If Trees Could Sing, What Would They Sound Like?

Thanks to Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, we know how a tree would dance.  But what would a tree sound like if it had a voice to sing?  Innovator Bartholomäus Traubeck has created a machine that allows us to hear the haunting compositions of tree rings.

Looks ominous, doesn't it?  The machine, called Years, is something of a modified turntable.  Instead of using a needle to read the tree rings in the disc shaped cross-section of a tree, it uses an optical scanner.  While Traubeck admits to being more skilled in graphic design, the concept of producing audio out of tree rings intrigued him.  With no musical background, it was more of the challenge to make the machine that interested Traubeck--and this led to him having to think outside of his own box to get results.

The optical arm moves in the same manner as that of a record player--from the outside of the disc to the inside.  Instead of reading the tree rings with a needle, this machine utilizes a camera that reads the wood at a microscopic rate.  In effect it doesn't truly read the rings only, but actually scans the entire disc of wood.  Due to the uneven nature of the rings, the camera only records a signal when a ring is in its reading proximity.

Though connected to the concept of bio-electronics, Traubeck only used this as a jumping off point.  He approached the project by delineating the aspects that separate "data" from "database."  Data would be considered a constantly changing algorithm, as it would come from a living thing; DNA is an example of this.  A Database is already collected and stored information--like the tree rings.  He approached the project with this concept in mind, seeing it as an integration of nature (life) with technology (data storage).

While Traubeck could have chosen any type of instrument for the output of the tree rings, he decided on the piano due to the range of tones and the fact that the piano has maintained the same type of sound for hundreds of years.  Here is what this incredible machine can produce:

I find it interesting that some of the work sounds truly composed, while other aspects sound like a toddler banging on a keyboard.

What does the future hold for such experiments as this?  It is definitely a start toward integrating nature and technology in unusual and creative ways.  Perhaps using technology similar to this will help humans crack the whale song of cetaceans or find stories in ancient stone.  Regardless, this is a bold, interesting, and beautiful way to look at nature from a different angle.

To listen to and purchase tracks from this remarkable invention, click here!


IFL Science

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Teaser image by John P. Barker

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