With Wires and a MIDI Machine, Local Musicians Let Their Plants Play the Songs

With Wires and a MIDI Machine, Local Musicians Let Their Plants Play the Songs
Image from Qian Xuan's Eight Flowers
Just north of Wynwood, by Little Haiti Park, there is a small yoga studio called Inhale Miami. Within it hang tie-dyed Rorschach inkblots and atom-looking light fixtures. There is also, just beside the studio's main floor, a windowsill garden with small plants springing up from white pots.

In this quaint yet cosmic space, dozens of musicians will gather from around South Florida on Sunday to make strange music together, melodies that resemble those played by the alien ships in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But the humans, as talented as they are, won't be the main act. Their plants will be.

"Listening to them is indescribable. You cycle through awe, disbelief, wonder, curiosity," says Tigrilla Gardenia, the host of the event, recounting her first time listening to plants. "When I closed my eyes and just allowed myself to let go of any reservations, I heard language. Any music lover knows that when you listen to music, you hear the thoughts and feelings of the composer."

Though plants don't have nerves like animals do, they are capable of generating electrical impulses, vivacious flutters that scientists refer to as "action potentials." When the musicians insert a metal pin into the soil, toward the plant's root system, and delicately connect another wire to its leaves, these potentials are fed into a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) machine.

The result? Watch below.
By listening to the plants' electrical pulses, which have refrains similar to the whirring of wind chimes, Gardenia believes she is able to understand "their way of living."

"Given my love for languages—I speak four and study others—when I listen to plants, it feels like they are talking to me," she says.

Gardenia hopes the floral music will better evoke the plants' "livingness," for a lack of a better word, to locals.

"Let's be honest. We are way more likely to listen attentively to a movie or a favorite song than a scientific paper. The easiest way into the heart and mind of a person is through the arts," she says. "And when you listen to plant music, especially when you hear an interspecies concert with human and plant musicians, you realize that no brains does not equal no intelligence."

Though they teem with "potentials," when plants begin to die—perhaps due to human-caused pollution and deforestation—their music slowly dissipates, Gardenia says.

"When you put lettuce in the fridge, how long before it is truly dead? Even when it is moldy and slimy, there is usually some vitality left, and while that vitality exists, the plant can make music. Only when every last bit of 'life' is gone, will a plant stop making music," she says. "But that life cannot always be measured through the lens of biology. There is something more, something unexplained, and when that is gone, the music stops." In attempt to keep the music going, Gardenia advocates using a MIDI instrument in a public place, such as a park. She believes in doing so people may be spurred to be more mindful, not just about the health of plants and trees, but the environment at large.

"Once nature becomes alive in every sense of the word, you can't help but want to take care of her," she says, admitting her words may sound New Age-y. "Hearing plant music makes us recognize that nature is filled with millions of living, breathing, thinking beings."

Perhaps the small plants that rest on the studio's luminous windowsill know more than they are letting on. Gardenia certainly believes so.

"I have no doubt that plants hold many secrets. Not because they are some superhero-like beings, but because they know the history of the entire planet," she says. "They are some of the oldest beings on earth and, through elaborate networks, are able to pass on their knowledge from generation to generation."

If you're interested in checking out the upcoming "interspecies" concert on April 16, you can learn more by clicking here.

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Jonathan Kendall is a former editor at Big Think. He studied journalism at Harvard and is a contributing writer for Miami New Times as well as for Vogue, Cultured, Los Angeles Review of Books, Smithsonian, and Atlas Obscura.
Contact: Jonathan Kendall