Presented as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Homemade Instrument Day in New York, Pieces for Plants is an interactive sound installation for laptop, synthesizer, and the American semi-tropical climbing Philodendron. Versions of the piece have also been presented in a musical setting in which the plant participates as a member and soloist within an instrumental ensemble.
In the piece, a plant’s real-time responses to its physical environment are translated to sound. Highly sensitive electrodes are attached to the leaves of the plant. Scored movements by a human “plant player” stimulate physiological responses in the plant that are monitored via the electrodes and biofeedback wave analysis. The “plant player’s ” proximity, touch and interactions with the plant are then expressed in sound via midi and synthesizer. During the piece, the plant is brought to a range of physical/psychological states, from calm to agitation.
The audience is encouraged to contemplate questions such as: What is the nature of consciousness? What is our relationship as human beings to our physical environment and to other species — plants and animals? What does it mean to be human?
During the all-day installation of the piece at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, some of the audience members came back again and again throughout the day to interact with the plant and watch others do so as well. The audience members — including children — seemed to have a special attraction to the project. A common response to the piece by audience members was a desire to talk about their relationship and experiences with plants during their lifetime, and things they had noticed which gave them an inkling that plants had extraordinary capabilities and awareness beyond what was normally attributed to plants. The piece evolved into really being about the people, their personal stories with plants, and I realized that I was brushing the surface of a deeper questions — our complex role as humans in a diverse, inter-dependent biological environment, and the potential for communication with plants that has not yet been discovered.