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Musicking with Plants

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Part of the Current Research in Systematic Musicology book series (CRSM,volume 10)


In this paper we discuss our work and research related to music, humans and plants. We attempt to put our endeavours in a large historical and technological perspective as well as sharing our own creative journey motivated by an interest in connecting with plants through music making. We deliberately use the term “musicking” to create a context where our work can be meaningfully understood, and we present case studies—elicitors—to discuss and communicate our activities and creative processes.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-78451-5_7
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  1. 1.

    See, for example, the images shared during pandemic of clean canals in Venice, blue sky in Beijing, contaminating the imagination of people all over the world with the idea that nature “breathed” and sent a warning to humanity. We know, however, that publications of this kind can be fake news.

  2. 2.

    As a mere example, it should be noticed that David Attenborough´s latest documentaries are available on popular platforms such as Netflix.

  3. 3.

    Although not directly related to our work but related to the discussion about Art and Science, the famous lecture by C. P. Snow, “The Two Cultures”, in 1959, addresses in an interesting manner Art’s and Science split and its consequences.

  4. 4.

    The documentary Music with plants, plants with Music (Tavares & Lopes, 2017) reports the musical and educational work developed by the first author during one school year in public schools, music schools, kindergarten and nursing homes. Some people living alone at those nursing homes confessed that they talk to plants as if the plants were their friends and companions. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from

  5. 5.

    The biophilia theory, suggested by Edward Wilson, asserts the existence of “a fundamental, genetically based human need and propensity to affiliate with life and lifelike processes” (Kahn, 1997, p. 1).

  6. 6.

    Cleve Baxter, using a lie-detector machine connected to a plant, stated that a plant had reacted to his thoughts. His experiment and claims gave rise to many discussions.

  7. 7.

    Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

  8. 8.

    Retrieved January 10, 2021, from

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    Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

  10. 10.

    Retrieved January 4, 2021, from

  11. 11.

    Retrieved January 5, 2021, from

  12. 12.

    The Kaluli is a tribe living in the rain forest at Papua New Guinea.

  13. 13.

    During the vietnam war, American troupes produced and played audio tapes which featured strange sounds and altered voices to install a sense of fear among the vietnamese soldiers. Retrieved January 15, 2021.

  14. 14.

    In the essay The Art of Human to Plant Interaction, from 2015, Sommerer, Mignonneau and Weil cover the main aspects of this trend and their technological approaches.

  15. 15.

    E.g. Retrieved January 6, 2021.

  16. 16.

    E.g. Retrieved January 19, 2021.

  17. 17.

    E.g. L-Systems.

  18. 18.

    Sonification refers to using non-speech audio to convey information related to specific data.

  19. 19.

    To get an overview of sensors used with plant, please check (Lopes & Rodrigues, 2020).

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    Retrieved January 4, 2021, from

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    Retrieved January 4, 2021, from

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    Retrieved January 2, 2021, from

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    Retrieved January 2, 2021, from

  24. 24.

    Retrieved January 3, 2021, from

  25. 25.

    Here resonates the idea of cybernetics and telematics cultivated by artists like Roy Ascott.

  26. 26.

    For more detail, please see the chapter “The Music Instinct” in Daniel Levitin’s book This is your Brain on Music (2007).

  27. 27.

    For more detail, please see the article “The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics” (2009).

  28. 28.

    Wallace Sabine stated that the music developed in the open space (e.g. savanna) was mainly rhythmical due to the lack of reverberation. On the other hand, the music that flourished in closed spaces is imminently more melodic and harmonic due to the influence of reverberation (Prior, 2007).

  29. 29.

    Retrieved November 13, 2021, from

  30. 30.

    For a detailed description about this phase, see (Lopes & Rodrigues, 2020).

  31. 31.

    By “prepared speaker”, we mean speakers that have their cone filled with various sound objects (e.g. bells, coins, leaves, paper). The cone, when excited with electricity, moves which makes the sound objects in its cone shock, producing a myriad of sounds.

  32. 32.

    It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe the practices and theories that encompass the musical interpretation of graphic and / or animated scores. A good source of contemporary practices can be found at Retrieved January 11, 2021.

  33. 33.

    Retrieved January 10, 2021, from

  34. 34.

    Retrieved January 11, 2021, from

  35. 35.

    It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss in detail the practices and theories about sonification. For more information, see Retrieved January 11, 2021.

  36. 36.

    At the moment, due to the covid 19 pandemic, the page that hosted “The Seed” is disabled. For the purposes of “example”, you can see the version that was online during March 2019: Retrieved January 11, 2021.

  37. 37.

    Retrieved December 11, 2021, from

  38. 38.

    The BACH motif is well known in the musical world, that is, a melodic sequence of 4 notes derived from the letters B A C H. Retrieved December 15, 2021.

  39. 39.

    Retrieved January 2, 2021, from

  40. 40.

    Retrieved January 2, 2021, from


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This research was funded by the project “Experimentation in music in Portuguese culture: History, contexts and practices in the 20th and 21st centuries”, co-financed by the European Union, through the Operational Programme Competitiveness and Internationalization, in its ERDF component, and by national funds, through the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. The authors would also like to thank CIPEM/INET-md, ESMAD/P.Porto, University of Aveiro and Companhia de Música Teatral.

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Correspondence to Filipe Lopes .

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Lopes, F., Rodrigues, P.M. (2021). Musicking with Plants. In: Correia Castilho, L., Dias, R., Pinho, J.F. (eds) Perspectives on Music, Sound and Musicology. Current Research in Systematic Musicology, vol 10. Springer, Cham.

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