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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.
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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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