Trees are nature’s strong, silent type–but, as it turns out, they actually have a lot to say.

Peek at a cross section and you can learn about the life of the tree and the conditions it was living in. In fact, scientists have used information from trees to determine things like the start of the medieval dark ages.

(via io9.com, and The International Tree-Ring Data Bank)

How? Tree rings show growth through the year, leaving clues to the seasons and climate. The spring and Early summer (“early wood”) shows rings that are light and less dense in color. In fall and winter the slow growth manifests as dense and dark rings. The gradient of light and dark rings make a continuous band called the “Annual Ring.” Thick annual bands are evidence of wet years, while thin ones indicate leaner times. The history of a tree, a ring at a time, in lights and darks, textures, contrasts, and weights.

In Bartholomäus Traubeck’s Years project, the rings of trees serve as  data that is interpreted and outputted as piano music. A digital camera registers the variations in a circular cross-section of the tree–dark colors to light, strong to light texture. Software translates the information into something haunting and beautiful.

Thanks to the trees: historians and poets.

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