2022 / myndstream
Review by Kathy Parsons
Joshua Tree is the second album from Palm Reading on the myndstream label, following their 2021 debut, Malibu: Point Mugu. I'm sure everyone reading this review is familiar with plant-based diets, but Skooby Laposky and Charles Copley are actually creating plant-based music! They use synthesized electronic sounds generated by biodata recorded from plants using a biodata sonification device (explanation below), and add ambient field recordings and original acoustic guitar accompaniment to those sounds. Their goal is to "give plants a voice" as well as to inspire sustainability and action to protect the fragile ecosystems all around us. Each Palm Reading release is intended to be regarded as a "location" and the music they create is intended as "music with a purpose" - ambient and mindfulness music, music for relaxation, etc.
So how do you tune into the music that plants make? Two electrodes are connected to the leaves of a plant. By measuring microcurrent fluctuations occurring across the surface of a leaf, a biodata sonification device generates MIDI notes when a change in conductivity is detected, allowing a user to listen into the invisible biological processes occurring within plants. Tiny changes in electrical conductivity are measured between the electrodes and fed into a programmable microcontroller. Changes are detected using averages and standard deviation calculations which turn on LEDs and produce MIDI notes and control changes. The circuit used to detect biological galvanic conductance is similar to a simple lie-detector. (reference: www.electricityforprogress.com)
All of the music on Joshua Tree is very ambient and fluid. If you listen to it closely, it is very easy to become mesmerized and get lost in the slowly-moving sounds, letting go of any stress and tension. The guitar passages are also fairly unstructured, but add a beautifully contrasting texture to the plant sounds. The pieces are titled with the names of the plants and where they were located, beginning with "Mojave Yucca - Big Horn Pass," a piece that runs a little more than eight minutes and makes me think of dense fog rolling effortlessly over an open expanse. "Creosote Bush - Utah Trail River Bed" sounds like a slowly-moving organ piece with brief guitar highlights here and there - very soothing and relaxing! "Blue Palo Verde - Cottonwood Springs Oasis" is more of a duet for guitar and plant sounds with the guitar taking a larger part than on some of the other tracks. "Goodding's Willow - Cottonwood Springs Oasis" is my favorite track and also gives the guitar a more prominent role, both rhythmically and melodically. Occasional bird sounds and the sound of rain or flowing water add even more interest - I really like this one! The title track is in three parts that run a little over 13 minutes total. "Joshua Tree - Pinto Basin at Sunset, Part 1" includes crickets and the sounds of other night creatures behind the slow and easy plant music and guitar, painting a gorgeous sonic picture of a sunset over the desert - peaceful and hypnotic. There is a short interlude between Part 1 and Part 2 that sustains the gentle magical spell. The guitar on "Part 2" almost sparkles against the much darker backdrop of the tree sounds as nighttime falls over the desert and all is peaceful.
Joshua Tree is a fascinating musical journey! The album is available to stream or download from Amazon and Apple Music/iTunes, as well as from many of the streaming sites. Check it out!
March 16, 2022