( U N ) H E A R D
(AUDIO VISUAL INSTALLATION 2019)
( U n ) H e a r d
By Teddy Hunter
Words by Rosey Brown
How can we hear something that cannot be heard?
How can we translate something that does not talk?
‘The lichens are strangely connected beings: algae intimately interrelated with fungi. A still stranger connection: algae, fungi, humans.’ (Arne Næss, The Ecology of Wisdom)
We know that complex root systems connect plants and trees, but what is less understood is how these interconnections facilitate plant-to-plant communication. Whilst we may not be able to hear plants ‘talking’ to each other, we can nevertheless sonify biodata, using the concept of ‘plant language’ as a challenge to translate a language that cannot be heard into a sound that we can interpret.
The installation consists of three ambisonic ‘worlds’ - each consisting of a set of four loudspeakers - installed in close proximity to each other. Ambisonics allows us to hear sound more holistically - it’s a multi-directional recording and playback process. From a distance the sounds merge, but as we move closer to each world we begin to hear that amongst the sonic overlaps and collisions, certain characteristics emerge, allowing us to drift from one listening environment to another. In a sense, each world - based on the language of a particular plant - provides the listener with a different way of translating plant messages, allowing us to ‘eavesdrop’ on a plant conversation.
In the centre of the installation, a device called the MIDI Sprout is used to gather live biodata from the plant. The MIDI Sprout then translates the voltages that the plant emits into data that we can further transform and render into a series of sounds and messages. Part of what we hear results from a collaboration with writer, Rosey Brown, who uses recorded words to think about how plants might communicate. Is it a conversation, a warning or more like eavesdropping? Unlike human speech, which must be linear, changes in roots and chemical signals mean that plants could be expressing several concepts or concerns at once. The words seem random at first - layered over one another and spoken at the same time, but by interacting with the central plant we find that it responds by forming nonsensical sentences that are spatially placed around the room. Real-time visual editing simultaneously generates a visible representation of the biodata. In addition, warped field recordings are used to give an impression of ‘plant time’ in the installation. Whilst it may be hard to describe how it is that plants communicate with each other, and what plant time might be like, we can at least imagine that things are very different from a non-human perspective.
By creating three ambisonic worlds of real-time sounds and recordings, that allow us to eavesdrop and immerse ourselves in a different language, and a different flow of time, our aim is to open up new sonic perspectives on the lifeworld of plants.
This audio visual installation uses both found footage and footage filmed at the forest of dean. Using the data collected from the MIDI Sprout, the films have been edited alongside the patterns that the MIDI data show. This is to give a visual aspect to the installation where, just like the transformation 'silent' communication system of the plants into sound, you are given a visual aspect where colour and visual effects are used to show these fluctuation and erratic behaviours in nature. Two different films were used for the installation.
The core of this installation was to try and understand a link that see between sound and biological architectures. Sound has an intrinsic relationship with man-made structures so there must be something similar happening between sound and natural/biological architectures. Trees, plants, bacteria’s grow – we can see it but we can’t hear it but they must make sounds in their own right – just like the planets.
It was by looking at sound from a plants or trees point of view and seeing how they respond to their surrounds, how do they interact with each other, how do they interact with us? How do they communicate with each other? came the discovery that plants omit micro-voltages. Through photosynthesis the break down of organic matter produced by plants off sees electrons as a waste product from bacteria found in the plants roots.
The idea of translation or transformation of these micro-voltages into an audible sound source was an important factor but what was also important was the installation allowed the plants to be shown as unpredictable as they are in their natural open environments. This give way to the idea of eavesdropping into a plants world and personifying a plant by giving them a voice, or a language.