Giving Voice to Ancient Trees

This Redwood stump has a 12 foot span.

The creative folks over at Wink asked a provocative question that caught my attention a short while back.

What would the trunk of a
tree sound like if a cross-section
were played like an LP?

Well, now. That’s an interesting idea. I pondered this concept for a bit and quickly determined I’d really like to know what it would sound like. Surely a conifer would be different from a palm. The more I postulated about the subject, the more intrigued I became. Humor me.

Sitka Spruce

For long moments I played with the possibilities and worried over potential outcomes, until I got distracted by the thought of the articulation itself.

I wondered if the voice of an ancient tree would be a deep bass intonation. Then after consideration, decided a being who’d lived for such a long time might develop a more mellow, almost warm syncopated rhythm to their cadence. At last, I concluded the millennia old voice of an ancient conifer might be a rich crescendo of sound, snapping with vitality, and aching with accumulated experience. Ready to sing.

Then I noticed the link.

I clicked the button and discovered those wonderful people at Wink, went and answered their own query.

Uh huh!

As it turns out, they were showcasing the work of a gentleman named Bartholomaus Traubeck. He’s an artist working in multiple mediums, with a unique perspective on the intersections of technology and perception, and his work is stimulating.

Using an assortment of gadgets and components, Mr. Traubeck has figured out a way to play tree rings like a record. Utilizing a computer, he translates the rings through a musical simulation. The tree rings, as interpreted by this apparatus, generate a haunting piano track.

Here is what Mr. Traubeck had to say about this process:

A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again 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 ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Such a fascinating synthesis of music, technology, and nature. I HAD to listen. Give it a try ~

Creepy. Disturbing. Awesome.

Love it. Want it. I know…yes, it’s weird, but…!

I’m fascinated by wanting to know how different the sound is from different trees. Would a younger tree with wider rings sound less complex? Would an older tree with tight rings caused by centuries of deprivation during climactic downcycles make a symphonic variance? I have many questions. I might need to e-mail Mr. Traubeck.

What if the filtering program utilized different instruments? I’d love to know what trees would sound like played on a musical base of a flute, or a harp, or a sitar…maybe even a drum.

What a marvelous invention! Have you discovered any fascinating bits of weirdness lately? Have new voices been making themselves heard in your vicinity?

Do share…


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  1. #1 by Traci Kenworth on March 14, 2012 - 2:34 am


    • #2 by Leslie on March 15, 2012 - 6:01 pm

      I thought so too. =)

  2. #3 by Jennifer Tanner on March 14, 2012 - 5:33 pm

    I live an hour away from the Muir Woods, a beautiful park with ancient redwoods. I remember school field trips to Sequoia National Park and being surrounded by towering ancient trees. I’ve often wondered if trees could talk, what kind of stories would they tell us?

    • #4 by Leslie on March 15, 2012 - 6:06 pm

      I love Muir Woods…haven’t visited in years. Sequoia is spectacular. There’s nothing like standing in such a primordial space and wondering about all the years that have passed in front of those trees. I love the music of this innovative device, but I’d sure like to have a story to go with the voice.

  3. #5 by Bridgette Booth on March 17, 2012 - 7:14 am

    Intriguing. I’m with you – I’d love to hear a flute or perhaps a “wood” instrument. 🙂

    • #6 by Leslie on March 17, 2012 - 11:53 am

      It cracked me up that the guys over at Wink thought the tree sounded Emo. I guess that might be true, given how much they’ve had to deal with in the last few centuries. I’ve always liked the idea that trees pull up their roots and go dancing when we aren’t watching. I’ve got a story tucked away somewhere with that idea.

  4. #7 by Debra Kristi on April 22, 2014 - 12:18 pm

    Wow, Lesann. I’m bummed the video didn’t work for me. 😦 The read is still fascinating! Reminds me of an experiment I did in high school It was based on the rings of a tree. It was my boyfriend’s idea. He was a musical genius and we worked with a violin bow, salt, and frequency to create rings and designs. I imagine they are saying each tree has it’s own frequency and thus its own voice, right? So cool.

    • #8 by Lesann Berry on April 22, 2014 - 7:03 pm

      Isn’t this stuff the best! I found a new link to replace the broken one. It’s fixed now, so I hope you can access it and give it a listen. It sounds like your experiment was pretty cool too – I missed out on all the cool projects like that when I was in school. Ancient trees are one of my happy thought-places so I was quite taken with the entire idea of being able to “hear their voices” and would love to know what they have to say (or sing). So many creative people out there on the planet, thank goodness.

  1. Links and Things and Adventures in New Orleans | Debra Kristi

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