Recently, one of my friends and I had the opportunity to try using the MIDI Sprout device for visual impairment while on a guided tour of a local greenhouse/conservatory. At first, my friend and I were unsure about using the device, as we had wondered if it would actually work or if was just generating random sound information, but we were pleasantly surprised to see how the MIDI Sprout helped translate visual information about plants into a MIDI audio track that we could listen to together. Here is what I learned about using the MIDI Sprout for visual impairment, as well as some interesting applications for how it can be used to support environmental science, biology, and other science education for people with visual impairments of all ages.
What is the MIDI Sprout?
The MIDI Sprout is described on its official website as “an instrument that translates biodata from plants into music.” It is a small palm-sized device that can be connected to an iPhone or other iOS device, with small clamps that can be attached to plant leaves or other parts of plants, and translates the electrical currents in the plant into MIDI sound so that listeners can hear the different parts of the plant and modify the sound accordingly. The resulting MIDI sound can be recorded and saved to a computer or other devices.
The MIDI Sprout app can be used for free without the MIDI Sprout device to show different sounds and pitch changes, though works best with the device.
How to purchase the MIDI Sprout device
I tested the MIDI Sprout as part of an independent tour of a local greenhouse/conservatory that allowed guests to use the device to listen to plants in the adjacent park. However, it can be purchased online directly through the manufacturer’s website.
Update as of September 2019- The MIDI Sprout device has changed its name to PlantWave and is currently taking pre-orders for the next generation device, to be delivered in June 2020. The new device will cost $249 and be available on the manufacturer’s website, linked below. I’m hoping to test one of the new PlantWave devices in the future, though I’m not expecting for there to be a massive difference in how it can be used.
MIDI Sprout interface
The MIDI Sprout cable plugs into the iOS device and features wires with clamps on the end that can be attached to plants or leaves without damaging them, though it works best with plants that are somewhat sturdy. Users can control the sound in the MIDI Sprout app by touching and pressing down on different sections of the MIDI Sprout app to change the instrumentation, pitch, and other information.
Some users may prefer to use the reusable electrode pads that come with the MIDI Sprout on plants, but since we weren’t going to be using the device for very long we stuck with the clamps instead.
Is the MIDI Sprout accessible?
The MIDI Sprout app contains no text and only has a singular picture in the center, so users will not need to use any additional accessibility settings to access this app. Users can touch in different points in the center of the app and move their fingers around to hear how the sound changes. However, users may benefit from sighted assistance when attaching the electrodes or clamps to ensure they are placed correctly.
Our experience using the MIDI Sprout
The tour guide for our guided tour brought us to an area in the park that was filled with beautiful plants, including a large Sequoia Sempervirens tree. We decided to connect the MIDI Sprout to different parts of the tree, as well as surrounding plants, and listened to the different pitch changes and movement that came from moving the clamps around to different parts of the tree. The older parts were much deeper in tone compared to the newer parts, and the sounds were calming to listen to as we sat in the park.
Some potential uses for the MIDI Sprout in the educational space include:
- Showing the different frequencies of older vs younger plants
- Learning about plants in the surrounding classroom area
- For students interested in how frequencies are translated into sound
- As a companion to learning about plants through touch
- Using the plant music for relaxation and focusing for students who benefit from white noise
Listen to plant music online
When writing this post, I learned that the creators of the MIDI Sprout device have a free streaming website that allows users to listen to plant music created by the MIDI Sprout online for free. They use the same philodendron for all of the music, and the stream can be downloaded as a M3U file for access at anytime. M3U files can be opened in Windows Media Player or a similar application and do not require the user to download the file more than once- they can just open the M3U file and enjoy a live stream of music at any time, free of charge.
I loved getting to test the MIDI Sprout device for visual impairment and am grateful that our tour guide let us try out the device for ourselves. I found the music created by the device to be relaxing, and as a data science student I was excited to hear how the different plants and trees in the park could be translated into sound for my friend who has no usable vision. The MIDI Sprout would be a unique addition to a lesson on plants and sound for students with visual impairments, and I look forward to trying the PlantWave device in the future as well.