Rockin’ in the Tree World

A fresh crop of talent has just hit the music scene with a style unlike anything the record industry has ever experienced. Just be extra careful when holding up a Bic lighter at one of their shows. Slices of wood are making quite the musical splash, and it’s all thanks to their show-stopping performance in German media artist Bartholomäus Traubeck’s 2011 installation “Years.” The installation features a record player built by Traubeck that translates the growth rings found on a slice of lumber into music. To unleash the melodies that have been gestating inside our timbered brethren for years, the record player uses a modified PlayStation Eye webcam—containing a customized lens that functions as a microscope—to record and analyze the strength, thickness, and growth rate of a tree’s rings. A media-generating program called vvvv then maps those characteristics to piano keys within a specific musical scale that has been determined by the wood’s overall appearance, and abracadabra, a song is born. Traubeck tells Newscripts that he was inspired to create “Years” when he realized the “visual pun” of equating the growth rings of a tree to the grooves of a vinyl record. “I thought about the implications and the associations between the two media, wood and vinyl, and decided on trying to actually build that as a machine,” he says. As a result of his efforts, Traubeck has created a machine that can play a variety of woods, and much like the members of a boy band, no two wood slices sound alike. There’s walnut, the tortured soul of the wood world, whose complex texture produces a “very loud and stressful” soundscape. There’s fir, the shy one, whose wide gaps between growth rings create a “minimalistic” effect. And there’s ash, the leader of the group, whose musical style falls somewhere in between the brooding angst of walnut and the quiet atmospherics of fir. Armed with such a versatile collection of musical styles, Traubeck’s wood slices have been creating quite the buzz. London’s Eat, Sleep, Repeat Record Label will be releasing a CD of their music in the coming months. The slices will also be embarking on a world tour of sorts, playing at an exhibition in Moscow in April and one in Switzerland in late May. What makes these public appearances truly special is the fact that no two performances sound alike. Because the record player must reread the wood slices each time they are placed on the turntable, “even the same 'disc' can produce a slightly different outcome every time you play it,” Traubeck explains. With the promise of a different-sounding performance each night they take the stage, it might not be long before these tree slices wind up with their own groupies.

Author: Jeff Huber

Jeff Huber is an associate editor at C&EN. He enjoys finding peculiar news stories that make him laugh and/or tilt his head in a thoughtful manner. This hobby has served him well as a contributor to the Newscripts blog.

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