January 26th, 2012 by

As covered in the autumn issue of American Forests, tree rings tell compelling stories. Far from just revealing a tree’s age, they record natural events like volcano eruptions, the history of civilizations like the Roman and Aztec Empires and other moments in time. And, now, they make music. Yes, you read that right: music.

Tree rings record player: Years by Bartholomäus Traubeck

Credit: Bartholomäus Traubeck

German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck created Years, a record-player-like device that translates tree rings into piano music. Traubeck gives the following description for the device:

A tree’s year rings are analysed [sic] for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Translation, please? Whereas a traditional record player creates music by having a stylus pass over notches in a record that reproduce the vibrations, or sounds, of the music, in Traubeck’s device, the stylus is replaced by a camera. This camera sends the image of the tree rings to an attached computer program, which converts the thickness, spacing, color and other elements of the rings into specific sounds. Hence, music!

Now, tree rings might not provide the same musical complexity of Bach or Mozart, but they do create unique sounds with their own rhythm and beauty. On his Vimeo page, Traubeck reveals that his video composition is actually a combination of tracks from different trees — from a “minimalistic fir” to “an ash tree with a rather complex texture.” He claims that dark walnut wood is even more dramatic.

Thanks, Bartholomäus, for giving us another way to marvel in the magnificence of trees.