Imagine an early nineteenth-century glass house filled with camellias. Camellias placed there in the mid-1800s in the belief that the glass house replicated the best conditions for these Asiatic plants. Inside the plants flounder, sicken. Black aphids fester upon the leaves, buds of flowers die and drop off before they can flourish and bloom to their full beauty. The few that flower normally do so without the usual heavenly scent.
What are the camellias’ stories? What are the emotions felt by visitors to the glass house?
Wollaton Hall in Nottingham was built in the 1580s and it is home to the glorious glass house. Today the hall houses a natural history display and the grounds include a 500-acre deer park and stunning lake. The Camellia House is one of the earliest cast-iron glass houses in the UK and was built in 1827.
In a unique experiment in 2019/2020 musician, beatboxer, and composer Jason Singh was commissioned to create a musical composition using ‘biodata’ of the plants. With sensors placed on leaves he captured the electrical signals from the camellias. These were then converted to midi signals and thereafter generated into music and sounds.
Jason was surprised by the depth of his emotions during the project, at times feeling physically unwell, as well as suffering from anxiety and agitation upon listening to the plants.
He gives an evocative voice to the plants, a sound enhanced as musicians on xylophone and harp responded to the plant sounds and added their interpretation.
Where once visitors walked quickly and disinterested through the Camellia House, during the installation they sat, listened and contemplated.
Hopefully many will have added their thoughts to the sight and music before them. Through the melancholic, entrancing tones Jason Singh wanted to stimulate feelings within visitors about the plants, environment, our place in the world as well as conservation and people’s wellbeing. Furthermore, he hoped to raise questions and exploration of our inner selves and our global position within the natural world. In the process, he unexpectedly tapped into his soul and undoubtedly others experienced the same whilst listening to this most original musical installation.
A final word. I had meant to visit this installation last spring but for obvious reasons this was not possible. However, it’s a joy to finally be able to share about it here on my blog!