Photos by NPS/ Paul Martinez

Infrared Reflections

Generative Sound Installation 2024

Description

How do plants and trees respond to electromagnetic energy just beyond the human range of vision?

I researched this question during an art residency at Joshua Tree National Park in April of 2024 and discovered that leaves of flora reflect near-infrared light at high levels while the dead leaves tend to absorb them.

We can’t see infrared light, but its data is insightful. Healthy leaves will reflect these wavelengths of light at high levels.

At the residency I developed a spectral sensor circuit and software that reads this data and translates it into music, mapping the data readings to linear note ranges.

As I pass my hands along the Joshua Tree, the different reflections from the tree makes the leafy parts play higher tones and the “barky” parts play lower tones, so that I can play the tree like a theremin. The health of the plant can be heard from the different tones of music.

It feels like magic.

For the performance, I used a “sloth glove” to hold the sensor. The Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops), now extinct, used to live in symbiosis with the Joshua Tree. It would feed on its seeds and poop them out, dispersing them over a wider range than they now can travel.

As climate change changes the ecology of the desert environment where the Joshua Tree lives, this plant is now under environmental distress. Since it is a keystone species, that hosts many organisms, and is essential to its desert ecosystem, the health of this species is even more important to this environment.

I see this artwork as a performance where I commune with the tree, reading its health and generating compositions from this data.

Exhibitions

Joshua Tree National Park, 2024