Barren trunks and dying yellow cedar trees are transforming the rainforest landscape along the Alaskan coast caused by the warming northern climate. To track the effects that climate change is having on this species, Stanford PhD student, Lauren Oakes, collected raw data from forty-eight tree plots. After years of interpretation, music helped Oakes see her research in a whole new light. Using data sonification technology, her colleague, Nik Sawe, translated her data into hauntingly beautiful and melancholic melodies set in the Key of D Minor.
The number of trees in each research plot filled individual measures of music. Each note represents a single tree whose unique characteristics are expressed through pitch (height of tree) and force (diameter of tree). According to a Co.Exist article, the species of tree even determines the instrument type with yellow cedars voiced through piano, western hemlock through flute, mountain hemlock through violin and viola, clarinet for shore pines, and finally cello and bass for the Sitka spruce. Denser data plots voice quicker notes while areas with dying or dead trees voice quiet, slow, or even silent notes. What is so striking about this project is how powerful art can be in communicating complex data. It helps the public view climate change through a different sensorial perspective, and in a way, conveys the voice of nature itself.
Check out another post highlighting another musical project sharing the voice of trees.