i recently picked up the instruo scíon, and made this with it today: “touchlight // across the void”
an ambient drone improvisation. semigenerative duet for synthesizer and succulents. scion provides the pitches for the oscillators, while the note+beat sequencing, clocking, and envelopes are via monome ansible (meadowphysics+kria) and mannequins just friends + isms LPGs/LPDs. i wrote some detailed patch notes on the video page.
a couple of notes on the scion’s sensitivity:
first, i think the responsiveness of the module is going to depend to some degree on the type of plant you have, including how healthy it is. i originally used it with a broadleaf houseplant, but didn’t get much out of it. but as soon as i switched to the tiny succulent seen here, it was like a completely different module. super responsive; it not only responds to touch, but (at higher sensitivity pot settings) even light, water, and hand proximity. this is with the sticky TENS pads. the module also came with some lightweight clip-on sensors, but i’m not sure what they’re for. they don’t respond to plants, and are only somewhat responsive to human skin. they mostly seem to respond to pressing against metal conductive objects.
second, my scion seems to be misbehaving slightly; the gold leaf contact plate on the front of the module is nowhere near as instantaneously responsive as the manufacturer’s demo, or any of the other youtube/instagram vids out there. i’ve been in contact with instruo to see if there are any adjustments i can make on my end to avoid having to ship it across the pond for replacement/repair. it takes a painful amount of physical pressure to generate a response. the raw squarewave signal output shows the correct activity amount even at a light touch, but the LED tree and cv/gate outputs are very reluctant to engage.
finally, there’s no manual yet. i had to type my own notes on the operating modes, based on upstream’s feature overview video. for pitch usage, you get either unquantized 0-5v, chromatic/semitone, or harmonic series/overtones. it would be nice if there was an additional mode for user scales, but that’s probably best suited to external quantizer modules. it’s hard to find dedicated quad quants, and four individual modules will be very pricey and occupy a lot of hp – though it’s been suggested that i look into ornament & crime/ uO_C’s various dual/quad quant modes.
i’ve just barely started to get to know this module, but there’s definitely a lot more generative/reactive organic “duets” that i want to explore.
20 characters of exceedingly lovely!
Lovely stuff. Regarding the different sensitivity of bigger and smaller plants: there’s a great interview with Michael Prime, who has been working primarily with plant biofeedback for decades, in which he talks about his experiences with different types of plants. A digital transcript of the Interview (taken from a wonderful zine about feedback processes in music, sadly long out of print) is hosted here:
The extreme sensitivity of plants to their environment presents particular problems for live performance. Being moved to the performance venue often causes the natural rhythms of the plant to be submerged by its drastic reaction to its new, and apparently unfavourable environment. However, in 1991, I was able to give an outdoor performance in Madrid (for CIEM), in which I wired up a 1000 year old olive tree in situ. It was a complete contrast to the potted plants I usually have to use in performance. It seemed totally unaffected by the human activity around it – even touching it (which produces a strong reaction in a small plant) had no apparent effect. Living on such an extended time scale, it was as if it took no more notice of humans than it did of the small flies buzzing around it.
And thank you for suggesting the TENS pads, i’ve never heard of those before and have been toying with the idea of getting into biofeedback myself for quite a while without having a starting point regarding the sensors (i naively assumed you’d need some special type of sensor rather than a simple electrode).
Thanks for sharing this essay. Just got a scion myself and have been wondering how to incorporate it into sound and video installations, respectfully collaborating with the non-human.
This part of his sound installation was very telling:
It seems that the piece became a microcosm of man’s activities on planet Earth, unbridled selfish activity damaging the ecosystem and sending it spinning out of control.
I’d really like to see some examples of this being used with human biofeedback. I’d be especially interested in something that could take monitor specific things like heart-rate and brain activity. I’m already imagining taking heart-rate into account in live performances, wherein a variable might be affected by heart-rate fluctuations based on the level of stage fright I’m experiencing. Some other studio-based experiments could involve seeing how voluntary starvation and/or dehydration might cause changes in data, or how brain activity output changes based on depriving myself of sleep or skipping my anti-depressants for a few days.
I recently bought a Scíon, because my kids saw one of those YouTube reaction videos where someone was reacting to the mushroom music video (and I think they were poking fun at it). Except my kids were totally fascinated by this plant music idea and really wanted to try it, so I spent the last of my music savings pot on Scíon and we’ve had a lot of fun with it.
I made a quick phone/bluetooth speaker video of it, I will make something better another time when my son isn’t using it: Huxley’s Scion Demo - YouTube
Just a few thoughts about it in case anyone has ever wondered about this module:
- It has four CV/gate pair outputs, we’re quantising it but does have some built-in ability to do that (there are “modes”, and the default is circle of fourths)
- The CV outs have an attenuator, and the slider is for “density”
- The tree diagram is actually meaningful, it shows what notes will be played – the manual explains this quite well
- The rhythms and pitches it generates are not what I expected at all, they go from sparse to dense and almost ratchet-like. It’s very interesting to listen to, it has a human quality
- My video uses Hermod to quantise, which is fine for me but the kids don’t get that part at all
- You can use a standard patch cable as the biofeedback input by touching it, or you can put the TENS pads on yourself (they’re sticky) – mine came with pads that are too large for my son’s favorite IKEA bonsai tree, but we found the cable with no pads actually conducts really well on the main trunk of the plant
- The panel/LEDs is a beautiful design
I’d seen MidiSprout before and I know Scíon is based on it. I think there’s something about the idea that put me off (not sure why, I love plants!) but seeing my kids get excited about it and the natural and somehow human quality of the output is fascinating
I didn’t have the panel leaf issues @ioflow mentioned, everything seems to work well. And I’ve now discovered the world of TENS electrodes and sensors which is… interesting.
Thanks for sharing! I have Scion on my wishlist, the concept sounds so cool to me and the module is just beautiful. Adding something ‘organic’ to the rack as a counterpart to some ‘mathematic’ modules is exciting me!
Thought I’d share a bit of material from working hands on (pun intended) with Scion. A small study of human interaction with Scion’s touchplate and Ears. One oscillator (Ts-L), dplpg and one delay (Mimeophon). Got into some interesting sound worlds and a lot of mileage from this little setup, more to explore here I feel like. There’s something very enticing and direct about these physical interactions.