Let Your Plants Sing – PlayDate with Joe Patitucci in Tulum

A conversation about biorhythms as the soundtrack to our lives, the future of music and so much more.

I first met Joe Patitucci in his Plant Music workshop in SferIk, the art museum by Azulik Tulum in January 2020. I did not know who he was, one of my friends recommended his work. Joe was introducing the plant music concept and how they create this music at his company Data Garden.

Before I came to the workshop I was already overwhelmed with the heat and humidity of Tulum, so I sat in the back. The way he explained things energized me and I ended up asking him more than six questions – as many as the time allowed. I was so interested in this Earthling-focused high-tech approach, so decided to join his breathwork workshop with Plant Music the next day. 

Azulik Hotel Tulum – Workshop & Exhibition Room

When his breathwork session was finished, I thought I was in another dimension. When I came back to my familiar senses I asked to meet again, this time for an exclusive interview for Conscious Learning Tribe. He said yes without hesitation, and we had a wonderful, curiosity triggering conversation. 

Dear CLT tribe member, how about turning on some plant music while reading this interview? Just click here http://www.plants.fm 

You can also listen to the interview here. But please know the detailed text below has all the links and resources that might bring more insights to you.

Who is Joe Patitucci?
In his own words, Joe is a multimedia healing artist, working to foster the connection to intuitive states and the natural world. A central part of his work is the design of harmonious environments that provide space for guests to explore, discover and connect to subtle realms of reality. As Founder and Director at Data Garden, Patitucci produces public art and products including PlantWave (formerly MIDI Sprout) – a device that allows humans to listen to their plants play music – and Plants FM – an online streaming service delivering live music generated by plants.

Canay:
Hi Joe. Thank you for having me here today. I want to ask you about your process, dreams, passions and what you have learned all along the way. 

Joe:
Cool. That sounds like fun. Yeah.

Canay:
What type of learner you are, how do you learn and grow yourself?

Joe:
I definitely am an experiential learner. I’m not the guy who reads the book and the manual. I’m the person who gets inspired to do something and figures out how to do it. I also figure out how to do it on my own, way before I even investigate how other people do it. That’s just how I’m inspired to do it. Because every time I’m inspired to do something, part of what I feel inspired to do is this: the process of discovery and the process of problem-solving along the way. I enjoy that process. So even if somebody else has done it, I’d kind of rather do it myself and have that experience.

Canay:
With the plant music, what type of problems are you solving?

Joe:
There are so many problems to solve within, for example how to connect electrodes to a plant and how to have them express something harmonious? There are so many questions that are asked through that process. And each one of those questions in a way, like a problem in a mathematical sense, is not necessarily a problem in terms of a value judgement. It is just a problem or a challenge or an equation that needs to be solved. 

Some of those equations were developed by other people. Some are by the people on my team, like the algorithmic process of taking data from a plant and translating that into numerical data or musical notation. That can then be routed into synthesizers and other things. Then my heart is taking all of that data that just looks random, like a bunch of dots or a bunch of notes. And taking that from the seeming randomness, and creating a way of displaying that, or transmitting that to humans as music. There are a lot of things that need to be decided in this process of making sense out of random data and translating it into music. 

ORCHESTRATED WITH PLANTS

Canay:
Do you follow a specific system or method in your design and learning processes?

Joe:
I have my own design process. So there are a few things. One of them is the value of harmony. All these notes coming in, right? I could just have those notes play the synthesizer as they’re coming in. It would sound kind of jumbled, like very big, kind of discordant because there is so much data. So the plan is playing like all sorts of debts now. At least when it’s first attached. It’s not necessarily familiar with what’s happening. 

Second I want to create a space where people can spend more time with the plants and listen for a longer period of time, because it’s in those longer periods of time that you can actually tune into the shifts that are happening in these beings. Plants are on a different time scale than us. A plant is not going to immediately react, it’s going to take some time for it to respond. Also, harmony allows people to listen for longer, it’s less fatiguing, so you’ll want to actually hang out in the space and in hanging out in the space you will hopefully start to notice things happening. So that’s one aspect that I bring into my design. And then actually backing up I’m thinking of the idea of the value of harmony, right? 

The third one is exploration. In any kind of art that I make or any kind of experience I create, I provide people with something to explore. Discovery: getting people to have things within a piece, or experiences within an experience that people can find for themselves. Sometimes it is one person’s relationship to the piece in a specific location in space or in data. Whatever it is, providing a person with this chance to discover something, 

The last is connection. Creating an environment that facilitates that discovery, being contextualized in something much larger. So, if you have a discovery of a sound or a new expression of melody in the plants, giving people the context that allows them to apply that discovery to their own life, connecting to their own experience. For example, the plants are responding to things that we can’t see, outside of our perceived world. So I encourage people to listen to the plants, and if they hear a big shift in the music, to use that moment to tune in to what’s shifting within themselves, what’s shifting in their environments. So connecting that discovery to a larger sense of perception and perspective. 

