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Local teen Isaac Guerrero taps into secret sound of plants

“When I play with plants, I adapt to the sounds and patterns they make.”

Isaac Guerrero, budding scientist, plant bandleader.
Isaac Guerrero, budding scientist, plant bandleader.

Plant jam : Sixteen-year-old musician and aspiring botanist Isaac Guerrero attends San Diego Met High School on the campus of Mesa College, which he describes as “a college prep high school that allows students to participate in internships and take college classes. My advisor, Ray Brandes, helped me find an internship which incorporated my love of music, as well as botany.”

Place

WorldBeat Cultural Center

2100 Park Boulevard, San Diego

Guerrero has been interning with Makeda Dread and Berenice Rodriguez at the WorldBeat Center in Balboa Park since last September. “I assist with the community garden,” he explains, “and work primarily with this research project on plant intelligence. The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Science, which provides opportunities for students to exchange information and present scholarly research papers in science and mathematics.” Guerrero’s project involves taking the electric impulses put out by plants and converting those impulses into music. He attaches electrodes to the root of the plant and to its leaves, and the signals are translated into different musical pitches.

“I’ve always had a love of music, as well as plants and animals,” he continues. “One of my mentors, Berenice Rodriguez, showed me the instruments and instructed me to do some research into the use of ‘the bamboo,’ which is a recorder used to monitor electrical impulses. The first few times I used the device, I was able to distinguish between the music of different plants and notice patterns. The bamboo takes the electrical impulses that the plants produce, and acts like a midi controller. I can change the presets to determine tempo, pitch, scale, and instrument sound.”

Guerrero is planning to stage a live musical performance pairing up musicians with potted accompanists. “We are currently working on a plant/human music festival to take place either on Earth Day or some other date this summer at the WorldBeat Center. The idea is to invite guest musicians, including myself, to perform live with the plants, to incorporate both worlds of music. One struggle I’ve had incorporating my own playing into plant music is getting used to the fact that plant music is spontaneous. When I play with plants, I am accompanying them, so I need to adapt to the sounds and patterns they make.”

He also plans to produce an album of plant music — which will also include human musicians. “I will be playing guitar along with some of the plants on the recording. Plant music sounds very relaxing, much like music for meditation, with spontaneous melodies. It’s recognizable as music, but not music that we are accustomed to hearing. I have to determine what scale the notes will be converted to. For example, I can use a traditional western scale, an Arabic scale, Lydian scale, etc.”

Guerrero’s Met High School advisor, musician Ray Brandes (Tell-Tale Hearts, Mystery Machine), notes, “He’s going to be published by the National Institute of Science, and the music is really beautiful, too. I was just talking with Makeda Dread about that. Growing up, we were taught that playing music for plants was beneficial to them. We never imagined they could sing for us!”

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Isaac Guerrero, budding scientist, plant bandleader.
Isaac Guerrero, budding scientist, plant bandleader.

Plant jam : Sixteen-year-old musician and aspiring botanist Isaac Guerrero attends San Diego Met High School on the campus of Mesa College, which he describes as “a college prep high school that allows students to participate in internships and take college classes. My advisor, Ray Brandes, helped me find an internship which incorporated my love of music, as well as botany.”

Place

WorldBeat Cultural Center

2100 Park Boulevard, San Diego

Guerrero has been interning with Makeda Dread and Berenice Rodriguez at the WorldBeat Center in Balboa Park since last September. “I assist with the community garden,” he explains, “and work primarily with this research project on plant intelligence. The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Science, which provides opportunities for students to exchange information and present scholarly research papers in science and mathematics.” Guerrero’s project involves taking the electric impulses put out by plants and converting those impulses into music. He attaches electrodes to the root of the plant and to its leaves, and the signals are translated into different musical pitches.

“I’ve always had a love of music, as well as plants and animals,” he continues. “One of my mentors, Berenice Rodriguez, showed me the instruments and instructed me to do some research into the use of ‘the bamboo,’ which is a recorder used to monitor electrical impulses. The first few times I used the device, I was able to distinguish between the music of different plants and notice patterns. The bamboo takes the electrical impulses that the plants produce, and acts like a midi controller. I can change the presets to determine tempo, pitch, scale, and instrument sound.”

Guerrero is planning to stage a live musical performance pairing up musicians with potted accompanists. “We are currently working on a plant/human music festival to take place either on Earth Day or some other date this summer at the WorldBeat Center. The idea is to invite guest musicians, including myself, to perform live with the plants, to incorporate both worlds of music. One struggle I’ve had incorporating my own playing into plant music is getting used to the fact that plant music is spontaneous. When I play with plants, I am accompanying them, so I need to adapt to the sounds and patterns they make.”

He also plans to produce an album of plant music — which will also include human musicians. “I will be playing guitar along with some of the plants on the recording. Plant music sounds very relaxing, much like music for meditation, with spontaneous melodies. It’s recognizable as music, but not music that we are accustomed to hearing. I have to determine what scale the notes will be converted to. For example, I can use a traditional western scale, an Arabic scale, Lydian scale, etc.”

Guerrero’s Met High School advisor, musician Ray Brandes (Tell-Tale Hearts, Mystery Machine), notes, “He’s going to be published by the National Institute of Science, and the music is really beautiful, too. I was just talking with Makeda Dread about that. Growing up, we were taught that playing music for plants was beneficial to them. We never imagined they could sing for us!”

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