Deep Green Cuts: Reading Tree Rings

Tree rings reveal a tree’s lifespan and growth cycles, but a new record player can translate the tree slices into piano music.
By Stephen Messenger, from “Treehugger”
May/June 2012
Add to My MSN

A one-of-a-kind record: Bartholmäus Traubeck’s turntable in action
IMAGE COURTESY OF BARTHOLOMÄUS TRAUBECK


Content Tools

Related Content

Postal Rate Hike Redux

As Utne.com reported back in April, postage and distribution costs can determine whether the rowboat...

A Literary Treat for Tree Huggers

Trees of all sizes loom large in the world of Linda Underhill, the author of the new book The Way of...

7 Billion and Counting

The world population reaches 7 billion people….

Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Christmas Tree

Apparently, Christmas traditions can be compatible with an eco-friendly mindset. A recent post on Su...

Aside from the gentle rustling of leaves in the breeze or the creaking of a bough in a winter gale, a tree’s character may best be described as “the strong and silent type”—but, as so often is the case with such personalities, they have the most hauntingly beautiful stories to tell.

For nearly a century, dendrochronologists have practiced reading tree rings for clues about the lives of trees. And though the field of study has helped shed light on historic growth cycles for scientists, it’s all been rather dry and clinical. But now, thanks to a special turntable designed to read tree rings as if they were tracks on an LP, a tree’s biography can be heard like its very own discography.

German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck recently debuted a record player he developed that is capable of digitally reading tree slices and translating them into moving piano music. Tree rings, of course, are considered to be annual records of a tree’s growth rate. They offer clues to the hardships and fruitful periods the tree experiences over its lifetime.

The digital arts blog Creative Applications described how Traubeck’s project, fittingly titled “Years,” works: “A tree’s year rings are analyzed for their strength, thickness, and rate of growth. This data serves as the basis for a generative process that outputs piano music based on the year-ring data. [The tree rings] are then mapped to a scale which is defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined rule set of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this rule set very differently.”  

Like a great composition, the sounds produced from reading tree rings are aesthetically beautiful and provide a strangely ethereal glimpse into the otherwise silent life of our planet’s most essential organisms. Listening to their visceral tones, it becomes possible to imagine Earth’s pristine forests not just as places where life can thrive, but also as places where quiet musicians record, in their own way, what it means to be alive.








Post a comment below.

 

Sonya Crank
5/10/2012 5:15:41 PM
Remember music is the universal language and this may be the way for trees to truly "speak" to our hearts.

Sonya Crank
5/10/2012 5:10:53 PM
I think tree music would be beautiful and profound.

Sarah Crank
5/10/2012 5:06:52 PM
I for one would love to hear this.

gmsemer
5/9/2012 3:41:35 PM
Really?! More useless self-indulgent distractions and daydreaming about nature instead of life saving actions and outrage. Our planet's forests are dying not singing! (Oh I know, no need to panic, it will all be okay... soon... right? )








Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!