The way I facilitate is by creating a harmonious environment, scaling everything to a key providing the listener with multiple levels of resolution of the data. So giving the listener different instruments that represent different resolution of the data streams from plants. For instance, we have this stream of data coming in from the plants and a low resolution is a lower sample rate, for example, the bass is allowed to be triggered by the plant once every 12 seconds. Staccato (a form of musical articulation with a note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by silence) on the other hand can trigger up to a few times a second. It can also trigger a little bit less depending on some settings, but that’s a higher resolution, right? So you’re listening to these waves after resolutions. This adds to the harmony as well because you’re getting the interaction between multiple instruments with different timing so that the music is continuously evolving. All the instruments are just wading through each other.

SOUNDTRACKS OF OUR LIVES

Canay:
When I am listening to you, I wonder how many invisible frequencies and noise we are exposed to, especially in cities. Even in Tulum, when all the clubs are playing simultaneously, we are exposed to some noise. And we are mainly exposed to certain types of popular music which shapes us and our perceptions. If you were given the chance to play a role in designing more conscious cities and bring some harmony into popular music that is listened to by masses, what would you envision and how would you start? 

Joe:
What I envision for the future of music is us all having a soundtrack to our life that is based on our biorhythms in real-time, tailored to each case and optimized for its peak performance in any activity. It might sound different for different people. For some people, it might sound like club music -and that’s okay. For other people might sound like New Age music or Death Metal. Each person is going to have music that’s going to serve them in the moment, for whatever they’re doing. So if you’re training for some really intense workout like a martial arts competition, you might want something that’s a lot more intense.

I see us being able to use the waves from our bodies, like our heart, that sends our galvanic skin response. We’re gonna be able to use all of these kinds of things, to translate all of that into music that serves us every moment.

Brian Hyer (a professor of music who has written widely on the anthropology of European music and its theories from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries) talks about the history of Western Music; where we are and his practice of creating generative music-ambient music, the progression in western music from the hierarchy of the orchestra. The composer receives the message from source or from God, writes the music, gives it to the conductor and the conductor conducts the orchestra who are trying to replicate this transmission, from God or whatever. That is a very mechanical top-down signal chain from source to composer to conductor and to players. Then if you’re lucky enough to be able to have the means to get into the audience through one of these performances, then people get to receive it. Now it evolved into being a little bit more democratic and accessible to more people. We have recorded music so that people can listen to music and people can take it with them back like with CDs, that’s really cool. With mp3 it’s a lot easier to record your own. 

Terry Riley (an American composer and performing musician best known as a pioneer of the minimalist school of composition) created this piece called In C,  these phrases of music that were all in the key of C. He gave it to an orchestra; the players all started on one phrase, but they could play that phrase as long as they wanted before they moved to the next phrase, and there are all these different phrases. What starts out as everyone playing in unison kind of shifts into all these different phrases that are all in the same key creating this beautiful ambience. That’s an example of the structure of the orchestra being deconstructed. Then that was deconstructed even more with Brian, who would write phrases and record phrases of music, that were all at different lengths. So he would play a piano and have that looped on a tape and maybe that’s a 22-second loop. And then maybe he has another loop that’s 46 seconds. And everything is just the relationship between those two things just completely changing over and over. In the end, the more loops you have, the more permutations you have.

That kind of frees things up to be more generative and more real-time.

People don’t even listen to albums. They listen to songs, and they listen to songs on Spotify and Apple Music based on what they’re doing, if they’re working or if they’re running or if they’re doing whatever else. So it’s all based on activity in the future. It’s not like the songs are going to be picked based on your activity, like every single note and the instrument and everything is going to be picked based on what your activity is going to be, and the notes and the sounds of those notes will be selected in the moment to give meaning to whatever you’re doing to help direct you in that way. So I see music as being a very personalized experience that will be based on real-time data. And whether that’s from your body or whether that’s based on where you are in a space or based on you, it could be based on what you want to experience that day, that maybe you want to walk around your neighbourhood and experience the history of your neighbourhood.

