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Creative

May. 16, 2012 10:30 am

Data Garden releases plant-made electronic music album

Recorded live at Philadelphia Museum of Art, find out more about this experimental sound engineering performance art.

Visitors forming a human chain with the plants during the live Quartet recording at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Photo Credit: Inna Spivakova

Here’s what you don’t expect to hear when you download a new music album.

“On lead synthesizer, a philodendron.”

In case you don’t know, a philodendron is not some new indie pop icon you’re not cool enough to know about, it’s a flowering plant.

It looks like this:

The philodendron’s bandmates? Two Schleffera plants on the rhythm tone generator and the bass synthesizer as well as a Snake Plant on ambience and effects.

And, of course, some humans armed with technology who could take the electrical impulses generated by the plants and turn them into music.

Those humans — Sam Cusumano, Joe Patitucci and Alex Tyson — are from experimental art/music record label Data Garden, who live recorded the entire recently-launched album at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last April. The album’s title, Quartet: Live at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, is an homage to its unexpected origins.

To download and listen to Quartet click here.

The two main musical tracks are nearly an hour long each. The effect is beepy, static-y, asynchronous and calming all at the same time. It alternately sounds like many people playing video games, a patchy communication from space and an alarm clock. It’s certainly not the music you’d expect your office ficus to produce.

“The data is all there – the natural metabolic processes of the plants, the changes in conductivity of the humans touching them and the energy of the space. It’s fun for me to see, not only how the data was translated into music but how the music is translated back into meaning by the listener,” Patitucci said. “Everyone comes away with a unique experience that’s their own and that’s really what we’re looking to encourage.”

Patitucci, a cofounder of Data Garden, told Technically Philly he noticed that the sounds emanating from the plants seemed to be influenced by the people in the room. Over the course of the weekend, he estimated that a 1,000 people visited the live recording exhibition.

“I found that the people who seemed to have the most effect were pregnant women, energy healers, botanists and florists,” Patitucci said. “We don’t have the kind of data to say there was a direct cause and effect relationship there but in my observations, I definitely saw correlations.”

The album is the third in a trio of plantable albums recorded and produced by Data Garden, who also recently saw success funding a Kickstarter to support it’s second annual Switched-On Garden public art event which will take place in October. Last year, Switched-On Garden drew people out to Bartram’s Garden to experiment with music and technology in a natural setting and celebrate the official launch of Data Garden in 2011.

You can watch video from the inaugural Switch-On Garden below:

The outfit is constantly seeking unusual ways to connect people with nature, art and technology.

Patitucci, 33, and Tyson, 27, are cofounders of Data Garden which came together in 2010 based on the idea that music should be created and distributed in a tangible way, not just digitally, but that those tactile vehicles shouldn’t be made of the sorts of materials that languish in landfills.

So in addition to making music with plants, they release all of their albums as on a piece of seed paper with a download code. Once you’ve downloaded the digital music files, you can plant the paper in the ground just like any other seeds.

“I wanted to find something that would, not only not be junk, but enhance our lives and add beauty to our environment,” Patitucci said. “The natural solution to me was plants in some form but having a flower shop in your band van while you’re driving through the desert on a U.S. tour would be a disaster, so I came to seed paper.”

Patitucci, who lives in South Philly, says that outside the walls of the Art Museum people have found the Quartet’s bleepy plant music surprisingly versatile.

“People are really enjoying it. It sounds great in almost any situation — waking up, going to sleep, exercising, reading, meditating, gardening, Patitucci said. “It’s just really great soothing music. Everyone comes away with a unique experience that’s their own and that’s really what we’re looking to encourage.”

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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