PSYCHOBOTANY
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Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Human/Plant Communication
                               
 
Secret Life of Plants (film)
 

 

 

The Secret Life of Plants: Documentation of collaborative audio-video-performance sequences created for the feature film.

An account by Richard Lowenberg:

"In 1976, the producer (Michael Braun) and the director (Walon Green) of a feature film in-the-making, The Secret Life of Plants, arranged for a creative collaboration between myself, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and John Lifton, from London. John and I had been in touch on our shared creative backgrounds (architecture + AI) and creative interests (electronic arts and bio-sensing) since my visit to the UK the previous year. John had recently presented his very sophisticated, new audio/installation, "Green Music" at the Whitechapel Gallery, in London. I had been doing a project series, titled "Bio-Dis-Plays", with NASA technical support (multi-channel bio-telemetry systems), monitoring performers physiology (EEG, EMG, EKG, etc.) as inputs to audio and video synthesizers, in extended biofeedback-media artworks. At the time I often collaborated with Jim Wiseman, video synthesizer artist, as well as with a number of electronic music composers. I had just begun working with Tom Zahuranec, who was an audio technician at Mills College, and had been doing (GSR/Backster Effect) plant-audio synthesis interface works since 1972.

Christopher Bird, co-author of the book, The Secret Life of Plants, and I had corresponded, and in addition to putting the filmmakers in touch, he recommended that I meet Henry Dakin, in San Francisco. Henry had a building on Washington Street, in Pacific Heights, housing his independent Washington Research Center. He offered his help and his basement lab facilities, which included a large Faraday cage/room and electronic equipment, for creative and technical development of sequences that we would prepare for The Secret Life of Plants film. Ultimately, two plant-music on location sequences were scripted/created, to be included in the film.

Over the course of four days in June 1976, while open to the public, six large plants in the center of the glass Plant Conservatory in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park (modeled on Kew Gardens, in London), produced an audible, live musical score, based on simple bio-electric sensing of their responses to light, temperature, movement and other physio-environmental factors (gold needle electrodes at the base of the stem/root). This was John Lifton's new variation of his "Green Music" composition. Amid the 'tropical'garden stood a five foot high rack of audio and digital processing systems, including the just purchased, Altair 8800, which John was constantly (re)programming (Machine Language). The film crew did their set-ups and shot sequences as needed over the few days.

In July, the production moved to a large sound stage (World Stage) in Los Angeles, for a more elaborate performance sequence which we had designed/composed. The choreographed audio and video performance would build incrementally, from one plant up to six monitored plants, while adding from one to six dancers wearing EEG and EMG sensor/transmitters. The set included numerous live plants, six dance performers from the L.A. area, John Lifton and his plant-music systems, Jim Wiseman on Paik-Abe and Sandin video synthesizers/processors, Tom Zahuranec on a Tcherepnin audio synthesizer, and me, interfacing multi-channel, FM bio-telemetry systems between the performers and the audio-video systems, and facilitating performance sequences. Again, the film crew staged and documented our production.

Ultimately, the film included only a small part of the two production sequences we created. It also had a less than notable release, with a sound track by Stevie Wonder becoming its legacy. John, Jim, Tom and I, each retained some personal and project documentation and recordings, a few elements of which are presented here."

~ Richard Lowenberg, April 20, 2007