Maybe you just want to walk around and hear the sounds of your neighbourhood 10 years ago and how those sounds are different from today’s sounds or like 100 years ago, or maybe you want to walk around and hear the music of a different time from different parts of that city or that neighbourhood. There’s enough data around these types of things like we know where albums were recorded, we know where people live, when they recorded those albums. You can take this sound and it can be a living layer of augmented reality. That is just a part of everything, so we can live with a link to all time and access information from all time.

 

HEART-BASED MEDITATIONS USING TECHNOLOGY

Canay:
Wonderful!!! Are you planning to integrate other sensory experiences like visuals, textures or smells?

Joe:
It can all be done. I’m focusing more on the sounds myself and on the digital sensory inputs. So how one could use heart rate and heart rate variability to make music to get people deeper into meditation, things like that. I started working with the Heart Math Institute, and we have licensed our software to them. They’re using that for heart-based meditations.

I’ve done some things with visuals but there’s so much work to be done. It’s a lot of work, a lot of data, a lot of intelligence, to be integrated and to be made available on so many levels. 

Canay:
It’s very interesting. Do you use or consider using technologies like artificial intelligence or blockchain to make it available to everyone to share their own data and make contracts about it? 

Joe:
I haven’t thought too much about the blockchain aspect of it. But definitely. There’s already AI in some ways, especially on the level of understanding people’s personal tastes and understanding what their activities are. It’s really just about connecting a lot of different pieces of AI and different technologies together.

It’s not that far away. There are so many companies that have different pieces of this puzzle. We’re going to be ready when everything else is ready. For instance, we have this, the hardware that I’m using for this installation that was developed years ago, but we have a new version of the hardware that’s being developed now, called Plant Wave and it’s going to be wireless, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, charging from USB. So you can just keep it plugged in forever.  We are using rechargeable batteries, replace them and everything. We’re building Plant Wave and we’re building the sound engine for Plant Wave as an app, and we already have one version of it. The future version is going to come out late this spring, it’s going to be software that will be input agnostic. We’ll be able to change the input from a plant to a human with wearable sensors. We have different sound sets developed for that. Right now we’re developing it for plants with this larger vision in mind. This software will have applications for wearables and other data sources.

It’s funny because I almost stopped making music three years ago. Then we had to go straight to making heart music because this is what we need to do. Most people think plant music is so weird, esoteric, and they wouldn’t even be able to get into it.

What I found is that the wearables on the consumer market like Fitbit, Apple watches, Garmin and all others, they don’t have battery capacity to stream the data in real-time from the watch to the phone to make it a real-time experience. So I’m really glad we didn’t stop making music. The wearable market isn’t there yet. And I wish there was another wearable out there that actually does what we want to do it for plants, and we own it. We can just keep designing software and designing sounds for this hardware, and then as applications on the line editor.

One of the benefits of that is that we’re making fun music and opening people up to this whole other world. This is what the world needs right now and this is what we’re doing. It’s really exciting. So much fun. So much fun. 

Image: Canay & Joe listening to plant music made by PlantWave

LISTENING TO CHILDREN 

Canay:
I have two daughters, seven and eight and a half. Now they are being educated in a system which is really old, right? Your method to open up people’s consciousness, and to other species, to the plant world, is very innovative. Do you see yourself also tapping into educational areas, for children, for teenagers, even maybe for adults?

Joe:
Our hardware and software packages are available for anybody to buy. It allows educators and corporations to offer experiences to people. And I’m sure there’ll be a whole industry built around people who use our hardware. Such programs can naturally evolve out of our exploration like these workshops and that’s what I ended up really enjoying. I am offering healing with breathwork, or meditations. Some of our customers out there are doing the same.

In terms of education of children, I feel like they already get it. They don’t need it as much as we think. The parents probably need it more. If we don’t get in the way of the children bringing their cosmic consciousness to Earth, we can receive that instead of trying to control them and trying to make them like robots.

The first time I exhibited plant music 8 years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there was a girl, around 11 years old. We had all these plants set up in the stream. And this girl named Melody just walks up to a plant, and she just starts waving her hands at the plan, as if she’s reading the plant. And she turned to her mom, and said; turned to her mother, and said, “Look mom, all you need to do is think ‘light coming through your hands’ and the plants will sing for you.” Wow! I was like, What? And I looked at her mom and her mom was blown away in bliss mode. I asked where she learned this, the mother had no idea and she has never heard nor seen this. So she didn’t know where Melody got that idea. Melody was going around, telling visitors; “Look, feel. You can feel it, you can feel it.” This was so mind-blowing. 

