Cross-section of a tree played like a record on a turntable

This music -- which sounds like a moody piano soundtrack for a existentialist movie about a rainy day -- is made by slicing a tree in cross-section, sticking it on a turntable, and dropping a tone-arm with a PlayStation Eye Camera in the head, and processing its output through Ableton Live. It's called Years, and it was created by Bartholomäus Traubeck.

Play the Rings of a Tree Trunk Like a Record


  1. The disc looks cool, too…AND you can eat pizza off it. However, that particular tree is a bit too depressing for me.

  2. Growth rings don’t go in a spiral, so unless there is something mechanically moving the arm in towards the center of the disc, the sound should be a loop playing the same couple of seconds over and over.  Also, in a couple of spots there were large checks in the wood, and as those checks came into the scan range of the “needle” there was no corresponding sound in the music.  Anyone who has played a real vinyl record can tell you what it sounds like when the record has a huge scratch on it.  Makes me wonder exactly how this was all done.

    1. It doesn’t use a needle… That’s why there is the playstation eye camera placed on the tone-arm.  The camera sends the image to Ableton live which in turn takes the image and turns it into music. I agree if you just took a piece of wood and stuck it onto a regular record player you would be correct but this is not a regular record player… read the caption under the video.

  3. At least some of the video doesn’t correspond to the actual cross-section being played; it seems to show different cross-sections on the turntable at various points.

    I also wonder what the notes correspond to exactly. The edges of those little xylem(?) and phloem(?) tubes? Any light-dark contrast on the surface?

  4. Well, it sounds like moody piano because it *IS* piano. I don’t understand how the camera signal is processed, but ultimately it seems to be sequencing (arbitrarily?) chosen piano pitches.  I am sad it is not a more “pure” interpretation, more in the spirit of sound the cells the wood would actually make if amplified by a analog needle. Of course that sound would likely be much less “musical”.

      1. Arbitrary, not random. I mean the fact that a musical scale of discreet (piano) pitches, in a scale, is an arbitrary choice. There seems to be nothing about the ring/cell patterns that create, demand, or even suggest the subset of musical pitches we call a harmonic minor scale. If it fact this tree slice is “playing” from the harmonic minor scale that would actually be *more* arbitrary than if it “chose” notes from a chromatic scale, and that it turn is more arbitrary than no pitch boundaries/”autotuning” at all. 

        Unless of course there is something about the spacing of the rings/cells that actually DOES resemble a musical scale *even when all other pitches are available to play*, which would be really cool, but don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

        I guess what I am saying is that we are hearing the artist more than the tree.

    1. Yeah. The thing is you can input pretty much any data feed you like to a DAW program and map that to spit out something vaguely musical. There’s no feeling that you’re ‘hearing’ the tree in this.

  5. Existential kinesthesia. I liked it. 

    The idea of using tree rings (or some other naturally occurring fractal pattern) as an instrument controller was interesting and well done.

    I would take the circular patterns of two or more (one per “hand” and/or one per instrument) spiral “stripes” scanned off of different kinds of trees and layer them across a GarageBand tune to see what kind of audio pattern would reveal itself.

    While it sounds quite slow and deliberate, I’m sure that tiger maple and several other trees would sound a lot more interesting as it would “play” itself quite rapidly.

    The problem with this technique is that it is destructive (it required a tree to die so the music is quite dirge like, which is appropriate if you think about it.)

    Since the actual music source can be anything which can generate a naturally occurring fractal, it can be done with sonograms or x-rays or videos of babbling brooks, etcetera which would not require any destruction of the pattern source.

    Sonograms of bird song rendered using instruments and divided across our western twelve tone scale (as opposed to the Indian 16 tone scale,) would be interesting.

    Changing the scale from diatonic to gregorian to pentatonic (anything which would restrict the selection of notes and force/coerce quantization) might reveal other patterns.

    1. You totally just went John Cage on this bitch. 

      These ideas are fantastic. I just thought of lasers scanning the fractal structures of clouds r/t and immediately translating that data into a musical piece played to a live audience.

  6. I think what would help this piece is documentation of the process.
    If it is meant to be experienced as a video, more of the process would have made it more believable, it being more believable would allow it to be more honestly appreciated.
    But perhaps that is not what it is meant to be.
    The way I see it now, I see an artists translation of the way a trees life story could be told musically , and that’s beautiful but opinionated – if I understood what I was looking at by the video alone — I might actually believe that it IS the tree’s life story. As of right now, it just seems to be a bit too sentimental and illusory though it’s a fabulous and innovative concept with brilliantly executed audio visual craftsmanship.

  7. Makes me think of other semi-circular “surfaces” that could be “played”.  Onions,  the flat ends of a roll of paper towels, whatever….

    I noticed that the platter was moving at a pretty slow rpm. Good for slow, elegiac “music”, but a short blast of 45 rpm rock, scored to, oh, say, a fingerprint could have a nice punk/minimalist feel to it.

    1. That redwood was pretty good when it was a sprout, but after it’s 50th growth ring it just kept doing the same stuff…

  8. Great piece, cool use of technology, but check this out.
    Here’s my piece that I created in 2010, it actually picks up the bumps, grooves and scratches in the wood, using a contact mic, fully interactive, from turning it on and adjusting settings. It is currently traveling in exhibitions across Canada and the USA, next stop the Vancouver Art Gallery, then the Museum of Art and Design, NYC.
    If you like this, check out my website,

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