Ever thought about singing to your plants to help them grow? Well, what if your plants could sing to you? I visited Damanhur, an eco-spiritual community at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy. Of the many interesting projects underway at Damanhur, Music of the Plants is establishing a system for communication with the plant world. I had the opportunity to get a closer look at this research during a fun and informative seminar with program director Tigrilla Gardenia. Tigrilla’s background includes working as a music engineer and event producer for RealNetworks, Cirque du Soleil and Microsoft. Tigrilla has offered the interview below especially for Sourced Cuisine’s clientele, so please enjoy and make sure to stop by Damanhur for a fascinating tour next time you visit Northern Italy.
Jessica: Tell us about Damanhur’s music of the plants project.
Tigrilla: Con te Jessica, thank you so much for the opportunity to share the “Music of the Plants” with your readers.
At is core, the “Music of the Plants” is a project that gives trees and plants the ability to communicate through music. Through a device originally developed by Damanhur, plants use their electrical system to create melody and harmony. You can say that the device is a musical instrument for plants.
At first, we thought that the music being produced was random, a by-product of normal plant interactions, which in and of itself would be fascinating to hear, but with time we discovered that it was more than that. The more a plant played music using the device, the more complex its melody would become. You can imagine the shock the first time we realized that the plant was actually copying the melody of the human musician it was playing along with.
The understanding that plants are actually aware of the sounds around them has led to many experiments and concerts in an attempt to understand plant behavior and intelligence. At Damanhur, we regularly hold concerts where human and plant musicians play together, harmonizing and improvising live on stage. Playing with a plant is not exactly like playing with a human, given that you can’t just call out the key and a tempo and go with it, instead there is the need to enter into a deeper connection using not just our five physical senses—which plants have as well, as documented in various books such as “Brilliant Green” by Stefano Mancuso—but a combination of physical and subtle senses. This is generating a new type of music, a fusion that is not limited to what we have been trained as human beings to define as music, instead it is a cross-species common musical language.
While the device has been available on a limited basis for several years, in 2014 Damanhur decided it was finally time to bring it out to the world. Through one of its affiliate companies, Devodama, which was founded to share Damanhurian knowledge and research using new media technologies, the stage was set to launch “Music of the Plants”. Synchronically, we were presented with the opportunity to present the “Music of the Plants” as part of an exhibit with artist Oliver Jennings at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London, which is sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society. Held at Chelsea since 1912, it is the most famous flower show in the United Kingdom, and perhaps in the world, attracting visitors from all continents. The exhibit “Bio-Symphony: Music of the Plants” (https://vimeo.com/97932592) was awarded a Bronze Medal, and lead to much press, including being on BBC 1’s “The One Show” with Julie Andrews and Ian McKellen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8SbmQAkzgw), and various radio broadcasts.
Since then, the “Music of the Plants” project has really taken off. Our staff is still small, so it is hard to keep up with the demand, so we do our best to be a channel that unites different areas of research and production. My love of plants, music and language drive me to find new ways to open this project to the world. I have been blessed to meet some incredible people on my travels, and there is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing the look of awe and recognition on someone’s face when listening to plant music for the very first time, especially when the plant reacts to a personal interaction.
Q: How did this program come about?
This project is almost as old as Damanhur itself, starting in 1977/1978 as a desire to find new ways to communicate with the plant world. As a community that embraces technology, Damanhurians started trying to give plants movement through robotic parts and the ability to control movements such as doors opening. The idea was to see if plants acted randomly or via some kind of sentient response. This is before the days of dedicated scientific research into plant behavior, which we have now.
Our research started small, looking at the behavior of plants in familiar settings such as greenhouses. Given that we were using electrical signals, it was a natural progression to look at the waves produced by the plant, which led to thinking of the frequencies of those waves, and then to music. Given that Damanhur is a community, and not a big laboratory, the evolution was gradual, trying out new things as more people connected to the project. On our website, www.musicoftheplants.com, you can see a video on one of the first times we “heard” a plant, and on our Youtube channels there are some videos of early experiments.
