A passer-by encounters another in an embrace with a tree, and then another, and another. Puzzled, she stops, and approaches. As she comes closer, she might feel the slightest tremor under her feet. But not until she joins in the embrace does she hear the voices inside the trees.

ListenTree is an audio-haptic display embedded in the natural environment. Motivated by a need for forms of display that fade into the background, our installation invites attention, rather than demanding it. We consume most our of our digital information through devices that often alienate us from our immediate surroundings; ListenTree points to a future where digital information becomes enmeshed in material.

A visitor to the installation notices a faint sound appearing to emerge from a tree (or several), and might feel a slight vibration under their feet as they approach. By resting their head against the tree, they are able to both feel and hear crystal clear sound through bone conduction. To create this effect, a specialized audio exciter transducer is weatherproofed and attached to the underground base of a tree (or trees), transforming the tree into a living speaker that channels audio through its branches and provides vibrotactile feedback. Any kind of sound can be played through the tree, including live audio or pre-recorded tracks.


How it works

A single controller unit is wired to multiple underground transducers, each affixed to the roots of a tree. The controller is designed to be a self-powered, self- contained plug-and-play module, adaptable to any tree. We use a solar panel to charge a battery; computation and wireless network connectivity is delivered by an embedded computer. Audio signals for each tree are generated on the embedded computer and output through a USB sound card and a stereo audio amplifier. Weatherproof connectors on the control module lead to buried speaker cables, which run underground to the transducers. The transducers are cast in silicone rubber to protect them from the elements

Site-specific installations of ListenTree from Montreal (RIDM) to Mexico City (Centro Nacional de Las Artes) have brought audiences of thousands into intimate and prolonged physical contact with their local trees.