The people over at Data Garden are doing some pretty interesting stuff right now, harnessing the data stored in plants to create music through their newest creation, the MIDI Sprout. Joe Patitucci is the co-founder of Data Garden, a company that is equal parts journal, record label and events organiser. Patitucci is among a group of people working at the company who believe in ‘encouraging the discovery of electronic music through the windows of history, science and community’ and now with the Midi Sprout, the use of plants in performance and recording is a something they think holds huge potential.
In 2012, Data Garden showcased Quartet at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Developed by engineer Sam Cusumano, Quartet made use of an early form of the technology that is present in the MIDI Sprout. It worked by attaching electrodes to the leaf a plant which read its biodata using a psychogalvanometer, a device similar to that used in lie-detector tests. “This works by reading changes in electrical resistance,” Patitucci explained. “The galvanometer converts the activities of the plants into data and then with Quartet we went from there to convert that to MIDI through a computer. But now, everything is in one compact unit with the MIDI Sprout, it converts to MIDI in the unit so you can plug directly to synth without even needing to run through a computer anymore.”
Data Garden have been testing their newest creation on hardy tropical plants which contain high levels of water in their leaves, leading to interesting results and less damage is caused to these plants. “More moisture means there’s going to be more variation in the conductivity of the plant, they’re going to have more activity going on in them, every plant definitely has different characteristics,” Patitucci said. “When used on people this kind of technology is used to detect emotional states, on plants it’s less clear what exactly you’re detecting but plants do have changes in their conductivity just like we humans do. So what that is telling us we’re not exactly sure yet, but it’s really quite interesting to think about when you’re generating the sounds.”
From the MIDI Sprout device, the data can then be used to control synths or music software of your choice, such as Reason or Ableton. Patitucci explained the next steps that Data Garden plan to take. “The next phase of this, the two year plan, is really to have something that you would be able to put on your plants, that would be Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled and you’d be able to listen to the music of your plant through your phone.
“We also want a social media to build around this,” Patitucci added. “We want to collect the data from all the different types of plants around the world so we can start to figure out what’s actually happening inside of them.” But he doesn’t quite think the world is ready for that yet though, pointing out that people need to see plants on stage for a while. “People need to get used to the idea that plants are active, they have a creative force within them that can be used to express music and this isn’t that weird of an idea, and once people are like a little bit more used to that, then maybe grandma will hook up the little Bluetooth device to listen to music.”
Influence for technology such as the MIDI Sprout came from a lot of different places including experiments done in the 50s, 60s and 70s by people such as Cleve Backster, who was trying to determine whether plants had consciousness of their own. “There’s a book and a film called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ and that it was really inspirational for us,” Patitucci said. “You know some of the anecdotes are less than scientific, but it’s still a fun exploration of the idea.”
A Kickstarter fundraiser for production of the MIDI Sprout is currently active online, ending in two weeks time. Data Garden have almost reached their $25,000 target and are confident that they will perhaps even double that figure. “After we complete the Kickstarter we want to start getting these units out there to as many artists as possible, get them experimenting with the MIDI Sprout and just seeing how a community builds around this exploration of what’s happening within plants, and how different kinds of energy can affect music that’s being produced by the MIDI Sprout.”
We’re also interested in incorporating the MIDI Sprout into biofeedback therapy where you’re actually we’d like to design sounds that could be used to help people achieve different levels of emotional states,” Patitucci said, confident of his company’s long term vision. “We’ve done a lot of installations and workshops around North America and wherever we go artists are coming to us like, ‘how do I do this, I want to incorporate this into my performance.’ So there’s definitely a demand out there and it’s exciting!”
You can pledge to the MIDI Sprout Kickstarter and help them reach their goal here: