Tree Eavesdropping, 2015
Living tree, needle electrode, open-source electronics, computer, tree software and speakers
Dimensions variable

Commissioned by the Peabody Essex Museum
The Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center for Earth Day, 2015

This work was attributed to "David Yann Robert with Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus)"
The Master Arborist who consulted on this project was Tchukki Andersen.
The Lead Technical Advisor was Zach Weiss.

Is authorship even relevant when you collaborate with a tree?
— David Yann Robert


A needle electrode sensor was carefully placed 3/4 inch under the bark of the tree.  A ground plate was buried in the soil without touching the tree roots. The bioelectricity of the tree, measured in millivolts (mV), was used to control the frequency(Hz) of a sound-generating oscillator. The millivolts (mV) to Hertz (Hz) mapping was linear(i.e. 360 mV = 360 Hz) so as not to distance the viewer from hearing the tree's internal activity (uninterpreted).  The tree's biosignal was also broadcast wirelessly to a tree contemplation, reading & drawing room inside the museum where visitors created their own works on paper in collaboration with, and in response to, the tree's changing diurnal activity.

No electricity was put into the tree.

Within the first 48 hours of sampling, occasional signal spikes of unknown origin were publicly observed, and charted by the earth technicians (ET1s). The Lead Technical Advisor filed a report describing the anomaly, noting the tree was beginning to bud.

The earth technician assigned to amplify this tree’s voice did so with indicated permission from the tree and on her terms.

Listen to excerpts from Tree Jam, held on April 26th, 2015

Follow Tree Eavesdropping's Instagram project feed @tree_eavesdropping

Listen to PEM's Getting Outside podcast by Dinah Cardin and Chip Van Dyke. David Yann Robert appears around 11:45 following Theo Janseen (Strandbeests).