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Drawing from my recent works examining spatiality and resonance, WoodEar explores the musical and network mappings that can be created when a tree is considered as a resonant object. Composer David Dunn’s 2006 eco-acoustic project, The Sound of Light in Trees, showed the intense and complex sound world that exists within the bark of trees being destroyed by beetles. For WoodEar I am not just interested in resonances within the trunk, but in a number of constantly-changing environmental factors that impact the tree’s life and are filtered through its body: light, external sound, wind, and temperature.
To capture these various elements, I propose to connect a number of different sensors and contact microphones to a single tree. The sensor data would be collected by an Arduino Bluetooth microcontroller and transmitted to a nearby installation listening location. The two contact microphones embedded within the trunk would send audio directly to the audio interface. The listening location would contain a Mac Mini computer, a digital audio interface, and a pair of studio monitors. In addition to the local playback, sound elements from the tree would be streamed to a website, allowing visitors to manipulate and mix the different musical streams via a browser-based interface.
The composition of the piece will focus on how to treat the different streams of information. For example, I expect that the accelerometers will pick up the gentle swaying of the tree in a breeze – this type of data stream could be used as a low frequency oscillator (LFO) to influence or interact with other sound elements. Photosensors positioned around the trunk should each pick up different light levels depending on weather, season, and time of day. Contact microphones embedded within the tree may pick up external sounds – aircraft passing overhead, squirrels scrambling up the trunk, and wind creaking the boughs.
Bringing the sounding body of the tree to the network is a natural fit – a tree is a network too: roots sensing and absorbing nutrients, leaves sensing and photosynthesizing sunlight, and phloem and xylem running throughout to carry nutrients across the structure. WoodEar attempts to merge the resonant qualities of this biological network with the digital network. Projecting the tree data into the Internet gives people anywhere access to the environmental experiences of the tree – one that might be very distant from them, but that is still contributing oxygen to and drawing carbon dioxide from the air they breathe. The network enables this connection like no other medium.
Great care would be taken to not harm the tree used for this piece – I would consult an arborist and other relevant experts as necessary. The tree will need to be located near a building with an Internet connection.