Wageningen University & Research works together with Kunstlab Arnhem on the project Bio orchestra to create a ‘orchestra of plants’. The genetic expression plants show during their growth is being turned into sounds. Through an interactive installation interested people can experience what happens in a plant through sounds. The installation can be visited from the 2nd of October in the Forum on the Wageningen Campus.

Sander van der Krol is a plant physiologist at Wageningen University & Research. He was looking for a powerful way to show genetic shifts within a plant: ‘By linking the genetic ‘switch’ of a plant with the illuminating gene of fireflies you can see just how dynamic the genes within a plant can be. But the moment you for instance change the temperature so many things happen that it becomes hard to clearly show what is happening. I have been searching a while already for a way to use sounds to emphasis gene expressions. If you can link every gene to a tone and you link that to a set of genes then you create accords. This is what led the artist to come up with a completed musical composition. This is the goal we want to reach with Bio Orchestra.’


Creating a link to numbers by using music
During the annual Bio Art & Design Award- competition, Van der Krol came in contact with Tom Kortbeek, the artistic leader of KunstLab in Arnhem. His primary motivation is to use art to make new connections bridging existing disciplines. By pure coincidence he was also working on making music with plants. Kortbeek: ‘Due to my conversations with Sander I discovered that there is an entire world hidden in the plant data. Sander does not need more than a graph and tables to see and feel this world. But us common people only see non-understandable numbers. By creating a link to these numbers with the use of music the dynamic of the plants will come to life for us common people as well.’

Interactive installation
How it is that music can be linked to the genetic expression of plants can be seen in Forum starting October 2nd. On top of this building in the middle of the Wageningen Campus there will stand an interactive installation consisting of a number of large panels resembling those of an organ or a synthesizer. By turning the buttons like a DJ and pulling open registers by yourself, people who are interested can compose their own melodies. Instead of organ pipes the installation has examples of the model plant Arabidopsis in different stages of development. For instance there are seedlings of only one week old, but also plants of four weeks old, with a totally different expression of genes. Sound artist Falk Hübner has translated the expression of different genes into melodies, rhythms and effect based on the input of plants.


During the annual International Congress on Arabidopsis Research, Van der Krol shared the idea of the Bio Orchestra in a workshop with fellow plant researchers from over the entire world. Besides the many positive reactions this also led to a large amount of research films being given for the project which the composer used when making his composition. The idea is that a primary composition by Falk Hübner can be heard during the ICAR 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Video artist Tanja Busking, who is also working on a documentary about Bio Orchestra, provides film that can support the composition.

Source: Wageningen University & Research