Over the years, we have had some amazing experiences with the “Music of the Plants”, such as the time when I was in England and a man brought his Native American flutes to a conference I was presenting at. For two days, during every break, he would come and play with the Begonia I had on my table. This plants performed brilliantly with him, creating a touching duet after very little training time. Normally, it takes weeks of training for a plant to recognize itself and to play with skill. It was hard to believe that the Begonia had never played before from the complexity of its compositions. At the end of the conference, the owner of the plant came to take it home, and I finally understood why this particular plant was so proficient: its owners were musicians and the plant lived in the music room of their home. This plant was exposed to a constant stream of music, composition and creativity, soaking up all their experiences, so that by the time it was given its own instrument, it already knew what to do.
It is not always like this. I have had many plants that play very simply for a long time, some never reaching a true musical maturity. Plants are just like people, we can all learn the basics, but it takes a true desire and talent to become a maestro!
Jessica: How do you get a plant to play music?
Tigrilla: The device works on the principle of biofeedback. It has two electrodes, one that is connected to a leaf and one that is connected to the soil around the roots. These electrodes measure the electrical impedance of the plant and send that measurement back to the device, which uses an algorithm to map that out to four octaves of notes. Using midi, the notes are converted to sound, which play through the speaker. We still haven’t found an automated way for the plant to choose the type of instrumentation it needs to use, so it is up to us find the right instrument sound by how the plant is playing. For example, I have had plants that really only like to play percussion instrument sounds, while others that happily play across a whole range of instruments. It is important not to get stuck on just one, like piano for example, just because it is the sound you like. Who knows, the plant might play better if you switch to a harp.
Jessica: What do you hope to discover or accomplish through this project?
Tigrilla: This last year has been a whirlwind of research and support. We still have so much to learn and understand from plant music. Today we regularly communicate with people around the world that actively use the “Music of the Plants” in their research. In areas of health and wellness, we know that plants are fundamental to our physical and mental well-being. Food, medicine, aerosols in the air… without plants, we as a human species could not exist. But what about their music? What if just listening to a plant could have the same effect as taking a pill form of their essence? Could plant music cure diseases or help people come out of comas?
And then there is the area of sustainability. Plants are some of the oldest living beings on the planet. They hold within the whole history of the planet. A forest is an area of war, peace, compromise, solidarity, and family, what if plants could share their experiences and teach us how to co-create a new world based on balance?
These, and so many other areas, are what we want to learn more about. We know we can’t do it alone, so that is why we decided to get the device into as many hands as possible. While the device is still produced mainly by hand here in Italy, we now have an ever growing list of vendors around the world that make it easy for individuals to start experimenting on their own. We want people to have first-hand experiences with the plant world, and via our social networks, we want to create a hub where people can share and learn this knowledge, each of us developing together new ways to connect to the plant world.
Jessica: Thank you Tigrilla for this interview. Our best to you and your fellow researchers.
Tigrilla is a Plant Perception Researcher and the Strategic Communications Manager for the “Music of the Plants” by Devodama, the new media and products arm of Damanhur, one of the largest spiritual ecocommunities in the world. A natural leader, Tigrilla is the founder of “Practical Spirituality”, as well as the creative genius behind international dance and spiritual events produced by Infinite Connections, which she founded in 2005.
Her background in the corporate world working for RealNetworks, Cirque du Soleil and Microsoft, as a music engineer and event producer, and as an artist on and behind stage, gives her a unique perspective which she uses to bridge people, nature, science and technology. In her personal quest for fulfillment, Tigrilla has found cutting-edge strategies for building community, sustainability and contacting the plant world on spiritual, physical and digital planes.
Tigrilla’s connection to trees and nature weaves an other-worldliness quality into her practical approach to creative problem solving. A natural community builder and knight, she travels the digital and physical world with authority and intuitive wisdom which unites people and sparks collective action to bring love of nature into sustainable, practical application. www.about.me/tigrilla