Hear Hultén’s cacti make haunting sounds from biodata

“Desert Songs” by love hultén

Thorny cacti sound just as they look: haunting, sinister, but sometimes playful. Audiovisual artist Dear Hulten wondering what cacti sounded like and set about bringing out their inner melodies in his signature way, using wire, data and his custom built sound engine.

“It’s not magic and the plants don’t compose, it’s just biofeedback that creates real organic randomness.” he says. As he inserts the clip into the cactus’s thorns, he closes the lid, cranks up the volume, and right there, the plant’s swaying feedbacks flow into the audiovisual artist’s space music box, offering listeners the haunting yet alluring sounds of nature.

Desert songs love hultén
Images courtesy of Love Hultén

Entitled “Desert Songs,” Hultén turns to Plantwave, a small device that translates biodata from organic matter into MIDI sounds, to immerse itself in the melodies of cacti. He explains that the plants act as variable resistors, so what his sound machine records and plays back are the tiny changes in the electrical current of the test plants.

He used cacti for the project because of their “very sparse and sporadic activity,” which may suggest that the more movement a plant makes, the louder, sharper, and even more snappy the sound could come out.

Desert songs love hultén
Plugging the device into the spikes

Mimicking chloroplasts under the microscope

For desert songs Dear Hulten plants a whole cactus garden in the sound machine box. Equipped with a circular screen injected into a CRT-TV-like box, the images flashing on the display seem to come from the stream that the plant device detects. “The cactus garden includes a few different specimens attached to probes, and the outputs for individual plants can be changed while using patch points in advance.” says the audiovisual artist.

The result looks like a science experiment that students will enjoy. To complete the look of the Biolab environment, Hultén even developed a custom MIDI visualizer to mimic chloroplasts under a microscope. For MIDI fans out there, the audiovisual artist says the signals are sent to a Korg NTS-1 for simple wave shaping, then bathed in atmosphere using Hologram Electronics’ Microcosm. For the others, what cacti sound like might finally have been answered (and spooky, just to add).

Desert songs love hultén

Hear Hultén's cacti make haunting sounds from biodata Hear Hultén's cacti make haunting sounds from biodata

Project info:

Surname: desert songs

audiovisual: Dear Hulten

Device: plant wave

Matthew Burgos | design boom

January 25, 2023

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