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Live Bio-Acoustics
posted by Laura Beloff on 10 November 2016

INVESTIGATIONS/INSTALLATIONS

Arising from the initial research we performed on the ultrasonic acoustic emissions - and hence possible communication - in plant roots, that materialized in the video-work Dialogue with 02.205, (reference1) we decided to continue this exploration. This now with the overarching goal of creating a form of live installation where the roots acoustic emission will be registered, amplified, down-sampled and played back to an audience so that they can have a physical experience of the possible sonic communication within plants.

The initial studies stem from the relatively new scientific field of bio-acoustics; “the branch of science concerned with sounds produced by or affecting living organisms, especially as relating to communication." (reference2) Research herein has found that plant roots emit irregular high frequency clicking sounds, UAE’s (Ultrasonic acoustic emissions), in the humanly inaudible sonic range between 20-300 kHz. (reference3, reference4). After having successfully recorded some of these UAE's for the video-work, our new challenge is now to create a system for live down-sampling these clicks into the human range of hearing below 20 kHz.

INITIAL TESTS / COLLABORATIONS

We initiated an experimental collaboration with students from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in the Acoustic Technology department. We organized the collaboration in order to explore the possibilities of creating a Hardware based DSP (Digital Signal Processing) solution where the recordings of the tree roots will be both down-sampled and amplified within a DSP unit. In order to customize the DSP for the frequency range of a specific set of roots clicking sounds, we measured these through the use of an Oscilloscope (left picture). The DSP is also used within bat-detectors (right picture) so we modified one of these towards measuring plant roots, in order to test its capacities. The reason behind selecting the chili plant for these experiments came from Monica Gagliano's investigation of these particular plants responsiveness to acoustics (reference5)

Oscilloscope and Bat Detector attached to a chili plant

GROWING TEST SUBJECTS

We have meanwhile started growing a range of plants whose roots, according to our research, should be fitting for creating and receiving sound. The two types that are reemerging are both corn-roots and pea-roots (pictured below). We aim at creating a wide array of different roots that we can start testing on when the technical system is complete, so that we can start categorizing the individual results - and verify or falsify their sonic emissions.

young pea root

FUNGUS MYCELIUM 

Finally we have started a branch of the investigation into the acoustic capabilities of fungus mycelium, the roots of mushrooms that has in resent research been found to act as a communicative network and 'wires' between trees and even whole forests. (reference6) These new findings sparked an interest for us in terms of whether the mycelium itself is able to create kinds of acoustic emissions, so we have initiated different mycelium growing samples (image below) to investigate this.

mycelium roots in petri dishes

As these are the very first steps in this exploration we will continue to post updates and new investigations here on the page. 

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More on the project is HERE!!!