There were other kids there that came as a class trip, third graders. And when I told them how everything works, so many of the kids their first response was to hold their hands up like, exchanging energy with the plants without touching it. So I thought that was so cool. I don’t know if you’ve heard Amy Cuddy. In her Ted Talk she talks about the power pose; even blind people when they cross the finish line in Special Olympics or like when people achieve something, their first response is to put their hands in the air, that’s a victory. It’s a really powerful stance. Maybe this is a part of human consciousness that proceeds with your hands or exchange with our hands just like holding them up. I think a lot of kids get it so we have a lot to learn from them. 

Canay:
Do you have children in your team? Do you work with children? 

Joe:
No, not regularly.

Canay:
We have a program called Children First World. Our mission is to empower children in the design and decision-making processes. It can be so interesting, especially on visionary domains like yours.

Joe:
Amazing. How is that? Can you give an example of something? 

Canay:
Yes, we design new products, services, future city concepts and learning programs. Children can design fantastic things beyond the adult’s conditioned minds. They can think beyond and encourage us in the way they talk about things. They are also natural philosophers and they keep on asking fundamental questions. I like working with children most because they’re very playful. In the presence of children, everybody becomes more creative, more open, maybe like a different version of working plants. I would love to show it to you after the interview.

Joe:
Cool!

BEHIND THE CURTAINS 

Canay:
It sounds like so much fun, so much excitement on your side but I am also curious about what happens behind the curtains. Are there big challenges for you, like how many hours have you been listening to plants since you started eight years ago? Or during the times when you said, “Oh, I’m not gonna do this anymore.” 

Joe:
I started doing this when I still had a full-time day job and things so I never had to think about this being a money-making endeavour. So that was always that was good. Once I decided to quit my job and just to do this, I sold my house and moved to California. All my expenses were doubled or tripled. But I was doing exactly what I wanted to do in a more supportive environment, which is cool.

Having a company brings challenges; making sure that the operational things are happening. It is oscillating between business mode and art mode. I feel in some ways I quit the day job but I replaced the day job with operations and business management. I have the same amount of time for the creative stuff, not necessarily more time. So I would say that’s the biggest challenge. On the flip side, I only am doing things that are of service to this, so that’s awesome.

I didn’t come from a business management background. Neither of us built and sold multiple companies. So we’re just chilling and now we’re doing the next thing. We’ve always kind of done things in a bit of an unconventional way and we’ve always kind of had “do it yourself” approach about things. 

One of the challenges is finding the right team to manage all the aspects of the business that we’re not as good at. We’re constantly gifted the right people by the universe to help out and to manage different aspects. We have an amazing software developer who is totally on the vibe, totally gets what we’re doing and is excited to build it. This is what he wants to do. That’s amazing because if I knew how to do this, that would be me. We have a person who’s passionate about it, he’s psyched about the direction and he just really wants to do this, so that’s great. We have the same thing with our hardware developer so that’s awesome. We don’t have a business manager, nor the perfect project manager.  Our job is so specific, it’s so multidisciplinary and so niche.

I know the ins and outs of so many different pieces of software. All have to do is to connect them together to make this experience as it is now. Of course, we’re also developing new software. That’ll be standalone, that’ll be its own thing, plug and play. But basically now and then it’s like I’m the encyclopedia. Jon (referring to Jon Shapiro, who joined Data Garden in 2014) knows a lot, too. 

I’m the only one of us who could build a four-channel music installation. 

Canay:
Do you take time off? 

Joe:
Time off is integrated into my life with music. How do you define time off? 

Canay:
Off time is with no email or business communication. Just plug off.

Joe:
I haven’t done that for a while. I might do it for a day or two. I was going to have it in August, and I ended up cancelling it. So that was going to be my time. Today I left my phone in the room and kept my watch only. I forgot to turn on “Do Not Disturb” and so I was on the beach and getting texts.

THE NOISE WE LET IN

Canay:
Do you talk to indigenous people like in Amazon, to explore how they listen to plants and learn from their experiences with plant medicine?

Joe:
I haven’t gone to the Amazon but I have experienced other types of medicine. I did one with a Peruvian shaman in Chile two-three years ago. That was a really special experience.

Canay:
Was it different than listening to plants in the way you do?

Joe:
It was pretty similar. It was funny after doing ayahuasca, I was like; “Oh, I’m kind of already doing this.” I would say the thing that was most intense about my ayahuasca experience was the fact that the ceremony space was built on a farm, an awesome sacred space. But there is like a freight train railway on the edge of the property. So every now and then you just hear this like this rumbling noise. And if you’re really deep in your journey, all of a sudden like you’re hit with the force of this sound.  It totally obliterated me, and I was knocked to the floor just hearing all this machine noise. It was so intense and so loud. It felt like my whole body was overwritten by some crazy thing. And it was wild because I thought it was the medicine. And then the next day I realized, oh that was a freight train. It was four miles away, but I could hear it as if it was near me. 

