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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Hi-tech fish make their own music
A ground-breaking hi-tech art project that generates music using fish and digital locators has opened its doors as BBC World Service Go Digital producer Colin Grant reports.

Screenshot of The Lake images, Julie Freeman
Real fish movements drive the animations
"Never work with animals and wireless networks," cautions the digital artist, Julie Freeman.

She is putting the finishing touches to an unusual exhibition that invites electronically tagged fresh-water fish to conduct their very own mood music.

Visitors who find their way to Tingrith Fishery in Bedfordshire, southern England, will find that amongst the fishermen, Ms Freeman has stealthily installed a gallery, housed in a 20ft-high converted cylindrical silo.

The exhibition called The Lake demonstrates how increasingly artists are collaborating with the makers of ground-breaking technologies to explore a brave new world of digital art.

Sixteen fish from the lake - an equal number of tench, rudd, goldfish and carp - have been volunteered for the exhibition.

From web to pod

Under anaesthesia they are slit open and miniature bio-acoustic tags are inserted into their bodies.

The fish are then stitched up, woken up and returned to the lake where they emit a tiny acoustic signal every two seconds.

Within the lake are a number of hydrophones (underwater microphones) which pick up the emissions from the fish tags and feed that information into a laptop hidden nearby that works out the co-ordinates of each fish.

Silo being installed, Julie Freeman
The gallery is in an old silo
That information is, in turn, sent over a wireless connection to two other computers in the roof of the silo, and using software Ms Freeman has written, one of the computers generates an animation from the movement of the fish.

The other computer generates a soundscape, playing sound samples recorded in the environment that Freeman has matched to seven different types of movement or behaviour patterns of the fish.

You can see the results in the converted silo housing loudspeakers which play this random fish symphony and a canvas membrane, acting as a false ceiling, upon which the coloured representation of the fish movements are depicted.

It is a beautiful, aural and visual entertainment where the viewer is offered a sensual experience of the private lives of fish, ordinarily hidden deep beneath the surface of the lake.

Barring a few teething problems with clashing and crashing software, it is all worked smoothly.

But a little peal of anxiety works its way across Freeman's brow when asked to consider the likelihood of another artistic intervention: the real possibility that a fisherman lands one of her fish.

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