Can a Leaf Make Music?

Techniques and Aesthetics of Plant-Generated Control Voltage in Electronic Music

Poster presentation for the 2019 SMT National Conference in Columbus, Ohio

Additional Materials

Dr. Paul Miller (Duquesne University) and Brian Riordan (University of Pittsburgh)


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Test Subjects and Techniques
Annotated Discography
Biographies of Presenters

Test Subjects and Techniques

Crassula ovata -- Jade plant

Dracaena fragrans -- Cornstalk plant

Instruo's Scion interface module

Brian Riordan's MAX/MSP patch while recording data
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Selected Bibliography

Alpi et al., “Plant Neurobiology: No Brain, No Gain?” Trends in Plant Science, vol. 12/4 (2007), pp. 135-36. [online]

Aristotle. On Plants. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 2019. [online]

Baluska, Frantisek and Stefano Mancuso, ed. Signaling in plants. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 2009.

Beverly, David P. et. al., “Hydraulic and photosynthetic responses of big sagebrush to the 2017 total solar eclipse”, Scientific Reports 9 (2019) [online]

Brenner, E.D. et al., “Plant Neurobiology: the Gain is More Than the Name”, Trends in Plant Science, vol. 12/7 (2007), pp. 285-6. [online]

Chamovitz, Daniel. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. New York: Scientific American (Farrar, Straus and Giroux,) 2012.

Darwin, Charles. The Power of Movement in Plants. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898. [online]

Demers, Joanna. Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Dunn, Peter and Loraine Leeson, “The Aesthetics of Collaboration”, Art Journal, vol. 56/1 (Spring 1997), pp. 26-37. [online]

Fromm, Jörg and Silke Lautner. “Electrical Signals and their Physiological Significance in Plants,” Plant, Cell and Environment, vol. 30 (2006), pp. 249-57. [online]

Galston, Arthur W. and Clifford L. Slayman, “The Not-So-Secret Life of Plants: In which the historical and experimental myths about emotional communication between animal and vegetable are put to rest”, American Scientist, vol. 67/3 (May-June 1979), pp. 337-44. [online]

Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music and Culture. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis, 2008.

Pollan, Michael, “Intelligent Plants”, The New Yorker, December 23 & 30, 2013. [online]

Schultz, Jack C. “Shared Signals and the Potential for Phylogenetic Espionage Between Plants and Animals”, Integrated Comparative Biology. 42/3 (2002), pp. 454-62. [online]

Tompkins, Peter and Christopher Bird. The Secret Life of Plants. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Trewavas, Anthony, “Response to Alpi et al.: Plant neurobiology – all metaphors have value”, Trends in Plant Science vol. 12/6 (2007), pp. 231-3. [online]

Ziegler, David. “How artist Sam Cusumano is creating music from apples and plants,” Technically Philly, 12 May 2014. [online]

MidiSprout source code and design specifications: [online]

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Annotated Discography

Mediation through compositional strategies:

Mamoru Fujieda, Patterns of Plants, with Ishikawa, Maruta, Nishi, Noguchi, Ozawa, Teycheney, on Tzadik – TZ 7025, 1997, compact disc.
Working with a “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yūji Dōgane, Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda transcribed selected soundwaves from the micro-changes of surface-electric potential on plant leaves. The generated melodic material was then transposed and arranged for instruments in just intonation and Pythagorean tuning.

Mamoru Fujieda, Patterns of Plants II, with Ishikawa, Maruta, Nishi, on Tzadik – TZ 8061, 2008, compact disc.
Eleven years after the release of the original Patterns of Plants album, Fujieda released a new collection of transcriptions.

Mamoru Fujieda, Patterns of Plants, with Cahill, on Pinna Records – PINNA 2, 2014, compact disc.
This two-disc set is the first solo piano recording of Fujieda's music available outside of Japan. This new collection of transcriptions is performed in 12 tone equal temperament.

Mediation through computer software:

Miya Masaoka, Pieces for Plants [online]
Pieces for Plants is an interactive installation for the American semi-tropical climbing philodendron, electrodes, and laptop. The work was also presented in the musical setting of an instrumental ensemble, where the plant acts as an active participant and soloist.

