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Data Garden Pushes Biodegradable Circuitry and Plantable Albums

The co-founders of Philadelphia computer enviro-art conservatory and net label Data Garden have been longing to move their machines back outdoors where they belong.
Janus Rose
New York, US

Alex Tyson and Joe Patitucci want to go outside. Trapped inside thanks to a particularly schizophrenic Northeast winter, the co-founders of Philadelphia computer enviro-art conservatory and net label Data Garden have been longing to move their machines back outdoors where they belong. Last October, they hosted The Switched-On Garden, an Autumnal fête of bio-interactive sound installations and music that cross-pollinated cedars and circuitry inside the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America.


Now, as spring draws near, another creation of theirs should soon be in bloom: "Trans-digital" album releases sold on sheets of screen-printed "seed paper" that deliver their digital music payloads, and then, with a little soil, water and TLC, grow into flowers. Local Philadelphia bands like chiptune prog-rock supergroup Cheap Dinosaurs and cinematic synth outfit Ray and the Prisms have recently made their debuts on the label, making a case for sustainable physical music in a digital-dominated market.

It all came about because, like most of us who now own smartphones and MP3 players, Joe Patitucci at some point recognized just how disposable physical media had become. "I had done a release as Tadoma on a small label, and finally, when they were out of CD's they asked me if I wanted to re-release," he explained in a phone chat.

He didn't want to — at least not if it meant printing out more worthless plastic containers that would be discarded or forgotten as soon as they were unloaded onto peoples' hard drives. Of course, even when stored as files directly, this still leaves the waste created by our computers and gadgets themselves, which many of us have now taken to replacing every year or so. But Patitucci dreams of a day where all that circuitry is biodegradable — it'd probably make for some interesting art installations, too.

Data Garden is more than just curated events and a novel approach to music distribution, however. In their downtime, they've become curators and historians of tech culture, excavating the annals of computer history for signs of the natural world. From mixtapes to archived video of the earliest computer art experiments from the 1960s and 70s to a Japanese woman trying to teach her cactus the alphabet, the duo is constantly on the hunt for the strange, forgotten beauty of yesterday's technology culture.


"[Early computer artist] John Whitney is a huge influence for me, because he has that curiosity coupled with his technical ability," says Tyson. "That's what makes that period of electronic art so appealing and what, I think, people should start looking back at."

The curated content isn't just filler — the group hopes it will help inform their doings in the outside world as well. "It's connecting people with electronic art and having a sense of discovery about it," Tyson continues. "Instead of just being tastemakers we want to involve people in the whole process."

Pending the success of their Kickstarter campaign, Tyson and Patitucci are already planning their next marriage of plants and processors. They recall educational science and nature films of the 70's and 80's, set to sweeping synth soundtracks that romanticized the links between electronic music and the outdoors. Whether or not the associations themselves are catalyzed by nostalgia, however, the change, they say, occurs when people walk into a space where they can re-consider their relationships with both biologic and electronic technologies – and realize that the two aren't so far removed in the first place.