PLEIN AIR | Silva Datum Musica

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Gruen 187 | Vinyl > [order]


Plein Air the album presents recordings from a plant-driven synthesizer. A custom built instrument that uses scientific sensors and software programming to generate real-time tree leaf data. Light, photosynthesis and transpiration modifies sound: the rhythm, melody, texture, tempo and harmony shift with atmospheric conditions and tree response – electronically.


The sounds of each leaf of regional deciduous trees by scientifically sensored data-sonification are much more musical than one could imagine. Their timbre and volume always depend on light and temperature, number of audience. It varies from site to site and from country to country. We can hear loops of rhythmic sequences, groups of tiny computer generated signals, long drones which change constantly and are hard to describe.


Side 1 includes four short recordings, in total twenty-six minutes, of one leaf from Scottish Elder, Oak, Elderberry and Birch, recorded in one of Glasgow’s historical green houses, June 2017. Due to dramatic light and temperature changes that occur as sunshine and cloud formation changes in proximity to the north Atlantic; the computer generated music is highly dynamic, an intense hearing experience at times as I would imagine a tornado.


Side 2, is one recording, in total twenty-five minutes, of a regional heritage pear tree leaf that sounds more like Minimal Music. During the Cologne Tree Sound Study, we made the recording in a small office room in 2015, we had less dramatic weather changes. A warm summer, smooth light changes, generating a more gentle soundscape to deeply plunge into music. (Georg Dietzler)


Plein Air the album is based on a ten-year artist-led project. In simplest terms our intention is to provide a ‘mind/body experience’ of trees by attending to the sound of physiological reaction (photosynthesis and transpiration) as one leaf adjusts to the day to day changes (rush hour traffic, crowds of people) in ground level atmospheric chemistry in venues and cities. Physiological data is transposed into sound through computer software. We have chosen sound for its aesthetic purity with the goal to hear the trees more clearly as they react to changes in CO2, temperature and humidity. This system is called ‘Plein Air’, a stable single platform system that embraces the portable easel, as a metaphor for the historic practice of open air painting. Where Millet extended the idea of landscape to peasants working in the fields and the impressionists examined the phenomenological exchange between light and material. At the same time, recent work with the system raises questions about what we expect to ‘hear’ when we listen to nature, as it reacts to intense inputs of carbon dioxide?
(Tim Collins)





Side 1 – PLEIN AIR Live in Glasgow, Scotland, 2017


1 ALDER 5:32
2 OAK 8:04
4 BIRCH 8:48


Side 2 – PLEIN AIR Live in Cologne, Germany, 2015


1 PEAR 24:42


5 Tracks (50′42″)
Vinyl (300 copies)








Tim Collins, Reiko Goto, Chris Malcolm
Plein Air | Silva Datum Musica
Format: 12 “ Vinyl
Style: Experimental, Electronic, Data-Sonification, Computermusic
Recordings by Chris Malcom, Tim Collins & Georg Dietzler
Software Programming: Chris Malcom
Mastering by Dirk Specht, Cologne
Produced by Georg Dietzler, Cologne
Artwork: Reiko Goto with mono prints by Nicola Chambury
Edition of 300 copies | 100 numbered & autographed
PLEIN AIR | Southern Appalachian Forest


Sound Art Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2019 / Gruen 187 / LC 09488 / GEMA / EAN 193483354477





A ten years project by Tim Collins, Reiko Goto and Chris Malcolm culminates on ‚Plein Air | Silva Datum Musica‘.
By nature, experimental music is defined by singular, radical thinking. It is a push, joining ideas and sound, toward the unknown and unheard. Yet, setting the ambitions of this remarkable creative context aside, it remains rare to encounter objects which veer so far from the beaten path that they feel like their own quiet revolution of one – challenging the very conceptions of music, as the architects of the avant-garde once did. This, in the simplest terms, is what Plein Air | Silva Datum Musica, the culmination of a ten year project by Tim Collins, Reiko Goto, and Chris Malcolm, has seemingly managed to do. Comprised of recordings made on a custom built, plant-driven synthesizer, issued by the German imprint Gruenrekorder – it is an extension of their long standing dedication to musical and sound-art efforts built from field recordings, a stunningly beautiful and radical rethinking of the base notions of organized sound.


