What Do Trees Say?

Interactive web project

Commissioned by PNEK (Production Network for Electronic Art) and NRK/Ulyd as part of Digitale Fortellinger (Digital Stories), this online project aimed at uncovering the secret language of trees.

Idea and realization: Marte Aas
Text: Marte Huke
Programming: Rune Lain Knudsen
Web programming: Marta Magnus
In fairytales and folklore trees are often portrayed as having an emotional life and being able to speak, just like humans. Recent research has shown that trees and plants also react with stress when they are injured, that harmonious sound waves impact in how plants grow, and that both plants and trees emit electric impulses similar to human's nerve impulses. Do they also address each other or the world beyond? Can we conceive of the whistling of the wind through the treetops as their way of communicating? So that, if we could manage to decode these sounds and translate them into our language, we would find out what the trees were saying?

The sounds emanating from a 100-year-old Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) in the Botanical Gardens in Oslo were transferred to a computer and interpreted as a sonogram. The tree's reaction to wind and weather was also recorded. The sonogram and the wind and weather data were then translated into words. On the website people could watch a live surveillance camera of the tree alongside interpretations of the sounds it made. What the tree said over a year was made available on nrk.no/ulyd.