Rock Music

Abstract: Millivolt level signals produced by certain rocks lend themselves to scientific, artistic and mythical interpretation. Empirical probing of these signals by an artist and an electrical engineer observed both linear and non-linear displays. Whether interpreted through the lens of science or panpsychism, the signals themselves provide an excellent template for sonic experimentation. Accumulated years of unstructured qualitative data indicate these tiny voltages originating in the core of the rock react to outside stimulus in a variety of perplexing ways. Creative application has therefore tended to produce unexpected and unexplained results.

1. Background to Research:
Ten years ago, retired electrical engineer Gordon Salisbury and myself, a sculptor, began extracting the small voltages in plants and turning them into sound. Small plant voltages have been the subjects of intense speculation regarding their ability to convey biological information and communications, and even the existence of a ubiquitous “Nature Intelligence”.
The question remains whether there exists an unknown technological medium through which a plant (or other parts of nature) communicates with the outside world. The existence of a subtle energetic medium accessed through mental process has received significant scientific study, but remains wide open to creative artistic interpretation.
We saw plant electrical discharge as being a good place to begin exploring such issues. Pioneering work in bio-communications was increasingly being made available to researchers, and we set out to replicate some of these now controversial experiments. Through the sonification of nature’s minute electrical signals in a creative atmosphere, we hope to arouse further interest in these topics among artists.

2. Rock Electricity:
The sonification of rock electricity soon followed our study of plant voltages. It began with a study of the papers of T. Townsend Brown (1905-1985). Brown was an American physicist born in Zanesville, Ohio. Remembered primarily today for his controversial research for the U.S. Navy, Brown developed theories concerning the link between electromagnetic and gravitational fields theorized by Dr. Albert Einstein. Brown’s first major discovery, in 1921, (later called the Biefeld-Brown effect) was made while experimenting with a Coolidge X-ray tube. (Dr. Paul Alfred Biefeld was Professor of Astronomy and Director, Swazey Observatory, Denison University, Granville, Ohio. He died about 1940.
Brown later became a nationally recognized figure in the arena of gravitational research, although much of his work remains classified and subject to intense scrutiny even today.
All of Brown’s notoriety has obscured his work with rock electricity, which concerns us here. What little we know is that at an early stage of his research, Townsend Brown discovered the capacity of certain types of rock (particularly basalt and granite) to spontaneously produce an electric current, even when properly shielded.

Brown laboratoryBrown laboratory
Brown Laboratory

In his words, “In the case of rock electricity, rectification from rf to dc, presumably, takes place within the rock (as a solid state function--like a transistor). The natural capacitance of the rock serves to store the rectified dc, so that more or less continuous output is observed. In a sense, the rock becomes a quasi-permanent electric dipole or electret but, actually, is a continuous converter of energy received from its environment.
“Many different rocks have been studied. Granite and dense lava rocks so far have shown the greatest voltage output. Other rocks, containing lead or other heavy metals seem to suggest that the electrical output is a function of mass (which is to be expected if the effect is gravitational).
“Rocks also have a wide variety of cyclic patterns, the phasing of which differs from one rock or another. The interpretation of this phenomenon might be that the gravitational (wave) spectral band (rf) to which each individual rock is attuned is slightly different. Hence, each rock senses only that portion of the very broad spectrum of the ambient flux (from space) to which it is resonant. The effect is similar to radio receivers tuned to different frequencies.”

T.T. Brown later in life studying rock electricity.Brown laboratory
T.T. Brown later in life studying rock electricity. Brown laboratory

“Studies of telluric electricity, as related to individual rocks, have revealed the existence of electrical self-potential. The true source of this energy is not now known, but the fact that the electrical output of rocks undergoes diurnal cycles, sidereal cycles and secular variations, appears to indicate that the energy has a cosmic origin. One might express it – that the rocks of the Earth may actually be ‘tapping cosmic energy’.
“In recent years, scientists have speculated on the possibility, predicted by Einstein, that gravitational waves are generated by stellar explosions, rotation of binary stars and the gravitational collapse of stellar masses into so-called ‘black holes’. This gravitational radiation, constituting a whole new spectrum equivalent to the electromagnetic spectrum, bathes the Earth from every direction. There is evidence that this extremely penetrating radiation may be coming with greatest intensity from the centers of gravities, including our own galaxy. It passes, in large measure, completely thru the Earth. The total energy may be enormous, even equaling the total radiation of light and heat. Why is it that massive or dense materials act to intercept this radiation from space and transform it into electricity is not now known? One may say it is a process analogous to the conversion of light into electricity, as in the photocell, but this is a new technology and very little is known about it.”

