It’s early autumn when I head down the M1 from Brisbane to Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens nestled in Byron Shire’s hinterland of northern New South Wales Australia.
An easy two-hour drive I arrive mid-morning, the humidity bearable and the ambient temperature a comfortable 28o Celsius. Every now and I again I walk through a pocket of cool air – deliciously divine.
Spread over five hectares (12.4 acres) this ever-evolving property sits on an area of the Tweed volcano where lava flowed approximately 23 million years ago. Crystals of varying sizes are scattered through gardens and benches strategically placed to take advantage of the verdant surroundings.
A lifelong nature lover, the Castle’s Music of the Plants experience is why I’m here. Research shows trees communicate with each other[i] as do other plants[ii] by releasing volatile chemicals. According to an article by Christine Hse dated Jun 11, 2012, Scientists Confirm that Plants Talk and Listen To Each Other, Communication Crucial for Survival[iii] they not only respond to sound but communicate to each other by making clicking sounds. Knowing this I’m curious as to how plant communication translates into music.
This experience began 40 years ago in Damanhur[iv] – an award-winning spiritual eco-community in the Piedmont region of northern Italy when Damanhur researchers designed a device capable of capturing the sound a plant makes, by connecting it to the plant’s leaves and roots. In effect this device picked up the plant’s electrical emanation and produced sound.
Fast forward to the present and I’m in the Castle’s Peace Room, now filled to capacity. Facilitator, Sjha’ra of Chocolate Yoga (worthy of its own story) welcomes us. The rock stars of the show, six potted plants and a synthesiser, sit beside her. Two electrodes are plugged into the device, the conductor has a nail attached and is placed into the soil around the root of the plant, the other is attached to the upper leaves. We learn that once an electrical connection is made, the algorithm is translated by the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) producing sound through the synthesiser.
While hooking up the electrodes Sjha’ra introduces a Madonna lily. We’re told that to hear the best music an open heart is required and we’re instructed to project feelings of love toward Madonna.
An elderly gent in the front row turns to a young lady three seats across mouthing ‘Love?’ Smiling she nods. He mouths ‘love?’ three more times before turning to the front.
Now we sit and wait. Sjha’ra informs us that while these plants produce music, not all plants do and in fact need to be trained. My eyelids flutter wildly analysing this training concept. I later research plant training and discover trainers expose them to different music, handle them, and talk to them.
My mind wanders back to a 1986 interview where Prince Charles said he talked to plants. In a Daily Mail article of 2 March 2013 written by Rebecca Evans, Prince Charles further stated that these days he also instructs them. Kudos to His Royal Highness.
Back in the room Sjha’ra smiles touching Madonna’s leaves to encourage a response. ‘Maybe Madonna’s shy?’ she muses.
Madonna beeps once, pauses, then plays a delightful riff of experimental music. Goosebumps explode while I listen transfixed to the melody.
While Sjha’ra enlightens us with the music’s history, I mentally promise to become a better caretaker of my plants and shower them with love. I suspect there are others in the room thinking much the same.
A young agave Sjha’ra hasn’t worked with before is the last performer. Shy at first the plant takes a few moments to warm up. We send it more love. Sjha’ra jumps in surprise at its first note and smiles at the plant. Another beep, followed by a longer tone. Tentatively Agave plays several notes, picks up the pace before slowing down again. I’m unable to shake the feeling that this agave’s communication style is much like a two-year old, and subsequently fall in love with it.
After the concert I ask Sjha’ra about people’s reactions to this experience. She tells me there are many, recalling an older woman who at 65-year-old had never owned an indoor plant. “She always had plastic plants because she didn’t like messing around with plants, and didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them. Underneath all that was the fear of killing the plants.”
After her plant music experience, she bought her first indoor plant – one is truly never too old to begin something new.
It’s no secret that plants and music have healing qualities, and from a personal point of view found the combination of both to be profound and a reminder to become a better guardian of the surrounding plant life.
[i] http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/05/20/4236600.htm – Do trees communicate with each other