Performers with flashlights control a light-sensitive sound synthesis algorithm as they react
to the extremely slow movements of a phototropic plant. The plant conductor's single 15 minute
gesture fills the space with a subtle, slowly changing mass of sound.
Each performer's location is determined by the position of one of the plant's leaves on a transparent
grid placed in front of the plant. As a leaf moves toward the bottom of the grid the performer moves away
from a light sensor, causing a small change in the sound corresponding to that performer. This
slow shifting in space and sound subtly mirrors the changing outline of the plant's profile.
I was invited to be the featured guest artist at the University of Virginia's 2005
Technosonics VI Festival: "Ecology and E-Music". I decided to create a new piece for the festival,
based on an idea I had been thinking through for a few years: a sound piece where the changes
in sound are directly controlled by the movement of a plant's leaves. I'm interested in different
sorts of time, both perceptual and "real", and I enjoy working with systems and organisms that operate on
Originally I imagined this as a very long piece (an hour or more) so that the plant would move far enough
for a human to perceive the movement visually as well as aurally. However, for the Technosonics Festival
I needed to make something that would work in a concert setting within a 15 minute time span. I considered using
time-lapse, pre-recorded video, or some other method of warping time so that the plant's movements would
be perceivable in 15 minutes. But I wasn't happy with any of the results.
Ultimately I decided to make the piece very simple; the plant would move "live on stage", and the
flashlight performers would do their best to move along with it. The most interesting thing about
this process was that the plant's movements were below the threshold of human perception; although the
plant was moving in "real time", the performers
couldn't see that. So they tried to hold as still as possible, since that's what the plant was
"conducting" them to do. However, human physiology isn't really up to standing perfectly still for 15 minutes.
So the performers swayed, wobbled, switched the flashlight from hand to hand, and so on. These small,
often unconscious moves ended up being the real "content" of the piece, causing subtle variations in the otherwise static sound.
Thanks to all of the nice people at the
Virginia Center for Computer Music for their good-natured support and participation. And
especially to the performers, for valiantly attempting that which they know they can not do!