Unheard Voices: The Embodied and Networked Intelligence of Plants (2021)

Unheard Voices reveals the sophisticated inner life of plants, reflecting on plant perception, memory, and communication through underground mycorrhizal networks, vast webs of fungal mycelium that connect plants through their root systems. 

In this site-specific audio installation, the sounds of plants being plucked, strummed, bowed, shaken, and touched are broadcast through wifi-enabled, speaker-equipped microcomputers. Each sound heard is adapted by real-time environmental sensor data. These sensors monitor subtle changes in the garden environment, including temperature, humidity, sunlight, and soil moisture. Plants played as musical instruments include cactus, trees, pinecones, seedpods, branches, and leaves native to Arizona. The unique sonic textures produced by these plant-instruments are enhanced by the captured and processed sounds from the ASU Secret Garden. 

My motivation in pursuing this work is grounded in a deeply held conviction that art can be a powerful tool for social change. Despite recent progress in building consciousness around climate change and environmental degradation, society as a whole remains plant-blind, seeing plants merely as a background to human and animal activity. Through Unheard Voices, I hope to inspire participants to reconsider plants both as highly sentient organisms and as a metaphor for the interconnection of all life on earth. The installation is presented as part of my DMA dissertation, Plant Intelligence, and Communication: distributed, non-hierarchical systems as models for music performance and networked sound installations.

3D Photo and Audio, Recorded 3/20/21 at 10:15 AM
A walk-though tour of the Installation & Garden, Recorded 3/21/21 at 4:45 PM
Diagram of Unheard Voices installation, showing the three device types used, Grove Pi Weather Sensors, Raspberry Pi 3B+ Data Scaler and Broadcast Sender, and 25 Speaker Equipped Raspberry Pi Zeros. All Devices are battery powered are connected via the piNet WIFI network. The Speaker Equipped units are placed in trees and bushes around the garden as well as in terra-cotta pots spread throughout the lawn.
Recording of Unheard Voices at 10:30 AM on 3/20/21. The sounds of birds in the garden and airplanes overhead are also heard.

Photos By Neil Schwartz

Unheard Voices sound-playback code (Java/Happy Brackets), showing the scaled and mapped data that is received by the speaker-equipped microcomputers from the sensors and Data Hub Pi. This process reflects on the webs of fungal networks in forest ecology that connect seedlings to older, more established hub trees.