ListenTree, the loudspeaker tree

Two MIT students have created ListenTree, equipment which turns trees into loudspeakers and puts people in contact with environment.

Today, we are used to receive digital information mostly through wearable electronic devices we always bring with us. However, these devices make us alienate from everything surrounding us. That is why some researchers have been working for almost two decades on so called “calm technologies”, technologies stimulating our attention but not demanding it.


Developed by Edwina Portocarrero and Gershon Dublon, two students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), ListenTree belongs to these calm technologies. It is an equipment integrated in a natural environment, which is placed near the tree trunk and turns the tree into a living loudspeakers, with branches acting as audio channels. When people get closer to the tree, they can feel a light vibration under their feet, while sounds can be already heard few metres away from the tree and become clear when listeners lay their ears on the tree trunk, thanks to bone conduction (the conduction of sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull). To create this effect, a weather-proof audio sensor is connected to the bottom of the trunk, underground. It powered by a solar power controller providing the equipment with connectivity and wireless network.

Every kind of sound, music and information, both live and recorded, can be broadcasted invisibly and almost magically, attracting people. Such sound transmission has been already employed in the artistic domain. The person to be credited with bone conduction was Beethoven, who seemingly compensated his loss of hearing connecting an end of a metal bar to his piano and holding the other end with his teeth. Most recently, Handphone Table, designed by Laurie Anderson, an artist, allowed participants, sitting one in front of the other around a table, to hear the sound once they put their elbows on the table and their hands over their heads. However, Listentree maybe represents one of the first attempts to integrate digital information with natural environment. This just doesn’t go unnoticed.



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