3. Art Based Bio-Sonic Rock Experimentation:
Brown’s conjecture: “A whole new spectrum equivalent to the electromagnetic spectrum,” lay waiting to be discovered in the domain of rock electricity was enough of a stimulus to begin looking deeply at what rock electricity could mean.

Quartz Rock with Rate of Change Converter, Laurie Studio.
Quartz Rock with Rate of Change Converter, Laurie Studio.

Sedimentary Stone Showing Rock Voltage, Laurie Studio
Sedimentary Stone Showing Rock Voltage, Laurie Studio

4. Experimental Techniques:
At the time I stumbled upon Brown’s rock papers, we were studying the work of Cleve Backster and others in plant bio-communications. Backster will be remembered as the lie detector analyst who first used his equipment to probe plant-to-plant communications. Backster’s experiments require the sampling of small milli-voltages from the surface of a leaf. To reproduce these experiments, Gordon designed a series of galvanometers and rate of change converters (RCC) integrated with high gain amplifiers for our use. The RCC’s were completely passive, and suitable for examining rock voltages, only detecting changes from .001 to .1 volt. Voltage was made audible as a pitch shift, while simultaneously plotted as a graph on a computer.
Pitch shifts processed by an Orville Harmonizer changed the simple pitches into more complex sonic forms. The result was that we could render a rock signal back to itself as organized sound. This feedback loop often appeared to stimulate the samples even more. At times the rocks appeared to pattern themselves to music or natural environmental sound played to them.
Initially we went to great lengths to shield the rock and the detecting equipment from movement and external signal pollution. It was tremendously difficult to be certain how much we were separating signal from induction. The RCC was very susceptible to movement, static, radio frequency and atmospheric interference.
Next, we upgraded our signal acquisition ability by employing a hardware/software package named IBVA, designed by Masahiro Kahata. IBVA is normally used for acquiring brain waves. It represents them on a waterfall graphic and sonically through assigned instruments, while translating them into midi. This feature facilitates translation into Ableton Live and other music software.
Was it just a coincidence that the milli-voltages being produced by the rocks are in the same range of frequency and intensity as brain waves?
Masahiro also helped us in the lab, advising our procedures, insuring that nothing we were seeing was an artifact of the electronics of the device.

IBVA Waterfall Graph Measuring Cumberlandite, Laurie Studio.
IBVA Waterfall Graph Measuring Cumberlandite, Laurie Studio.

Of these tests, Gordon Salisbury reports: “Certain stones we tested (volcanic stones #1 and #2) displayed electrical resistance between the two ends of the stone, not unlike a resistor in an electronic circuit. This observation means that the rock will support externally applied electron current flow between the terminals. Other types of rock, notably granite and its relatives, behave as insulators, exhibiting little or no electrical continuity but still manifesting the latent self-potential voltages (up to 400 millivolts, easily measurable with an inexpensive Radio Shack digital voltmeter.)
“It is hard to imagine that a stone which exhibits conductivity would also be able to manifest a self-potential. This is because it is in a constant state of discharge, like a battery shorting itself out. So, where is the reserve current coming from?” (These rocks are sitting on benches three stories above ground, insulated from the earth.)
“The voltage that’s available from the rocks is capable of moving the needle of a meter but not much more in the way of work. However, small voltages of this kind are common within the brain/body communications system.”

Laurie Studio.
Laurie Studio.

