Singing plant for the Danish National Gallery, DK 2018.

The singing plant, Roskilde Festival 2004, Halfmachine 2004, MINE - Tingbæk kalkminer 2005, Botanical Garden 2007 & Robots at Play 2008 (June 2004), the Danish National Gallery, DK 2018.

The singing plant is an interactive sound and light installation using a living greenhouse plant as the sole interactive interface element. It is based upon one of the first electronic musical instruments - the theremin, named after its inventor, the Russian professor Léon Theremin. The theremin works by sending an AC signal to an antenna and measuring the attenuation and distortion of the signal by the watery capacitance of a human body nearby.

Normally the antenna is metal, but in the Singing Plant, a plant is used as the antenna. The water in the plant conducts well enough to make this possible; however, great care in calibration is required as the electrical characteristics of the plant and its soil change with varying wetness. When properly calibrated, the theremin-plant acts as a touch and proximity sensor which controls pitch and volume. In the concrete installation, the sound was modulated through several filters to give a richer and more variable soundscape. 

Most participants who tried the installation were fascinated by the relationship the technical interface created between them and the plant. They would often anthropomorphise it by telling stories about the role of the magic plant or by starting a discussion with people around them on the fragility of nature in general. In the latter case, some participants would also criticise the installation as cruel to the plant because of the necessity to put wires on it; they associated it with the electrocution of humans.

The plant has been presented on more than one occasion, most notably at the Roskilde Festival (2004) and at the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen (2007). In the first case, it created vivid interactions and engagements; people would make up songs about the plant and use it as a conversation piece to engage with other festival participants. In the latter, it was treated with the respect that is normally expected in the context of plants exhibited in a botanical garden.

Credits: Mads Hobye, Nicolas Padfield, Schack Lindemann, Thomas Jørgensen, Thor Lentz and Åsmund Boye Kverneland, Bo Thorning, Done with members of