Mileece, Formations, Lo Recordings – LCD30, 2002, compact disc.
UK sound artist and environmental designer Mileece uses the SuperCollider programming language to create generative compositions by mediating data collected in real-time from plants.

Mileece, Sacred Symbols of Mu, Planet Mu – ZIQ100CD, 2006, compact disc.
Electronic music label Planet Mu presents their 100th release, Sacred Symbols of Mu, a compilation which features another plant oriented generative composition by Mileece entitled Tau.

Mediation through MIDI:

Data Garden, Quartet: Live at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2012. [online]
Electronic impulses produced by four tropical plants are converted into MIDI and routed to different synthesizers, rhythmic tone generators, and effects.

Duane Bridges, Plant Music: Volume 1 (Rushfoil I-VI and Dracanea I-VI), DMC 15, 2017. [online]
St. Louis based composer Duane Bridges uses a MIDI sprout device to convert responses from plants to MIDI, which is then electronically manipulated.

Duane Bridges, Plant Music: Volume 2 (Four Plantasias for Plant and E-Bowed Electric), DMC 16, 2017. [online]
Continuing with his explorations of human-plant interaction, Duane Bridges creates four duets for plant and e-bowed electric guitar.

Duane Bridges, Plant Music: Volume 3 (Garden Music), DMC 20, 2018. [online]
The third volume of Duane Bridges Plant Music Series is a live recording in the gardens of the Humphrey Estate in Springfield, Illinois. Bridges claims to have set up a laptop that allows eight plants to respond, track by track, to the sounds they produce as well as the sounds of their botanical neighbors.

Use of Raw output as audio signal:

Helen Hé, Plants (Cranberries) for Electric Houseplants track 2 on HTAM S3E01, with How Things Are Made, 2017. [online]
Oberlin Conservatory based composer Helen Hé made this composition for several of her custom-built sensors using modified Theremin kits. The raw data is then converted into audible waveforms.

Mediation through Control Voltage:

Kev Durr, Biofeedback Music #1: Abmient Eurorack Music feat. [online]
Durr uses the same Scion interface module that we conducted our tests on. This is a brief but interesting video that sets down a shimmering timbral landscape.

Gavin Fox, Plant, Interrupted 1.1 ~ Ambient Eurorack with the Instruo Scion. [online]

Paul Miller, Carrot Music, [online]
Miller's first serious plambient experiment making music with a carrot.

Paul Miller and Devon Tipp, Jade Landscape, Shakuhachi and electronics. [online]
Miller collaborated with Tipp, a Shakuhachi expert. For the first part of this performance, the plant didn't generate any significant voltage changes at all. Then it came alive and became so active that the challenge was trying to figure out how to bring the patch under control.

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Author Bios

Paul Miller is an Assistant Professor of Musicianship at Duquesne University’s Mary Pappert School of Music. He completed his Ph.D. in music theory at the Eastman School of Music in 2009, and earned a Master’s in viola performance there in 2006. Paul’s work has been published in Perspectives of New Music, Twentieth Century Music, Music and Letters, Opera Quarterly, and Early Music. He studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen for six summers in Germany, and performed extensively at the Darmstadt Festival from 2004-2010. A specialist in baroque music, he has held principal positions in the Washington Bach Consort and Opera Lafayette. Paul has served on the faculties of Temple University and CU-Boulder. He held a prestegious Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell for two years.

Brian Riordan is a composer, performer, improviser, producer, and sound artist originally from Chicago, IL. He is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in Music Composition and Theory at University of Pittsburgh. His research interests are in temporal discontinuity, delay-based performance, real-time digital signal processing, and laptop performance aesthetics. As an avid collaborator, he has performed in numerous ensembles ranging from rock, electronic, jazz, classical, and experimental. His compositions have been heard throughout North American, Europe, and Asia.

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We hope you enjoyed our poster!
Copyright © 2019 by Paul Miller and Brian Riordan