Encountering three artists joining forces, driven into new realms by interfaces with technology and chance, Plein Air | Silva Datum Musica is one of those rare LPs which can instill even the most weathered experimental music fan with faith. There is still ground to be broken and adventures to be had. Created with a custom built, plant-driven synthesizer which uses scientific sensors and software programming to generate real-time tree leaf data. Light, photosynthesis and transpiration modifies sound, giving way to electronic rhythm, melody, texture, and harmonic shifts, directly linked to atmospheric conditions and a tree’s response.


Stunningly beautiful, rich, and challenging for its raw sounds and ideas alone, Collins, Goto and Malcolm’s Plein Air | Silva Datum Musica is made that much more compelling by the perceptible absence of ego of its creator’s hands – an engrossing work of unadulterated, abstract sound – at once calling to mind the efforts of the mid-20th century orchestra and synthesis based avant-gardes, while delving toward the future entirely on its own. It would be hard for us to recommend this one enough.
Issued by Gruenrekorder on vinyl in a strictly limited edition of 300 copies, so don’t sleep. It’s not going sit around for long.


Only on Gruenrekorder, it seems, would a release appear claiming to present “recordings from a plant-driven synthesizer” and focusing on “plant bioacoustics.” The German label has a reputation for bringing unusual projects into the world, and its dedication to the strange and fascinating is one of the things to admire most about the imprint. This latest outing (issued in an LP edition of 300) certainly qualifies as different: to record the material, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto worked with a custom-built instrument that uses software programming by Chris Malcom and scientific sensors to produce “real-time tree leaf data.” Said device transcribes into sound form (data-sonification, in other words) the ‘music‘ produced by leaves, material whose timbre and volume are determined not only by the specific tree type but also conditions in the immediate environment such as temperature, light, carbon dioxide, and humidity.


Photos of the instrument setup show it to be an easel-styled construction that instantly establishes a through-line to visual artists such as Van Gogh and Monet who transcribed the outdoors into painted form. The Plein Air collaborators differ from open air painters, however, in that their generative sound recordings are facilitated using software. As described by Collins and Goto, the project isn’t only about sound content; there’s an ethical dimension in play, too. One of their goals involves exploring the empathic interrelationship between humans and trees and more generally the relationships of people-plant and culture-nature. If we’re presented with evidence of a tree as a live entity, how, they ask, does our sense of moral duty change towards it, especially when the nature object has historically been regarded as property, utilitarian resource, and non-sentient.


Adding to the recording’s appeal, the opening side’s four pieces were recorded in Glasgow under different conditions than the flip’s side-long setting, produced in Cologne. The Glasgow recordings were made at a curved, Victorian-era glasshouse, which allowed fluctuating weather conditions to influence the dynamic range of the sounds produced; a sheltered, quiet office room with one window was the setting for the Cologne piece, which is more soothing and less characterized by change than the others. In short, anyone who thinks one tree sound is the same as the next need only compare the two halves to conclude otherwise.


Each track on the Glasgow side was generated using a different leaf, namely Scottish Elder, Oak, Elderberry, and Birch. “Alder” features lurching, vaguely dissonant melodic meanderings and percussive punctuations resounding amidst a backdrop of soft, industrial-styled textures. In some strange way, the slow, meditative result doesn’t sound completely unlike the sound of an improvising raga ensemble with harmonium and percussion as the main instruments. The intensity level increases in “Oak,” with this time the melodic material rising and the overall tonality of the material dark and aggressive compared to the opener. The sound mass creaks and groans with forceful intent, the track’s stepwise dissonances disturbing, its mood nightmarish. “Birch” concludes the macabre, unsettling first half with nine minutes of intense melodic flurries, percussive batterings, and siren-like howls.


In the twenty-five minute “Pear,” whose sounds were sourced from a regional heritage pear tree leaf, the timbre of the primary melodic element shifts from harmonium or organ to high-pitched, warbling synthesizer; in fact, the sound details on the side are all brighter than those on the first. Stylistically, however, the second side shares with it the explorative feel of an improvising group birthing a meditative, slowly evolving drone in real-time. With the ringing of a tambourine, the bass pulse of a hand drum, and the shimmer of a tamboura all part of the sound design, the image of an Indian ensemble performing live is again evoked. As producer Georg Dietzler correctly notes, the recording is invaluable for bringing the listener “face-to-face with the sound of the breathing of a tree.” We’ve all seen, felt, and even climbed them, but we’ve probably never heard them before in the way they’re presented here.


