Sound of nature

Artists, scientists and designers collaborate on different projects to explore the sound of nature.

Like a person gasping for air when it’s in short supply, living trees make noises when they are running out of water, and a team of French scientists is a step closer to pinpointing the noises. Lab experiments at Grenoble University in France have isolated ultrasonic pops, which are 100 times faster than what a human can hear, in slivers of dead pine wood bathed in a hydrogel to simulate the conditions of a living tree.

The findings could lead to the design of a handheld device that allows people to diagnose stressed trees using only microphones. Such a device may be particularly important if droughts become more common and more severe, as many global warming models predict they will.

Media artist Bartholomaus Traubeck has figured out a way to create music from a cross section of a tree. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that he plays the tree’s rings like a record’s grooves.

While listening to the headphones hanging from the trees branches you can hear water being pulled up from the roots to the leaves through the xylem tubes.  You will hear a quiet popping sound that is produced by the water passing through the cells of the Xylem tubes and cavitating as it mixes with air on its’ way upwards. A deep rumbling sound that is produced by the tree moving vibrating.
As the leaves lose the water through evaporation the cells below the leaf become drier and they in turn pull water from the next cells below, this carries on down the tree all the way down to the roots. The water molecules cling together and form a water chain from the leaves to the roots under tension-cohesion.
The ‘Tree Listening Project’ aims to provide an experience that links both science and art by engaging the public with what happens inside a tree, and to excite and inspire a keen interest in trees.

It’s long been known that cavitations — air bubbles that block the flow of water throughout the tree — make a sound that can be heard with a microphone. If too many of these cavitations occur, such as we might see in drought conditions, a tree can die.

  • Finally, it is symphony of sounds from the Washington Park Arboretum called ‘Music of Trees’ – streams gurgling, flies dancing on a microphone, squirrels rustling through the underbrush – has been transformed. by the composer Abby Aresty. The music is part natural, part imagined.

 Aresty writes, “When I began working on this site I was excited to explore sounds of new life around this gigantic fallen limb . . . On a few occasions I brought a homemade contact microphone to this site. (Like its name suggests, it picks up sounds by touch rather than through the air.) Though I was outwitted by many an ant – they refused to climb over it – the flies loved it. When they landed on the small disk I was able to capture the normally inaudible rhythmic patterns the flies create as they dance about.”


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