Tree Listening

Designer | Artist Alex Metcalf
Year 2008

Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening installations reveal to us what happens inside a tree, where water and nutrients ascend from roots to leaves through a complex hydraulic system of xylem tubes in the trunk. To create a sensory glimpse into this system, Metcalf designed a listening device, powered by solar energy, that is placed on a tree trunk, linked to an amplifier, and connected to a series of headphones that hang from the branches of trees in various locations in London and around the United Kingdom. Through the headphones, passersby can listen to a tree’s inner workings—“a quiet popping sound,” Metcalf describes, produced by the water passing through the xylem cells, as well as “a deep rumbling sound” in the background, produced by the tree’s movements. Through the device, the tree bark is figuratively stripped away, revealing a unique soundscape that enhances our appreciation and understanding of trees. The installation joins science and art in a multilayered interaction with the natural world.