I study the aggressive Azteca ants that live inside and protect Cecropia trees in the rainforests of Panama, and last year I studied the internal structure of the colony by dissecting 14 trees. The trees have hollow, connected segments, called internodes, similar to bamboo where the colony resides - one colony per tree distributed among its internodes. I counted the number of workers, larvae (brood), entrances, leaves, and queen location and created a computer program in MATLAB that translates that data into an internode-based audio representation - a musical composition - that plays from the bottom of the tree to the top. The program works by mapping the variables of the colony structure (worker population, entrances, queen location, etc.) to different musical parameters (tempo, pitch, vibrato, etc.) which results in a unique audio composition for each tree.
- clicks: 1 per internode, spacing = height of internode
- lower melody: workers, number in internode = note frequency
- higher pure-tone melody: brood, number in internode = note frequency
- vibrato on melodies: scale insects, number in internode = vibrato period
- high-pitched buzzy pulses: queen's internode
- low-pitched thumps: entrances
- chord: root note triad changes to the 4th triad when internodes have leaves
Reverb was added later to accentuate the fact that these trees are now gone, sacrificed for science, but their colonies are immortalized through these treesongs. The track order plays from trees closest to my village to trees deep in the heart of the rainforest.
Click on each track to view the visual representation specific to each tree and follow along with the audio.