Cultural Review Into nature Past, Present & Future

Teenage Engineering PO for Pixel: Silver Birch Sampled

Embryonic work using videos of trees to create new sounds and new images using the PO for Pixel.


Teenage Engineering PO Pixel – Birch Trees Sampling

I love music, but I am not a musician. I am sharing some embryonic work in progress using videos of trees to create new sounds and new images.

I purchased the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator 33 KO (PO 33) as a distraction during the darkest days of the COVID lockdown.  Favourite bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, Coil, Test Department and Psychic TV all employed sampling along with video mixing. I never imagined such electronic trickery would be accessible to me. 

Last year the PO 33 was made accessible via an application on later Google Pixel phones enabling mixing videos with samples.  The video clip in this post offers a flavour of what happened next.

Hall Mural of Silver Birch Trees
Hall Mural of Silver Birch Trees

The Sampling Material

In my hall, there is a large silver birch tree mural, a source of pleasure arriving and departing my home.  It often speaks to me, although until recently, not literally. The first part of the process involved making short video tree clips on my phone. 

Pocket Operator Processing

You can load up to four tracks using video clips as the sampling material. Once loaded you have a range of options. You can adjust the volume of each track using the coloured pencil icons. You can adjust both the tempo and swing up and down. What is fascinating is how machine learning translates the images loaded up into sounds. Creatively, the sounds are given symbols such as TNT or a motorbike.  I am not sure what images generate more sounds than others, but discovery is part of this experience.

In the next phase, you can play the sampled symbols as either drums or keypad melodies. Once you establish a melody that you like you can record it.  You can also copy patterns from the sixteen melodies/drums and also link tracks.  I concede this is a bit of a learning curve, for this older user, but the learning is enjoyable and the technology is fairly intuitive. Projects can be loaded, unloaded and/or deleted. Anything you want to share you can render and export these.

Silver Birch Sampling

The YouTube video at the top of this post includes three clips. What intrigued me was that these trees seemed to be communicating.  The machine learning somehow conveyed the leaves on the trees moving rhythmically.  If we could hear trees talking this is how I imagine they might sound. The first clip eavesdrops on the birch leaves grooving. In the second clip, the silver birch has an autumnal tinge hence the label Autumnal Mix.  In the third clip, I use the FX facility, which turns the autumnal mix into a psychedelic mix, providing some wonderful mandalas generated out of nature. I like the partying trees, I am biased but I love the carefree way these trees jam.  I could listen to their jamming for far longer, there is something hypnotic in their rhythms.

Fly Agaric mushrooms are often found close to silver birch trees in a symbiotic relationship. These red mushrooms with their white spots are hallucinogenic and I suspect they influenced the third clip. More mundanely, it might have been my pressing the FX button which enables sixteen sound and visual effects. Again, I find the sound and vision that the trees reveal very hypnotic, it is worth a look.

Sylvan Reflections

William Burroughs believed that cut-ups revealed new insights into our worlds. Brion Gysin his collaborator even developed a Dream Machine to facilitate special cut-up experiences in association with Moroccan shamanic drumming.  Today, for this space cadet hypnotic visuals and sounds are provided courtesy of Teenage Engineering. In these alchemical cut-ups, new sights and sounds are revealed, transformed and cut up.  As well as, Teenage Engineering the significant contribution of the sampled trees requires acknowledgement. I don’t think that they are merely partying, I suspect that they are trying to tell us something.

In the old musical Paint your Wagon, Clint Eastwood sang ‘I talk to the trees’, though lamenting that they do not listen.  The trees have been listening and today they sang to me.


If you are curious about the PO for Pixel further details are available HERE.