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Darwin Plant Music Engine

An educational science-art project!


Darwin’s plant-music engine is an introduction, a “branch” if you will, to the emerging science of plant signalling and communication. Charles Darwin wrote several books on senses and movement of plants, the last of which was co-authored with his son Francis.

“… It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed, and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body; receiving impressions from the sense organs, and directing the several movements.”

     Despite advances in technology allowing the measurement of plant communication via chemical and electrical means the idea that plants may be something more than attractive scenery remains difficult to accept for many of the non-photosynthetic persuasion!

     My own interest in this area began with studies of micro-algae – especially observing the behaviour of the actively mobile species. This also contributed to a satirical science fiction novel by my alter-ego MK Nadall about the implications when invading aliens are both intelligent and photosynthetic.

     Imagine then, in an alternative steampunk era, Darwin didn’t just research the abilities of plants, but manufactured plant-song engines for the wealthy plant-lover to better commune with their green companions. This one must have slipped through an eddy in the space-time continuum!

How Does it Work?
The electrical activity of the plant is detected by the sensor attached to the clips. The output is transformed into music via an app and played from a speaker within the case. This is similar tech to that of "lie-detector" or polygraph machines.

My interests come together in this project: I am a science PhD with an interest in plant sentience and communication, I’ve worked with sound in the context of hearing testing and rehabilitation.
Additionally, I’ve written a humorous science fiction novel (Return of the Yggdrasil – under the pen name MK Nadall) which is about photosynthetic aliens accidentally invading a celebrity TV show and setting about to save the Earth’s forests! Interspecies music is a theme in the novel. The novel is partly set in Tasmania – available on Amazon, and in Fullers & Area 52 locally. 
Plant signalling and communication science to a large extent came out of research on maximising food crop production and forestry. Interestingly, some of the first work on senses and behaviour in plants was by Charles Darwin – for this reason I made the machine with a Victorian era steampunk aesthetic.

Further Reading
Some modern popular science books on the topic are: 
Plant sensing and communication, Richard Karban;
Finding the mother tree, Suzanne Simard; 
The hidden life of trees & The Heartbeat of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Entangled life, Merlin Sheldrake; What a plant knows, Daniel Chamovitz;
Brilliant Green, Stefano Mancuso; The Songs of Trees, David George Haskell.


More Plant Music!

String trio & Steam punk plant engine jam session

Beaker Street Science Festival 2022

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