Canay:
We are always living with these types of distraction without even realizing. I wonder how it affects us in the long run?

Joe:
We make choices for ourselves. Carry on 10 days without using your phone, and then pick it up. When I did Vipassana (means to see things as they really are, and it is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation), I went 10 days without using a phone. I remember turning my phone back on and seeing all the notifications that came up was just like, “Whoa”, and it stressed me out. I noticed that feeling coming back into my body that I had always been running at a really low level for a long time, and now it was a lot louder. It was really illuminating how much background stress we allow to live there.

HUMAN vs PLANT CONSCIOUSNESS

Canay:
You’re working with human consciousness, using plant music in a way with the breathwork and deep listening. How do you define the consciousness of plants and how is it different from human consciousness?

Joe:
Ah, that’s a great question. I mean, how is this different from human consciousness? It’s just consciousness expressed through different physical apparatus. Humans are consciousness expressed through this body that happens to have a brain. Plant consciousness is consciousness expressed through a plant body. In a universal network, so many other beings are receiving information in different ways from different places. They’re different expressions of the same thing.

I heard of plant experiments, things that were done in the 60s and 70s. Plant consciousness experiments were brought to my attention by my business partner at the time, Alex Tyson. A lot of the things were a little bit woo-woo or they seemed like a little bit ungrounded. That was my first impression. But it also seemed cool. I liked the idea and we’ve started making plant music from plant biofeedback. It was then I started to experience these synchronicities and these relationships that were happening between my energy and the plants’.

For instance, the first time I connected a plant, I was working with an engineer, Sam Cusumano. We connected the electrodes and Sam turned the system on. At first I thought he was just running test data through the system. I heard this music and I turned to him and asked; “Is that the plant?” and he said yes. My heart lit up with joy, and I felt super excited. Right when I felt that excitement I saw a knob, turned on one of the synthesizers, and it was like turning up the resonance of something. There was a big velocity change in the wave, a big, big change. So, those kinds of things only happen at certain times with the plants. I asked “Did the plant just respond to me?” And then Sam looked at me and said; “Dude, it’s in the data. It’s right here, you can see it.

That was the first time I thought maybe that was a synchronicity, or we were just projecting. But then I would see that kind of thing happen more and more often with other people. I realized that it wasn’t just me. It seemed to be a reality. The more you understand, the more it makes sense. Plants are super sensitive beings, you know, they’re responding to stuff that we can’t even see, they process light outside of our visible spectrum. 

WHAT IS A GOOD PLACE?

Canay:
Thank you for sharing all these experiences. I want to ask you one final question. I am in the exploration of what is a good place. We design cities, beautiful museums like Azulik SferIK which is fantastic. How would you define a good place?

Joe:
It’s different for each person. For me, it’s important to be able to walk barefoot and to be connected to the earth. For the last week, there was only one day that I had to put my shoes on because I went out. Being connected to the earth, having the exchange, like walking. Access to nature and access to water; clean drinking water and also clean water to swim. It’s really important that we are able to activate our bodies and immerse ourselves in water. And clean air. 

Canay:
How about your values of exploration, harmony and connection?

Joe:
One thing that’s great is having multiple ways of getting to the same place. Jane Jacobs (an American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist who influenced urban studies, sociology, and economics) did a whole study on her walk to work. New York has the number of streets, avenues and the blocks along the number streets are like three times as long as the blocks on the avenues. So maybe to get from 13th Street, or like 10th Street and Second Avenue and to Ninth Street. You’re pretty much always going to get the same way. But if there were blocks that were split up to be squares instead of the big rectangles, there’d be more ways to go, so you could have more interactions.

Beyond squares, there are a lot of other things you can do; like having other kinds of cool paths or having things look more like branches, I think it’s great to have public spaces like plazas. Creating more ways for people to have more chances of encounters is really nice. 

Canay:
The communal experiences?

Joe:
Yeah, but even just like passing different people. You run into different people. Having spaces that are not just commercial or just residential, but having multiple reasons for different kinds of people to be in the same space to have more exchange. It is also important to have sacred spaces that are dedicated to certain kinds of activities.

Canay:

With focus.

Joe:
Yes, activities can be done with more focus. 

Canay:
Aho to that!

Joe:
Aho!

Canay:
Thank you so much, Joe.

Joe:
Oh yeah, you’re welcome. My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Please leave your comments and questions below. Let’s spread Plant Music and interspecies interactions on a conscious level together.

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Comments (1)

Very insightful, thank you!

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