Before a tree becomes a beautiful and useful piece of furniture, turning, or carving, it starts as a living, breathing part of nature for the eyes to behold. As it develops in height, it also grows in diameter producing rings which give away it’s age like that of wrinkles on a human face.
How does a tree produce annual rings? Every plant and tree has a central stem called the trunk, which connects the tree to the ground. This trunk is the bridge that pumps up the nutrients picked from the soil, and the water absorbed by the roots to the branches out to the leaves. The trunk also sends the glucose and other products of photosynthesis to the roots to let them grow, so that it can reach out to more water and chemical nutrients.
As the tree grows, the circumference or girth of the trunk keeps increasing. There are seasons, where there would be plenty of food and water, and seasons which do not offer great amounts of energy. During the seasons having a greater abundance of energy, the trees tend to grow faster, which means the girth increases at a higher pace.
During the times of famine or drought, the trees live on their reserves, making the most of the limited resources, eventually having slower or limited increase in girth.
Therefore, every year, at least two concentric non-perfect circles are formed in the tree trunks. The number of circles per year ranges from two to four depending on the tree species and climatic conditions of the area.
Finally, when the growth season ends, there is a marked boundary at the edge of the ring. The changes in the can be seen in the rings of the tree shown in the photo. The early wood portion of the ring appears lighter in color, and the late wood appears dark, forming the visible light and dark bands within the annual rings. When the tree is cut and the cross-segment of the trunk is exposed, you can tell the age of the tree by counting these rings.
Besides the tree showing the number of rings in the cross cut, it provides additional data. Tree-ring records have proven to be useful in extending our knowledge of streamflows back in time and providing valuable insights to the long-term variability of adequate water supplies, drought, and temperature/ climate conditions. This is possible because the widths of individual growth rings mimic the variation of annual water flow volumes in nearby streams.
With the aid of a new technology called Arduino, tree-rings can be read using this open-sourced electronics platform to provide music, along with a digital camera device similar to that of a webcam. Together, this assembled device can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board can communicate with software running on a computer, and translate the “reading of the rings” into music.
According to Bart Traubeck, inventor of this project called “Years”, “A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light, and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.”
A modified record player that plays the sliced “LP” of wood was created, and year ring data is translated into music.
Bart stated, “RoHol, is a company in upper Austria that specializes in cutting thin veneer which had the competence and the machines to cut this ash wood. They helped me out a lot with producing these. I recall correctly they first steamed the wood, then the discs are cut into slices of 0.03″ [0.8mm] thickness. They are applied to a textile material which helps control the breakage when the wood dries down again. You get a lot of extremely evenly spaced cracks that are often so small that you can only see them with a magnifying glass instead of the few but very big cracks in the regular cut wood tends to develop. The outcome does also depend on the kind of wood you are using. Ash wood for instance was a bit tricky because it’s fiber structure seems to be a little more fragile than a fir tree or the like. I had to handle the discs extremely carefully before applying them to the 0.16″ [4mm] thick acrylic discs I used as a mounting plate for the thin veneer slices.”
“The record player box itself is regular MDF, built with a table saw, files, a drill and wood glue, followed by sanding and finishing with semi-gloss varnish“ and “the base came from Pro-Ject Audio Systems in Vienna, building the most beautiful record players I have ever seen,” said Bart.