The characters and scenery aren’t the only things unique about University Theatre’s upcoming production. Some of the sound design for the fall play, “Love and Information,” are provided by plants.
Zachary Bangert, a senior studying entertainment technology and originally from Harrisburg, is the student sound designer for the production. In collaboration with a sonification artist from Philadelphia, Bangert has been able to create a variety of different sounds using live plants.
“To understand what a sonification artist is, you must first understand sonification,” Bangert explains. “Sonification is the process of collecting data and then conveying that data into an auditory experience. So as an artist, I take the data collected in real-time and manipulate it to become musical and pleasurable to the audience.”
To make the sounds, Bangert uses three different types of sensors connected to an electrical device designed by Samuel Cusumano at Electricity for Progress. The device converts the electrical resistance from the plant’s leaves into musical instrument digital interface data. Once the MIDI data is sent over a wireless network to Bangert’s computer, he can manipulate it into any sound he chooses.
“I can make it a drum, a person singing, or even trigger sound effects like a heartbeat or explosion,” Bangert says. He can make the plants sound like “anything the heart desires.”
“I have not worked with live plants before, but through research and development I have become comfortable with them,” he continues. “The hardest part was sourcing enough plants for the show and keeping them alive while the weather is getting colder.”
Bangert also explains that it was a challenge to have seven plants hooked up simultaneously for the live production, but he is thankful for all the support and encouragement he has seen.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without the team behind me that have supported me along this journey of discovery,” Bangert says. “The faculty and staff of the entertainment technology program helped make this research possible and gave me the tools and support to take on a challenge like this and make it successful.”
“Sam Cusumano at Electricity for Progress was also incredible with the manufacturing of this device we are using and was super helpful in the setup and use,” he continues. “Finally, my friends and family have been incredible for letting me make ‘plant music’ throughout all hours of the night.”
Tickets for “Love and Information” are on sale. Performances run until Nov. 12 in Clair Hall at the Winter Center. A livestream performance will take place on Friday, Nov. 12.