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The Sonic Garden, or I Went To The Goddamn Plant Symphony

2:48 PM PDT on September 29, 2015

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]isten, let me just say off the top that sound art is not my thing. In fact, if sound art is your thing, literally everything I’m about to type next should serve as a strong recommendation to go check out the Sonic Garden. You’re going to love it. Seriously.

Alright, so, through October 23rd at the Sonos Studio, there’s an art exhibit called the Sonic Garden, which veers right up to the line of a parody of what sound installation is about.

Look, I don’t fucking know, here’s the promo video they put out:

“All living beings emit bio-energy. I got interested in using programming languages and computers to articulate that data into more dynamic soundscapes.”


Basically, they hooked up a bunch of electrodes to plants, did a some vague shit to this information and used it to, surprise surprise, turn it into a bunch of kinda vaguely droning sounds, which they pipe in through the gallery.

Look, I know I’m being an asshole. It’s actually pretty pleasant in there, but also… come on. It’s like, the thing that drives people crazy about contemporary and experimental art is the fact that it’s all so fucking vague, and somehow every iteration of the experiment always happens to yield exactly the same results. Hook electrodes up to plants? Buncha drone-y bullshit. Put a microphone in the desert in a nuclear testing site? Buncha drone-y bullshit. Mix together all music ever written by humanity? Buncha drone-y bullshit.

I don’t want to blow your minds, everyone, but it turns out when you take random-ish data, compress it into numbers that describe human audible wavelengths of sound and play that shit, it sounds like a bunch drone-y bullshit.

Which is actually fine. Especially if you pull the trump card and use these sounds as simply a starting point to compose music around, whatever. If that’s your thing it definitely works.


The walls of the gallery are printed with, let’s call it… assertions, about what’s happening in the gallery. Mostly, it’s a bunch of pseudo interesting facts about plants. Did you know plants have an electrical field around them? Did you know that, like literally all cells, they emit and respond to vibrations? Sure, those sounds are literally imperceptable to our ears, and those responses are too small and slow to be perceived by our eyes, but, sure, those things happen. And, I guess, if you have a certain kind of brain, these facts could be interpreted as plants “dancing” or responding and making music.

But, and here’s the thing: they aren’t. And why do they need to? Doesn’t it make the world so small to pretend that the electrical field generated by plants, the ambient background noise of the miracle of life, is all in service of some nothing drone music? That we have to not only anthropomorphise every living thing, but that, in looking at plants through a human lens, we need to pretend that their life goals just so happen to line up with some irritating Cal-Arts undergrad?

Listen, you want to blow my mind with experimental music? Plug a mic into a redwood and discover that the music of life is a version of Baby Got Back, but talking about how much the tree likes dope stamens or whatever.

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