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Plants making music…what’s that all about?

New type of composer: plants.

Photo by Adrienne Adar

We are used to listening to music from acoustic and electronic instruments. We can even create new sounds and arrange our sound libraries to be used whenever we want. The mechanic is simple, we press a button and a sound comes out.

We can ask ourselves, how can a living being that barely moves on its own (or takes a really long time to do so) make music? Well, maybe not on its own. It needs a little push from us. And the result is quite fascinating.

How do you start then?

Translating plant’s electricity into music

People discovered that plants can produce electric impulses. The leaf for example can gather electric charges on its surface and pass them through the inner plant tissue. The plant tissue then transmits it to other parts of the plant. You can actually connect a plug to the plant stem and harvest its power, just like they did with humans in The Matrix.

Okay, no need to get so depressed and pessimistic, but when it comes to making music you can use this electricity as one would use fingers to press a key in a piano. It’s the plants’ way of getting to play notes.

How do you do it? You put electrodes both at the root and on the leaves of the plant. These electrical signals are translated into different pitches (low/high notes). One way to do it is to divide the voltage range emitted by a plant and assign a pitch to certain voltages. Once the plant emits a specific voltage, you get a musical note.


Photo by KELLY TUNNEY from Radio WPSU

So once you can translate the electric signal into notes, you can then proceed to the next phase: assign sounds.

Let’s give some context. In a typical musical software used for composing (e.g. Cubase, Logic, Ableton Live) you can load different sounds (e.g. electric cello) and once you press the keyboard you hear that sound.

By pressing keys you would hear the sound of that fierce electric cello through the speakers or headphones. You can put whatever “sound costume” and you’ll see it while you play.

The same would apply to plant music. Once you translate those electrical signals into distinctive pitches, you can make the plant sound like that same electric cello, or any other sound you’d like.

Here’s a video that might help:

Just one more thing. As a fun fact, some companies are selling a plant-into-music translator device. You get to attach electrodes to your plants at home and listen to their lovely music. How thoughtful…someone is finally going to listen to them:

By MIDI Sprout company

This is for Rick and Morty fans. Remember when Rick invented a dog translator? It just came into mind while looking at this device. Anyway. That’s all, moving on!

Musical sounds through wood grooves

Another form of “extracting” music from a plant is by translating tree rings into music.

What’s that all about?

It’s similar to how a gramophone works. A small needle passes through the grooves of a record. When it starts turning, the grooves make the needle vibrate back and forth and this vibration is amplified through a horn (cylinder-like). And voilá! Sounds come out.

Here’s an example of plant music by playing back the rings of a tree. There’s a camera instead of a needle. This camera reads these grooves in the tree’s trunk and translates them into notes.

We get to listen to these notes through pre-programmed sounds. This final part works the same as in the other form of plant music. You choose which sounds you’d like to hear when playing those notes.

Final Thoughts

Another type of composer has entered the stage. It’s a very unusual one, but there it is: plant music-making. People have discovered a way to bring out their inner voice, and we all get to hear it now.

I wonder how will copyright apply in this case? But…that’s a topic for another time.

Anyway, this endeavor is a fascinating combination of organic matter and technology. We are able to bring new sounds to our world. One day it might even go beyond. Some sort of communication going both ways. You never know.

For now, you can check out my article on the other side of the venue: how music can influence plants, and specifically…plant growth. You can even get some ideas for your garden, your plants will certainly appreciate it

By Pavle Marinkovic on May 13, 2020.

Are you curious about the world of sound and music? Learn how music can enhance a plant’s growth, the way sound changes our sense of taste, understand the music industry, and much more! Join my newsletter to embark on this journey of sound awareness.

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