Marcus Maeder (2015)

trees: Pinus sylvestris – Immersive Lab Version

The link between trees and various climatic processes is usually not immediately apparent. Trees and plants do not live merely on moisture from rain, sunlight (which drives gas exchange) and nutrients from the soil: they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and produce the oxygen that we breathe, maintaining our climate and biosphere. Rendering audible the way in which water transport and trunk diameter, for example, are influenced by sunlight, humidity and wind allows us to identify and understand better than ever before plants’ responses to climatic processes.

Plant physiologists have known that plants emit sounds for several decades now. Many of these sounds are of transpiratory/hydraulic origin and are therefore related to the circulation of water and air within the plant as part of the transpiration process. Some of these emissions (so-called cavitation pulses) are indications of embolism in the water transport system, which occurs when a plant is subjected to drought stress and desiccation. Gathering ecophysiological data (i.e. conducting additionally measurements of the local climatic and environmental conditions and of the physiological processes within a plant in response to these) has become an important method in research on climate change and vegetation dynamics. It helps to determine physiological thresholds of plants in terms of increasing temperature and consequently drought stress.

The sonification system “trees: Pinus sylvestris” is based on a combination of different data sonification techniques, i.e. playback of original, transposed acoustic emission recordings and parameter mapping sonification, whereby the sound parameters of a sample player (amplitude, pitch and filters) are controlled by the data flow. The different sonification modules are implemented in a software which replays the ecophysiological data of a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in the Swiss Alps throughout two days in June 2015.

A video of ‘trees: Pinus sylvestris’, with the artist and ICST staff-members interacting.

Artist interview with Marcus Maeder, where he talks about the piece’s content, concepts, and experiences (in English).

“trees: Rendering ecophysiological process audible” is a research project conducted by the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology ICST of the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK, in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL. trees is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK.

Artistic realization and programming: Marcus Maeder (ICST). Scientific data and analysis: Roman Zweifel (WSL). Programming support: Thomas Peter (ICST). Technical engineering field measurements: Jonas Meyer (ICST, decentlab GmbH).

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