It Turns Out Plants Make Noise as They Grow—and a New Sound Art Show at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Gives You a Chance to Listen

Artist Adrienne Adar hopes that being able to hear plants will make people see them as sentient beings.

A visitor tunes in to "Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations at Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Adrienne Adar." Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

You may have heard that playing music can help your garden grow, but have you ever considered listening to the plants themselves? That’s what sound artist Adrienne Adar is encouraging visitors to do at her exhibition at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which allows humans to hear the subtle, normally inaudible sounds of plant life.

She hopes the show will deepen people’s connection to the natural world. For audiences to be able to hear plants, Adar told the New York Times, “adds a level of information they didn’t have before, and they think of the plant differently.”

The Los Angeles-based artist’s practice is inspired by scientific research that shows that plants, much like animals, are sentient beings. Adar cites, for instance, the work of Monica Gagliano, an ecologist at the University of Western Australia, who has researched plants’ cognitive abilities and whose experiments suggest that plants can hear water and grow toward the sound.

Adar has created hand-made sensors that are buried in the soil or inserted into cacti and succulents. The sensors pick up the vibrations plants make when they are touched by humans, which visitors can listen to through special headphones.

"Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations at Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Adrienne Adar." Photo by Adrienne Adar.

“Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations at Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Adrienne Adar.” Photo by Adrienne Adar.

“To audiolize, to listen to them, I think gives [plants] more of an individuality; to understand that they are doing things all the time and moving and feeling things in their environment,” Adar told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Adar has also installed a powerful microphone amid a field of freshly planted corn. The amplified sounds are projected through large yellow horns, allowing viewer to tune in to the faint, almost otherworldly sounds of ears of corn growing.

The experience “can be a little bit meditational,” she told NPR. “Children were sitting on the ground and putting their heads in the lower horns and just hanging out.”

A visitor listens to a plant in an Adrienne Adar exhibition at the Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photo by Adrienne Adar.

A visitor listens to a plant in an Adrienne Adar exhibition at the Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photo by Adrienne Adar.

Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations at Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Adrienne Adar” is on view at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens visitor center and throughout the grounds, entrance at 990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, May 21–October 27, 2019.


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