TJ Norris | Toneshift
With each names for trees, this latest collaboration between Tim Collins, Reiko Goto, Chris Malcolm (here as Silva Datum Musica) is a unique journey into the great outdoors via a custom-built plant-driven synthesizer – you heard that right. An instrument that “uses scientific sensors and software programming to generate real-time tree leaf data. Light, photosynthesis and transpiration modifies sound: the rhythm, melody, texture, tempo and harmony shift with atmospheric conditions and tree response – electronically.”


The trio act like performative sound painters on Plein Air. The outcome has a droopy quality on Alder, that seems like a retro flashback, like the accompaniment to a silent movie. This continues with gaseous exhaust and flourishes of organ and mysterious tones right into Oak and through the manipulated forest. Having taken a decade to orchestrate this, there were obviously a lot of technical aspects to overcome in the process – but this blend of scientific photosynthesis, etc. has a great impact on the pleasant awkwardness of the chords. This has the presence of something circus-like, or perhaps an organ grinder in the streets of Paris circa the 1950’s – it’s impossible to peg, and exciting to contemplate. Having been recorded in Scotland there lays the essence of the place in the tonal shadows.


The contraptions they’ve built (have a closer look here) seem more akin to those used by old school land camera photographers, and those who engage in the camera obscura than your typical musician – but they have successfully fused sound and vision with natural science to deliver an awesome ear-opener as well. The computer generated sounds are within their own world of improv, and the artists here definitely had to rely on chance for all of their inventiveness, in part. As light and temperature effect the sounds that come alive, this is one of those projects that would rightly deserve a fine museum exhibition, if you could bring the outdoors in (I’m thinking of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its open air courtyard that already has plant life). But the idea of seeing a sight such as this trio upon a hillside or in a public park would be a head-turner for sure.


Side two is fully dedicated to the solitary Pear as it runs just about twenty-five minutes: ” (the) regional heritage pear tree leaf that sounds more like Minimal Music. During the Cologne Tree Sound Study, we made the recording in a small office room in 2015, we had less dramatic weather changes. A warm summer, smooth light changes, generating a more gentle soundscape to deeply plunge into music (Georg Dietzler).” This track stands out from the rest, and it’s great to be reserved as such. The effect is a tad psychedelic, almost like music within Eastern traditions (like a snake charmer), and a bit removed. Though this also has plenty in common with German electronic music of the 1970’s, in all its futuristic, minimalistic glory. Plants are earthly beings, here given voice in a most unique way.


Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
A subject about I surely have very little knowledge of is that of bioacoustics; you know, where biological events turn into sound. I know John Cage experimented with plants, Michael Prime also, and I’m sure there is much more out there, but I have not much idea about that. Silva Datum Musica is a duo of Tim Collins and Reiko Goto and together they created a ‚plant-driven synthesizer‘. It uses sensors and software „to generate real-time tree leaf data. Light, photosynthesis and transpiration modify sound: the rhythm, melody, texture, tempo and harmony shift with atmospheric conditions and tree response – electronically“, which is a pretty cool idea. Ideally, every plant sounds different, one would think. Here we have two different recordings, both live. One side has four pieces, recorded in 2017 in Scotland and one long piece from Cologne in 2015. The four pieces are ‚Alder‘, ‚Oak‘, ‚Elderberry‘ and ‚Birch‘ and ‚Pear‘ is on the other side. The interesting thing is, but perhaps also sad to note, is that those four pieces sound kinda similar. I have no idea if that is the trees, leaves or perhaps the software; basically, because I have very little knowledge of how this software is supposed to work. Are there elements of sound in there that are activated by the plants and as such maybe that’s why some of this sounds the same. It makes it, perhaps, more the result of a scientific experiment, rather than some music that works as a standalone thing, which is, I think, what this should boil down to. No matter how interesting it is to translate the sound of leaves into music, one should also consider the fact that it is now ‚out there‘, on an LP, to enjoy. One doesn’t see or smell the plants, nor the machine to translate them, and therefore it is a bit difficult to understand why these pieces sound relatively the same. The long piece on the other side, curiously enough, sounds a bit different, although one can link both sides together. The sheer minimalism of all of the pieces is, however, something I enjoyed very much about this. It is slowly evolving and that is always a great thing!