Founded in 1975, Damanhur—an ancient Egyptian name that means “City of Light”— is a self-sufficient and eco-friendly commune located amid the rolling hills and the exclusive rehab clinics in the valley of Val Chiusella, outside Turin, Italy. The 1,000 people who live in Damanhur follow the principles and visions of their leader, Oberto Aiuradi, who, due to the Damanhurian tradition of renaming every member with the first name of an animal and the family name of a plant, goes by the name of Falcon. The Damanhur people do whatever this guy says. For example: When he was inspired by the vision of a falling star, the community went ahead and carved an 11-story temple inside the mountain where they live. It took them 16 years. They did it by hand.
One of Falcon’s major tenets is that every living thing, including plants and animals, exists in a harmonic plane that is connected to ours, and that they all possess an intelligence and sensibility akin to that of humans. That’s why Damanhurian scientists built machines that allegedly allow them to communicate with plants through the miracle of variating electronic frequencies, aka music.
When I arrived at the office of the Federation, I was greeted by Owl and Spider, who are both involved in the plant-music project. They talked about time travel and alien vegetable civilizations in the same tone that a bored science teacher might talk about gravity. A little while later I was taken to a room where Spider attached some electrodes to a cyclamen he fished out of a bag. Seconds later, a slow, discombobulated series of harmonic scales started to seep out of a speaker connected to the plant. The sounds of the plant’s music carried us through our conversation.
Vice: So, do plants live in another dimension?
They exist within different standards and sensations. Just think about a creature that lives its entire life in one place without even moving a centimeter. It has to learn to communicate by different means. This is why we believe that in another place and another time, in another dimension, there existed a society of organized plants that played music, composed poems, and lived in a society similar to ours. And they learned to move, through contact with other species, like the animals on our planet. These are all visions that appeared to Falcon.
OK. And how do you manage to communicate with plants?
This is research that was born out of one of Falcon’s ideas: that plants, just like animals and humans, have a soul and an intelligence. He’s been thinking about this project for the last 30 years. After hundreds of experiments we arrived at this equipment that, through the electromagnetic impulses released by every plant, allows them to express themselves. This machine then translates their impulses into music for the synthesizer. In this way, the plant can play the violin, the piano, or a drum machine—there is no limit to their sound.
Yeah, but the plants can’t hear the sounds. They can’t decide what they sound like.
It’s all based on the emotional level of the plant. For example, when we held a plant concert recently, a primula suddenly decided to stop playing. We all looked at each other, puzzled, and then we noticed a man had entered the room at the exact moment that the plant stopped playing. He was carrying a green salad. Do you understand? The plant was
. The plant’s emotional state is fundamental to its ability to play, because even if they can’t see or hear you in the traditional sense, they can energetically perceive what surrounds them and what type of person you are.
Would you say some people are better than others in their ability to connect to the plants?
Well, the research we made over the years has allowed us to communicate with the plants in the same way I am communicating with you. There are people who, by connecting themselves to the plant, are suddenly able to write poetry automatically. They have a different artistic vision to that of humans.
They have their own language?
We have just started to decipher their alphabet. By concentrating on colors that are “close” to the plant, we can initiate contact. For example, yellow and orange bring to their mind sun and life, and they appreciate that. You can feel it. This is how we’re learning their ABCs, but in this case it’s more connected to sensations and feelings than actual words and logical sentence structure. This is why people are able to compose poetry, but not prose, when they are connected telepathically to the plant.
Can they do other things, beside artistic expression?
Yes. We attached plants to sensors that allowed them to open doors. When you moved close to them, they would open the door only if they saw you as a friend. Even the friendliest of plants never opened the door to people they didn’t know. We also put a plant on a small cart, connected to its electromagnetic impulses, that allowed it to move at will. It learned to navigate around the room of its own accord. Finally, we also built a self-sufficient greenhouse, where the plants could activate the opening of windows or the water system, depending on when they were thirsty or when they wanted light.
And some plants are more chatty while others are shy. Every plant is like a person, with their differing propensity to learn. This is obvious to anyone who has ever heard different plants being connected to the same machine. An oak tree or a maple will play completely different melodies from each other. It also depends on their age and size. The bigger and older they are, the more complex their music becomes. However, I would say that after a couple of one-hour sessions even the shyest of plants gains confidence with their musical ability.
What genre do the plants prefer?
Different plants play different genres. Chestnut trees love metal. They are aggressive and violent in style. Birches are the most delicate. They play very sweet music. But you can always jam with them. If you play an instrument yourself, or sing, the plant will go along with you and play off your music.