I’m obsessed with plants. My old roommate used to complain that our house looked like a jungle, but I never understood how one could have too many beautiful, green, living things in the house. It’s a good thing I didn’t know then that there’s a way to make music from houseplants — my roommate would have probably turned me and my leafy friends out onto the street.
It’s never surprised me to hear that music and plants have a connection. According to Dorothy Retallack’s book The Sound of Music and Plants, three hours of music a day leads to healthier-than-normal plants, while eight hours a day can kill them. Apparently, plants like classical music more than heavy metal, and will even grow toward the sounds. Basically, plants can “hear,” or more likely, can pick up the sound waves and vibrations emitted by music. But plants can provide sound too, via biofeedback.
A Philadelphia collective called Data Garden specializes in biofeedback music. Using a MIDI converter called the “Sprout,” the group can convert data from plants into MIDI clips. The Sprout has two probes that look like the little suction cups used in medical procedures, and when they’re attached to a plant’s leaf they emit a small electrical current and then measure the plant’s response to the current. The same technique, galvanic skin response, is used to gauge people’s emotional states and in lie detector tests. The plant responses to the electrical current fluctuate, which the Sprout translates into MIDI notes that can be recognized and played on computers and other musical equipment such as synthesizers in real time.
Data Garden is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the MIDI Sprout. As of right now, the Kickstarter has just under $18,000 in pledges, with a goal of $25,000 and 26 days to go, so it’s looking pretty good for the project. Backers get Data Garden albums, t-shirts, and posters, and pledges of $60 or more receive the MIDI Sprout kit containing everything needed to build the Sprout and tap into the emotional state of your houseplants. Pledges of $95 or more will receive the pre-built Sprout, and pledges of $140 or more also receive a USB converter. Big spenders get what’s called the “jam pack,” which includes a pocket piano for rocking out with your leafy friends.
The biofeedback music is a little bit strange, but no stranger than lots of electronic and ambient music these days. In fact, it sounds like me trying to learn Ableton. And if you really dig it, you can get Data Garden’s albums and commune with nature.