frequency2CV and frequency2gate modules) and lots & lots of VCAs ---- made up of 4 voltage controlled matrix mixers (32 VCAs in each so 128 VCAs).

 The CellF Voice panel

The CellF Action Panel

The NLC Synth - Left Wing

The NonLinearCircuits Synth - Right Wing.

A short recording from Sunday's performance.
CellF will also be releasing a properly recorded video from the night. I'll post links here when this
becomes available.

1. The CellF Project - Guy Ben-Ary
2. NLC video - July 23, 2015
3. NLC - Setting up the first concert
4. NLC - The CellF Panels
5. Muffs - CellF Semi Living modular synthesizer

Please contact me if there are any errors, omissions, etc.
I'll update this page as I go along. Jono

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