Midi Sprout

June 13 2016

In a seminal 2004 episode of the American television show, MythBusters, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage lead their team in an experiment testing the truth in the old wives tale – that talking to your plants will help them grow. They determined the theory to be plausible – while not a strong enough response to be statistically significant, it was surprisingly more effective than any of them imaged. In the years since, earnest institutions and researchers across the globe have taken to the study of botanical acoustics.

It was in the 1960’s that scientists first began to listen to plants – the small air bubbles that formed in the plant as it absorbs water from the soil creates a sound indicative of the lifeform’s hydration, and by extent, health.

As science drives forward our understanding of the world, there are, almost always, artists waiting nearby to interpret what researchers have learned. Data Garden, a record label/collective run by artists Joe Patitucci and Alex Tyson, is one of the most recent in a wave of biofeedback artists. Back in 2012, the duo was offered the opportunity to create an installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Working closely with an engineer, they developed hardware and software that could translate the biorhythms of plants into data that would interact with and control MIDI synthesizers, an exhibit dubbed “Quartet.”
Quickly after opening the instillation to the public, Data Garden received an onslaught of questions on the relation of plants to music to people. The collective thus began a Kickstarter to help fund the research and design of the MIDI Sprout, which is a small converter operational by anyone with a synth or a computer. Data Garden, with the understanding that this type of technology won’t necessarily facilitate a greater understanding of our green pals, generated the MIDI Sprout as a means to interact and create with them… to communicate, to become closer, to learn.

Musicians like Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Linchens), Chris Powell (Man Man, Spaceship Aloha) and electronic DJ King Britt have already begun making unique, interesting music with the MIDI Sprout. Sparking the creation of music that exists somewhere on the spectrum between experimental, electronic and noise, the device lets the plant act as the instrument. The musician simply connects the probes to the plant, and the converter to the synth or computer via a mini cable, and manipulates the sound as they wish. And while the music and sounds made with the device can be seen as strictly an artistic endeavor, the folks at Data Garden believe the influence of MIDI Sprout can extend far beyond just an imaginative one.

“We believe in the positive effects of bio feedback art on people. Creating generative electronic from your houseplants can enhance your awareness of the world around you. Incorporating plants into musical performance can also denote ideas that humans could never produce, providing endless inspiration.”

Data Garden has dubbed the use of the MIDI Sprout as the beginning of the “DIY biofeedback movement,” something that is sure to excite both synth and distortion lovers alike. Robert Moog himself once said, “Everything has some consciousness, and we tap into that. It is about energy at its most basic level,” and we’ve reached an entirely new frontier.

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