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If a tree falls on a turntable...

Posted by Elizabeth Manus  November 12, 2012 03:22 PM

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If you’re an observant person, you may have noticed that the cross-section of a tree, with its concentric rings, looks a lot like a phonograph record. So . . . could you actually play it?

Someone has come up with a way. Inspired by Jethro Tull’s album “Songs From the Wood,” Austrian media artist Bartholomäus Traubeck created a record player that plays slices of wood, 12 inches across and 8 millimeters thick.

Tree rings can’t actually be played like a record – among other things, they’re concentric circles rather than the long spiral groove of an LP. Traubeck’s modified turntable uses a camera instead of a needle, turns the rings into data, and then uses an algorithm to translate it into piano “music.”

“Sometimes it is a series of piano tones, sometimes it’s just one sound and the melody is defined, for instance, by the rate of growth,” Traubeck told the radio show Living on Earth earlier this year.

“Whenever you put a fir tree on, you will get C minor, usually,” Traubeck said.

Currently Traubeck is showing his tree records at Digital Art Festival Taipei, and is one of 20 artists (among them John Cage and Stephen Vitiello) whose audio-slash-visual work is now being exhibited in Tokyo Art Meeting (III) Art & Music—Search for New Synesthesia, at Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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