Project proposal: Azucena Sánchez

Oak Tales

Genomic Soundscapes

Plants are our ancestors, the ones that see the real in us, the only ones who saw the world before it got inhabited, the ones that created forms, aesthetics and structure. If nature were to be illustrated, it would be based on the dualism that a plant has to offer, its metaphysical ambition and passion for the aerial, as well as its connections and spiritual communication system, the brains and essence of this whole operation that we call life. By translating into music the genome sequences (DNA) of myriad species of oak trees that inhabit Europe and America, Oak Tales: Genomic Soundscapes becomes a communication channel between humans and plants through an immersive auditive experience. Through music an analysis of the genomic sequence of the oak tree will be done in order to understand its diversity and somatic mutations. An oak tree's genome can not only tell us about its history and memory but it can also tell us tales about possible futures that we may encounter. Plants shape our world, and it all starts with a seed, a seed that has the genetic potential to develop into myriad stories about survival, beauty and connectivity. Through this genomic journey we would have the opportunity to discuss the subjects of biodiversity and plant resistance which showcase the importance of plant conservation, botanical gardens and the very own history that we share with trees. Every component of a tree that shapes them is a statement about their power, permanence and survival in this world; an imminent reminder of where we come from and where are we going.

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Data research for the sounds of plants - By translating into music the genome sequences (DNA) of myriad species of oak trees that inhabit Europe and America, Oak Tales: Genomic Soundscapes becomes a communication channel between humans and plants through an immersive auditive experience. Photo by Azucena Sánchez Azucena Sánchez

Project description

By reading the genomic sequencing of an organism we can understand a lot about its Umwelt, we learn about its particular history, ecosystem, the struggles it has gone through in order to survive and the coevolution alliances it has created with other trees, animals, fungi and even human beings; but reading the complete genome sequence of just one tree can take us days, even weeks and for people who are not familiar with genetic information it would actually mean nothing. If we do not know how or what are we looking at, this information becomes rather useless. To make this information more approachable to general public I want to develop an algorithm that will translate the genomic structure of an oak tree into music and present it as a 5 channel sound installation that will be some sort of musical garden. The core of the idea is to get at least 5 samples of 5 different species of oak trees from Europe and America. The genome sequence of each species will be then run through an algorithm that will make an analysis and comparison between such sequences where we will learn how and when to identify this minimal changes that give each species its own brand, uniqueness and tale. This minimal accents on the genome will be extrapolated in the musical composition developed from the genes by a glitch or a higher frequency. Each composition will be played simultaneously providing us a garden of tales of biodiversity and resistance. We think we know plants because they surround us, silent, attentive but breathing; for so long plants have been overlooked and taken for granted, even though they are the ones who shape the cosmos.

The absence of hands is not a sign of lack, but rather the consequence of a restless immersion in the very matter they ceaselessly model (Coccia, E., 2019. The Life of Plants). Standing still is not a proper characteristic of humans nor of plants, through the help of other animals they choose the place where they want to settle, they know perfectly where is the right place to grow, they challenge the earth, and at the same time shape their climate or adapt to it. They posses the knowledge of all their ancestors and brothers and sisters in their genes, more over they are living fossils standing tall and proud and it all starts with a seed. Victoria Sork has addressed the subjects of tree conservation, climate change and more importantly genomic landscape. Her research is mainly about understanding the genetics of the valley oak tree which had led her to learn more about how and why different species within the same genus behave, survive and connect. For instance, the oak valley’s tree genome sequencing teaches us that the trees posses the necessary genetic information that allows them to adapt to climates from 500 million years ago; to make it more interesting this information may vary from one tree from north California to South California and the only way to notice it is through finding the genes that make the difference. Thanks to the sequencing of genes we can now trace their history around the world, how have they migrated and what kind of connections they have with different families of trees and even with different kingdoms.

For the past years, the focus of science and technology has been in sequencing the human genome as an answer to the anthropocene era that we are / were living but as times change, and we turn into what Natasha Myers calls the planthoprocene, we become more aware of all the harm that we have done to our planet, we turn our heads to the research that biologists, genealogist, geologists and ecologists have been doing in their own specific areas of study. We gaze at understanding the world from another perspective with the tools that we have, and the information we can get from our own way of analysing the world.  This project will help people understand and approach biodiversity from a perspective that is not visible at plain sight, as we can see a biodiverse landscape but not as a genomic landscape; as we never stop to think what is beyond a leave, a steam and a seed. Genomic Soundscapes is an opportunity to understand why is it that we need biodiversity, as well as the history of each unique organism that shapes our world.

Possible ways to expand the project

The project is an introduction to the subjects of biodiversity and plant resistance which showcase the importance of plant conservation, botanical gardens and the very own history that we share with trees, moreover it resembles the deep connection that we have with the ginkgo tree, its importance lies on the fact that we have helped him survived and at the same time we have benefit from it too. It is the perfect example of co evolution and partnership, our culture is intrinsically joined with the tree and the myriad rituals around it. I find it quite fascinating how we, as living things, relate and behave towards our outside world. We are so different and yet we share this atmosphere, this impulse to stay alive, this world’s balance and catastrophe. Plants are not only the most subtle artisans of our cosmos, they are also the species that have given life to the world of forms they ate the form of life that gas made the world itself a site of infinite figuration5. Every little part of us, every gene is a statement about us being in this planet and this research, which is only the beginning, has the potential to become an immersive experience that would help humans and plants connect in a totally different level, a genetical one. To analyse such data and with the daily development of new and faster technologies, the genome sequencing wouldn't have to take so much time, this would mean we would have a lot more information and a lot more data to feed the algorithm, and in a further future trace the evolution and somatic mutations that each species will present, according to its climate, history and connections with other organisms.

Personal introduction

I am a media artist and designer from Mexico City, currently based in Germany. My artistic practice focuses mainly in the merge of life, science and technology. I have a bachelor degree in Graphic Design and a Master in Media Art and Design (M.F.A.) by Bauhaus University. I have been in myriad collaborative exhibitions at Transmediale, Shillerpalais and TopLab in Berlin as well as STWSTT as part of Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. Nature is always my inspiration and ally, I believe in understanding organisms, both alive and innert, as individual interconnected entities. My approach is to explore these different worlds from a social and distress context just to find an infrastructure in such catastrophes. I am always keen in observing, understanding and finding beauty in remote and somehow dark places, as well as communicating such beauty and such eureka moments with other people. I love collaborating with humans but I love even more collaborating and merging with other live forms.

Estemated costs

For the technical part of the installation the cost would be around 200€. Equipment rental: 5 speakers + channel mixer. Research material: 120€ - 150€ Place / gallery rental for one day: 90€

This proposal is part of the 'Penny for your Thoughts' project 2022.