Friday, May 29, 2009

We are in business

The flowers and sounds are in place, lovely dancing from Jan Louise's team, and young and old are enjoying the plant orchestra. Here's the video of the setting up process. The tear-down will follow all too soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the midst of setting up

It shouldn't be 50ยบ and raining today but it is and the flowers don't mind, only the hordes of volunteers putting this all together. So far so good: Plants looks great, speakers in place and beginning to look like toadstools. They sound fine but much more subtle than indoors away from bus engine noises. Tomorrow is perfecting the spinnies and firing up the talking plant.

Lovely story in the Pioneer Press above and below the fold.

Here's the invite to my friends:

Stroll through the Singing Garden and converse with a Talking Plant

Please visit Philip Blackburn’s sound installation this weekend. You will hear a 20-channel soundscape created from dozens of vegetable sounds (from coconut milk to Rice Krispies to acorn squash clarinets); a kind of vegan frogpond at dusk. Don’t miss the spinning flower beds that strike bamboo chimes in a spatial phasing pattern (a safe alternative to LSD). You will notice this all takes place in a colorful 50-foot diameter flower carpet pieced together by the St. Paul Parks Department. Pretty.

Then there’s the Talking Plant. This is a Bird of Paradise plant that has been wired up with a brainwave sensor that spits out MIDI signals from its stalk. J. Anthony Allen wrote the MaxMSP patch to convert those data to trigger yet more vegetable samples (from cactus needles to rubber bands). Amaze your friends by playing the plant like an organic Theremin; it’s an intelligent salad.

This is all part of the Flint Hills International Childrens Festival at the Ordway and throughout Rice Park so bring the family and you’ll find plenty of other stuff to do. All free.

More on the Singing Garden and the Talking Plant:

Friday, May 29-Sunday, May 31
9 am — 4pm

Landmark Plaza, next to Landmark Center (where the skating rink usually is), Rice Park, downtown St. Paul (take the 5th Street or Kellogg exit from 94)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Talking Plant Talks

Ever wondered what plants think when you play with them? Some say that saying nice things will help them grow and that playing heavy metal causes them to wilt. They did evolve pretty well to find light and nutrients and whatever life force is going up and down their stalks might contain their deepest wisdom...

Anyway, here's what this Bird of Paradise had to say when I conversed with it this evening. I bet the kids have fun with this next week: it's quite sciencey and amusing in a metaphysical sort of way.

Last day of class, listening to the Singing Garden

As the culmination of all our listening, recording and composing efforts we finally got to hear the full 20-channel version of the Singing Garden. We closed our eyes, listened closely (quietly even), and wrote stream-of-consciousness notes about our experiences. Here are some of the reactions. Notice how few refer to vegetables, the main sound source; their sounds seem to evoke more weather and animal images. Maybe because plant and vegetable sounds are so alien to us, even though we are around them every day.

It makes me feel like I’m in a cave. It’s dark with a lot of noise around me. But the sound I hear don’t seem like it’s in the right place. It goes from fast to slow, loud to quiet sounds. It’s hard to hear everything around me. Sometime it sounds like the sounds are responding back to each other. Now I hear some strings getting strummed. I hear some kind of bird screaming. Some of the sounds are moving around; you hear them from somewhere and then it comes out from somewhere else. I now hear a fan or something and it seems like it’s getting closer to me somehow. Now hear frogs croaking and the fan coming and going.

It’s a hot summer day. I’m sitting by a pond. In the distance I hear something rattling in a bush. I hear a frog croaking and a dragonfly beating its wings. Fish making air bubbles in the water. It’s peaceful and there’s a sweet scent on the breeze. I look over and there is a lilac bush.

Hearing things never heard
And how to do things with materials
Like f you are in spaceship
A car with a bad motor
A bubbling spa
Boiling pot
A lighter
A balloon getting flat by letting air go from your mouth
Speakers hot plug in light
A harmony of flute
Drum sticks Macarena
It makes me feel like I am in an airplane
Making me feel I am at the rainforest or a woodpecker and above four frogs in the middle of nowhere.

In the forest where native people live they are playing some type of instrument; there’s ghosts too sounding scary. Feels like I am in the bathroom taking a bath while water slowly drips down. At school in a quiet room with tape being taken off. Altogether like a dream taking me to different places. Took me to a Japanese palace or Chinese where there are people playing instruments.
In a quiet house with rain falling, then a ghost came and made scary crying noises. Ghost came back, more crying noises.
Somebody crumbling vegetables loudly.
In a house (in my bedroom) sprinklers turn on. Somebody playing an instrument. My mom washing clothes repeatedly. Dad cleaning up some stuff and making noises. Sister practicing an instrument. Somebody scraping something together.
A twirl like a spiral taking me to somewhere else, really windy, fan making it windy going faster and faster.
Got to a different land with all these different insects.

I heard a lot of noises through all of the speakers but the one that I like is the water that’s shaking and sounds real. Also all of the sounds are going at the same time. Sometimes it will go loud then it will go small and I hear some strong squeaky noises through the speakers.

