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Interactive exploration of a hierarchical spider web structure with sound

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3D spider webs exhibit highly intricate fiber architectures and owe their outstanding performance to a hierarchical organization that spans orders of magnitude in length scale from the molecular silk protein, to micrometer-sized fibers, and up to cm-scale web. Similarly, but in a completely different physical manifestation, music has a hierarchical structure composed of elementary sine wave building blocks that can be combined with other waveforms to create complex timbres, which are then arranged within larger-scale musical compositions. Although apparently different, spider webs and music have many similarities, as we point out in this work. Here, we propose an intuitive and interactive way to explore and visualize a 3D Cyrtophora citricola spider web geometry that has been digitally modeled with micron-scale details from full-scale laboratory experiments. We use model-based sonification to translate the web architecture into sound, allowing for aural perception and interpretation of its essential topological features. We implement this sonification using Unity3D and Max/MSP to create an interactive spider web environment in which a user travels through a virtual spider web. Each silk fiber in their field of view is sonified using different sine waves. Together, the sonified fibers create new and more complex timbres that reflects the architecture of 3D spider webs. These concepts are implemented into a spider web-based instrument for live performances, art installations and data exploration. It provides an unprecedented and creative way to immerse the composer, audience and user in an immersive multimedia experience generated by the complexity of a 3D spider web.

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Availability of data and material

The spider web images and model are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Code availability

The sonification model (Unity3D game and Max/MSP patch) are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This research was supported by the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology (CAST) program, The Mellon Foundation, and Studio Tomás Saraceno GmbH. We are grateful for the inspiration from Studio Saraceno to develop this instrument for a public performance in the context of his exhibition ON AIR at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris in November 2018, supported by Festival d'Automne à Paris and curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel. Additional support provided by the Office of Naval Research (grant # N00014-16-1-2333), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) U01EB014976, and The Mellon Foundation.

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Authors and Affiliations



IS, IH, CS, EZ, TS, MJB designed the research and overall project. IS created the spider web model, the Unity3D game, virtual reality, and Max/MSP patch for the real-time interactive sonification model. IS, IH, CS, EZ and MJB designed the sonification model. IH created the Max/MSP patch for real-time sound sculpting of the sonification of the spider web. CS and EZ designed the Spider’s Canvas/Arachnodrone physical installation and performance. CS collected photographs of spiders and webs and created a photo montage video superposed onto the spider web model projections. CS designed the visuals for the performance. IS, IH, CS, EZ performed together the Spider’s Canvas/Arachnodrone. During the performances: IS controlled player’s point of view in the virtual spider web and fiber esthetics, IH sound-sculpted in real-time web sonification, CS performed on the Ebow and EZ performed the EWI. TS commissioned the premiere of the Spider’s Canvas/Arachnodrone. AB and RM edided the paper. IS, IH, CS, EZ and MJB wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Markus J. Buehler.

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Su, I., Hattwick, I., Southworth, C. et al. Interactive exploration of a hierarchical spider web structure with sound. J Multimodal User Interfaces 16, 71–85 (2022).

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