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Making It

A High-Tech Turntable Converts Tree Rings Into Piano Music

In "Years," Bartholomäus Traubeck mines the natural data stored in a tree using some sophisticated man-made technology.

A High-Tech Turntable Converts Tree Rings Into Piano Music

Ever consider playing a cross-section of a tree like a vinyl record? We hadn’t until introduced to the work of Bartholomäus Traubeck, who has figured out a way to translate the rings of wooden disks into music using a computer-rigged record player.

"I rather wanted to see the tree as just one of many documents in an archive of natural objects that bear the record of their development in their own structure," Traubeck tells Co.Design. But in order to mine that data, the artist built an elaborate tech setup. The tonearm is equipped with a modified PlayStation eye camera, which streams a close-up image of the record to a computer. "I examine the image for (obviously) year rings, and if one is detected, it is analyzed for its thickness, darkness, and growth factor," the German artist writes. Those parameters determine the groove’s rhythm, tone strength and length, and pitch. After being analyzed and reshaped, the signal is mapped onto a piano scale and output as sound.

It was the wood, rather than the programming or hardware, that proved the most temperamental. "Since wood is a so-called living material it is very sensitive to humidity and temperature," Traubeck explains. "It was virtually impossible to manufacture perfect cross-section cuts out of pure wood, because it would just break apart. So it came down to either using plasticized wood, which is essentially treated just like [Gunther] von Hagens’s Körperwelten (a very expensive and delicate procedure), or get veneer cuts. In the end, I settled for slices of veneer."

This is one time when it’s okay to scratch the veneer.