The sound started to be quiet and then it have a drizzle sound. And you can hear some instrument and animal sounds

Sounds of images
Sounds like you’re in a cave
Makes me feel like I’m alone in a cave
Forest sounds
There’s a lot of wind and it gets louder and louder
Sounds like an animal is burying something
A lot of water in the area
There are electric sounds with music in the background
And there is rain outside in the background
I can hear animals in the forest
Sounds like branches are getting stepped on
And more animals
Someone plays music a little
And it sounds like people are gardening
More flutes playing
The wind picks up again and there is a loud shaking sound.
Just the wind picking up.
Frogs croaking
I hear rattle snakes

This reminds me of my basement, water leaking. And the fan part reminds me of my room because my fan is always going… LOL. The shakers remind me of rattle snakes. It reminds me of pouring juice in my cup. It reminds me of a birthday party because of the balloons.

It sounds like being in a quiet water place like a sea, lake, ocean, something like that and it just stop running and there is still like drops like and you can hear little sea creatures.

Somebody in the tub
Somebody play with a fan

1) nothing
2) horny
3) gay
4) dumb
5) happy
6) high
7) bitchy
8) sad
9) Mexican
10) Hmong
11) Black
12) White
13) More gay
14) Less gay
15) Same gay
16) Normal
17) Annoyed
18) Sleepy
19) Awake
20) Hating
21) Loving
22) Empty
23) Fun
24) Boring
25) Talkative
26) Quiet
27) Helpful
28) Pollution
29) Man
30) Woman
31) Normal
32) Partying
33) Peeing
34) Smoking
35) I can’t believe
36) that it not butter
37) Omg
38) Watching tv
39) Go to China
40) Pass Math
41) fell
42) writing number 42
43) lol
44) cellphone
45) driving
46) need help
47) 47
48) ssr
49) unhappy
50) unsad
51) gang bang
52) lonely
53) cheating
54) play
55) boring
56) kicking
57) got milk
58) pokemon
59) go home
60) names
61) don’t know
62) bold
63) fishing
64) sleeping
65) I am your father
66) Who your mother
67) Curds
68) Eminem
69) Tomcuris
70) Ky
71) Blackjack
72) Great

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spinners and Zombies

Today we figured out the engineering solutions for the rotating plant frames and how to get the biggest Oomph to strike the instruments underneath. A golf ball is suspended with string from the frame of the plantbed, sometimes it goes up a ramp, and then it falls back down onto a bamboo chime or wooden clapper that is placed at just the right spot and is free to vibrate. It takes time to tune perfectly. When all 5 spinners are going, each with one tone block, the space and the phasing will add dramatically to the effect.

Then we hooked up the brainwave, proximity, and turn sensors to ourselves (a plant was not available at school). Philip's brain activity is steady 60-62 range, students got a 0-127 sweep much more easily. One of us may be a zombie. We could definitely hear the effects of our activities and motion even though the sounds were many and complex.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sensing Plants and Sounds from Salad

What does a plant think when you go near it?
Why not put a brainwave sensor on it and ask?

Thanks to the ingenious programming of Jay Anthony Allen, moral support of Brian Heller, and sample crunching of Preston Wright we can now find out. I have three electrical sensors: a Biowave (brainwave EKG set of electrodes), proximity and turn knobs. These send MIDI data to my laptop that can be mangled and interpreted by a custom MaxMSP patch. The output triggers a few hundred samples derived from our vegetable recordings, hopefully in interesting ways.

Tests so far are promising and whether the human gardener or plant itself are wearing the sensor there is a reaction when the plan is touched. I am tweaking the dials and optimizing the samples so that effect is amplified. I will also try different plants to get better electrical conductivity from their stems and leaves; the small philodendron is fine but maybe a huge Bird of Paradise would be more dramatic. I imagine the xylem flowing up the tubes has some electrical capacity...

Here are some more pics of sound sources we have recorded:
Watermelon drums (tap on the outside and record with a contact mic), or bring the two halves together for that clip-clop effect;
Two boxes of whole grain spaghetti make for a full throated rattle;
Onion skin = super crinkly

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Patrick Henry in the Studio and Listening to Soundscapes

The Patrick Henry Vegetable band has been busy listening, playing and being weirded out by veggie sounds. Over the last couple of meetings we have:
Recorded solos, duets and group performances on:
• rubber floor tiles
• cantaloupe melon drum
• cabbage
• leeks (these greens were unfamiliar to many)
• bok choy
• popcorn rattle
• a rubber band whizzer device and
• a collection of wooden organ pipes.

We listened to a variety of ecosystem sounds (on
• Loons on Echo Pond
• Costa Rican Rainforest
• Amazon Jungle
and graphed the sonogram of the sounds and the acoustic niche that each animal inhabits.

We looked at landscape paintings for detail and global images:
Chinese Scroll painting

We learned about top-down organization (hierarchical) of groups (by having a leader determine when someone should play a sound), and bottom-up (dynamic, when everyone can play whenever they want so long as they listen carefully and communicate).

We listened to a series of recordings that group social-musical interactions into three groups:

whistling in the street
dog barking
Humpback whale
Bobby McFerrin: Blackbird

Whale + Nightingale (!) duet
Thavil Indian Drum duet
Tallis: 40 Part Motet: Spem in Alium

Samoan cicadas and slit log drums
Freshwater pond insects
Arcade sounds

We took the birdsong challenge at to identify the thrush songs. Amazing to hear the detail when slowed down, and to watch the sonogram. They are not just chirping up in those spring trees.