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The Forest Symphony: Sounds of Photosynthesis

Ryuichi Sakamoto of Japan is best known as a musician and composer, but his recent collaboration with visual artist and designer Shiro Takatani on an installation called “Art, Environment, Life” has deepened his reputation as an artist who sees art as a conduit of environmental and social change.

The installation has three parts—fog, forest, and water—and though each highlights a different element in an equally provocative acoustic and visual display, the second, “The Forest Symphony,” has garnered attention in both artistic and scientific circles.





The Forest Symphony project, created in collaboration with the YCAM Interlab team (Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media), monitors tree’s bioelectrical potential (photosynthesis activity) and then translates it into music. Seasonal and climatic changes in sunlight will be mirrored by changes in sound.

Twenty four trees located in both Japan and abroad will be fitted with the Arduino shield, engineered especially for this project. Then, for a year from May 2013, the trees’ bioelectrical activity will be monitored and streamed both online and during the installation.

YCAM calls the piece “an attempt to establish a dialogue between the increasingly computerized human society and nature.” Indeed, The Forest Symphony is an alluring collaboration of technology, art, and nature in which a clearly designed space is infused with electric sounds and decorated with data graphs, all in an attempt to frame nature with a new lens to bring awareness back to it.

The data collected from the project not only makes an artistic statement, but because it can monitor seasonal climate patterns based on shifting bioelectrical potential patterns, it functions as a scientific tool as well. YCAM Interweb intends to distribute the Arduino shield to all interested participants and, in this way, continue the project’s intention to bring awareness to the Earth’s forests, even after the installation comes to an end.

Ellen Xie

A native of Bethel, CT, Ellen attended Vassar College for a degrees in Environmental Studies and English.

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