There’s a hip new Music Man in the valley, but his choice of instrument may not be what you think. Certainly not a guitar, nor a piano (or anything with holes for you to blow into, for that matter). Something more futuristic, maybe? Like a synthesizer?
Almost there, but not quite!
The newfangled instrument isn’t just any old ready-to-play synth with keyboards, meant to play a specific sound when you press a key. In fact, this synth doesn’t make any sound at all… Not until it is connected to a source of pure electrical energy. Which in this case is that organism that seems to be revealing new talents every day… the mushroom.
Meet Noah Kalos, better known as MycoLyco, the mushroom-lovin’ electronic musician who has turned into a sleeper hit on TikTok. How exactly did he manage to play music from the presumably mute mushrooms? Did fashion designer Stella McCartney really showcase her mycelium-fabric designs to MycoLyco’s shroom music? And did Kalos single handedly cause last year’s shortage of Lion’s Mane mushrooms?
Let’s tune in, shall we!
Can Mushrooms Be Used to Make Music?
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Kalos explained what happens when he puts his mushroom music mechanism to work:
“It’s a creative collaboration between humans, mushrooms, and machines.”
As MycoLyco, Kalos has carved out a niche for himself in #mushtok — the dedicated space on TikTok for all things mushroom — by playing his unique flavour of music. So, how does he do it?
First, Kalos connects a many-wired, modular synth to the skin of a living mushroom. Next, the wires pick up on the mushroom’s cellular activity, which makes a bioelectrical jolt every second. This vibration is then converted into bleeps and bloops, and the rest, and finally finessed into music magic.
From Simple Life to Meteoric Rise
Kalos told Rolling Stone about what life was like for him before he turned viral on TikTok: a quiet home in rural North Carolina with his wife and two kids, two and four respectively. Kalos even has the country crooner look down pat in his spectacles, sensible clothing, and an impressive beard.
All of that changed overnight when one of Kalos’s first videos on YouTube garnered over one million views. It was a frenzy. He retrofitted a spare bedroom as a recording studio – slash – mycology ‘lab’. Kalos now had money to spare, too, as he told Rolling Stone:
“I made $5,000 in two weeks from it.”
Flash forward to 2021 where short-form clips are the name of the game. As Mycolyco, Kalos is now a prominent fixture of #mushtok. He has 600,000 followers and a staggering eight and a half million likes on TikTok. He doesn’t really make as much money as a creator on the Gen-Z app, though, as he once did on YouTube.
“If you say how much you make from it, they can kick you out of the Creator Fund…I don’t want to be the one to have to sue TikTok. I don’t have ‘lawyer money’.”
Just a Small Town Boy
Believe it or not, synthesizer shindigz weren’t always Kalos’s favourite hobby. He spent his boyhood years in Massachusetts, then went to art school at Ohio’s Oberlin College. During all those years, young Noah’s mind was rooted elsewhere: on the low-tech, more eco-friendly approach to agriculture called permaculture. So, to be even closer to nature, Kalos said, “Why not” and took a job as a field instructor for a wilderness therapy spot. One thing led to another, and his interest in mushroom foraging grew wild as the fungi themselves. His camp counselors, on the other hand, were not amused with his ‘mushroom picking trips’.
“Wilderness survival people were very mycophobic back then.”
Thankfully, things have improved somewhat in terms of the public acceptance of mushrooms, magic or otherwise. Said Kalos:
“I think in the last 10 years, we’ve seen a big shift in this country. A lot more people are getting out and foraging, and learning to identify mushrooms.”
For a couple of months, the Kalos family home also became a full-blown fungi farm. How on earth did it come to that point? Kalos laughs.
“The idea originally was to turn this whole studio into a cordyceps growing room and kind of put the music away for a little bit just to make some money, get the family moved into a bigger house.”
Cordyceps, also known as the ‘Zombie Fungus’, are a parasitic fungus that grows out of the brains of dead ants, spiders, and other insects. From being a staple in Tibetan medicine, cordyceps extract has grown into a lucrative business in the U.S. A jar of 90 capsules, for instance, costs around $20 on Amazon. Quite the tidy profit for farmers, indeed.
So how did it go for Kalos’s shot in the dark?
“But I hit some red tape with being able to sell them because I’m drying them in a house with a dog and all that sort of stuff.”
That’s when he discovered a better money-making opportunity in social media. And boy, did this one pan out!
After going viral for his mushroom synth music, Kalos caught the eyes of not a few celebrities. The streaming giant Netflix for example, liked his style so much that they contacted him to make music for Vivo, a children’s movie. But there was a catch.
“They had me connect some wildflowers to my synthesizer for that…[Netflix was] afraid of the mushrooms.”
Even rising pop star SZA began to follow Kalos on the site. What was it like to grab the attention of a chart-topping singer?
“I was like, ‘Oh really? Let me follow her back.’”
Kalos slid into SZA’s DMs for a potential collaboration. The pop star is, after all, well-known for her experimental tunes. So, did SZA take a chance on him?
“She said yes. But I haven’t heard from her for like a month, so I don’t know what’s up with that. She’s probably busy — or ghosting me. But the fact that I can say I’m getting ghosted by SZA is cool.”
Always look on the bright side eh, MycoLyco!
Mycelium Fabric Fashion Show
Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that mycelium — the wispy root-like extensions of mushrooms — can be used as a substitute for leather? The world of fashion has caught up with the trend, apparently, with English designer Stella McCartney featuring a mushroom-leather purse during Paris Fashion Week last October.
The mycelium fabric she used came from Bolt Threads, a startup that makes plant-based alternatives to animal skin, fur, or feathers in fashion. Their big-name clients range from Adidas to Kering, to millennial favourite Lululemon.
For the runway music, McCartney felt that Kalos’s mushroom synth music was the only logical pick. She told Rolling Stone:
“I wanted to immerse viewers in an entirely sensory experience which led me to discover the incredible Noah Kalos, who was such a natural choice for the show soundtrack.
“Noah’s practice is phenomenal.”
Talk about strutting it, dude!
Much Ado About Lion’s Mane
One peculiar incident during lockdown was a sudden shortage in lion’s mane mushrooms, which a farmer blamed on a surge of TikTok users panic-buying and hoarding the fungi. Kalos thinks his popular video on the topic could be the culprit.
“I may have accidentally caused a lion’s mane shortage last year. If you look at TikTok, and you see ‘lion’s mane’, and I have a video with like five million views about how it regrows brain cells…”
Ah, the perks of being a #mushtok superstar!
What the Future Sounds Like for Mushroom Music
What’s next for the farm kid turned amateur mycologist, turned mushroom synth musician? Kalos says a more stripped-down vibe would be sick AF for his next album:
“This is going to be more like minimal techno. Maybe get some bass music sounds… Maybe get a little psy trance-y.”
The future looks promising, indeed, for those looking to grow their own mushrooms at home. Not only is the process super easy and fun, grow kits themselves are at an all-time bargain. This is why Kalos thinks there will always be enough shrooms to meet today’s demands.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what’s growing faster — the people who want to start a mushroom business or the people who are consuming the mushrooms.”
That’s the influencer life for you, MycoLyco!