Vinyl Fans: Turntable That Plays Tree Rings as Piano Music

Vinyl fans, I give you… the turntable that plays slices of trees! Created by a German artist named Bartholomäus Traubeck (who debuted the turntable in 2011), the turntable is capable of digitally reading the year-ring data on the tree slices and translating them into piano music. The sounds produced are startlingly beautiful, both aesthetically and aurally, in spite of the fact that the natural compositions tend to lack a certain structural aspect found in most human-made musical pieces. But therein lies the beauty of it; we are able to hear the otherwise silent life of some of Earth’s oldest organisms. Forests around the world are actually silent music recordings in progress. If a tree records music in a forest, you won’t hear it whether you’re there or not. Unless you have this turntable.

Traubeck appropriately calls his project “Years” and says on his website, “A tree’s year rings are analysed 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.” You don’t have to be a dendrochronologist or a musician to appreciate the unearthly beauty of these records. View the project on his website here.

The record player that plays “Years” is made out of a modified turntable, a computer, vvvv, a camera, acrylic glass, veneer, and is about 90x50x50 cm. Perfect for your living room! Not to mention strong enough to handle playing cross-sectional pieces of wood. Traubeck filtered the input data through Ableton Live (a software music sequencer and digital audio workstation for OS X and Windows), which interpreted the data into a piano track. A Playstation Eye Camera was used to document the turntable in action, and a stepper motor was used to power the turntable’s arm. The records themselves are made of all types of wood, including maple, walnut, spruce, beech, alder, oak, and ash, and look surprisingly similar to actual vinyl.

Traubeck elaborated to Datagarden about the comparison between a tree slice and a vinyl record, saying that, “On regular vinyl, there is this groove that represents however long the track is. There’s a physical representation of the length of the audio track that’s imprinted on the record. The year rings are very similar, because it takes a very long time to actually grow this structure because it depends on which record you put on of those I made. It’s usually 30 to 60 or 70 years in that amount of space. It was really interesting for me to have this visual representation of time and then translate it back into a song which it wouldn’t originally be.”