5. Experimental Anomalies:
It was clear from our tests that we had located the phenomenon of rock electrical self-potential that Brown had written about so many years before. What remained elusive was how these signals interfaced with the environment. When placing certain rocks in several layers of Faraday cage, or even in bags under water, the rocks continued to produce signals, including randomly patterning themselves to background music and other events.
On other tests where two similar rocks and two similar plants were all hooked up to graphs, we saw the rocks clearly reacting to some nearby plants being touched, but not vice versa. Rocks also reacted differently to some people than others, and to unknown stimulus after long periods of dormancy. Rocks can also produce strange, non-linear rhythms.
Attempting to reduce the phenomenon into a format for clearer scientific analysis usually resulted in the disappearance of the most responsive components. In a sense, the more we tried to take control of the signals and dominate them, the more they eluded capture! When we simply let go and focused on the joyous process of seeing rocks make music, the whole experience progressed exponentially!
The clear implication was that whatever we were witnessing involved consciousness. The phenomena were linked inexorably to our perception of them. As a consequence, we began to artistically optimize operator/observer influence on the signal. The results began to feel like collaboration, as though rudimentary communications were being established!
What became more and more clear was that, at minimum, we were viewing a relationship between consciousness and rock electrical output. Imagine our surprise in 2005 when we opened the New York Times to read: “Building in Iceland? Better Clear It With the Elves First”, the gist being, many Icelanders consider certain rock formations to be inhabited by elves or other hidden people. In Iceland, before roads are built through rock outcroppings or other potentially damaging activities to rock masses take place, a local clairvoyant in communication with the Elvin spirits weighs in on the situation. Failure to do so, report the Times, has resulted in numerous equipment failures and human injury.
“In the town of Kopavogur…in 1996, a bulldozer operator, Hjortur Hjartarson, ran into trouble as he tried to raze a suspected elf hill to make way for a graveyard.

“After two different bulldozers repeatedly and inexplicably malfunctioned, and local television cameras failed when trained on the hill, though they worked elsewhere, the crew halted the project. ‘We’re going to see whether we can’t reach an understanding with the elves,” Jon Ingi, the project supervisor, told Morgunbladid, a Reykjavik newspaper, at the time.”

Following negotiations through local elf communicators, the elves moved away and the work resumed. “In my opinion”, Mr. Hjartarson was quoted, “well, whatever it is, hidden people or elves, it has just accepted this and moved away from there.”

A bit later, we were to obtain some Icelandic volcanic rock for our own experiments. By now, the possibility that we were engaged with a form of nature communication had taken firm hold of our imagination! Soon, every time we tried to elicit a response from a rock nothing would happen. Our very desire to test the rocks capacity for communications became an impediment!

Backster referred to this phenomenon as observer contamination: “Over a period of a year and a half, it seemed that the plants were indeed very much attuned to other life forms in the laboratory, including non-human activity. Numerous observations continued to confirm such attunement. I found from my observations that plants quite reliably exhibited Biocommunication capability.
“I also found out something rather basic in this kind of research. If you watch the phenomenon too closely, you may already be affecting it. Once you allow your own consciousness to interact in an observation, or in an experiment, you may already be altering its outcome.”
Backster’s solution to this problem was to design carefully automated experiments to eliminate observer influence, which he discusses at length in his book. We, on the other had, were approaching these phenomena from an artistic rather than a scientific direction. Instead, we turned the process around. We began to see the operator/observer influence on the signal as an opportunity for collaboration. The perceptible feedback loop between plant, rock and environment seemed to explain the subjects patterning themselves to music and sound. In fact, we began to suspect the relationship went much further, as both plants and rocks occasionally went beyond patterning to manifest improvisation!
It would follow that the manner by which we interacted with this process, or rather the part of it we actually confronted, i.e. the rock, was an open window into its domain of existence. We began to suspect that these anomalies indicated a way of expanding our consciousness to include aspects of our environment that we habitually filtered out or suppressed.
This possibility prompted us to examine literature on the subject of panpsychism, a philosophy which holds that everything in the universe, alive or not, has some degree of consciousness. We became familiar with the work of Stephen Harrod Buhner and Machaelle Small Wright. Their work enabled us to develop protocols for accommodating in our experiments what Ms. Wright calls “Nature Intelligence”.
As a result, we were able to learn and employ a number of established techniques for Nature communication in our approach. The protocols of Machaelle Small Wright and her metaphorically charged garden, Perelandra, were particularly helpful. These included kinesiology and dowsing techniques we were familiar with from our study of other consciousness technology platforms. Unlike many others, the Perelandra techniques admonish the researcher to develop a spirit of ‘co-creativity’ with the plants and minerals they are working with, or more comprehensively, with Nature Intelligence itself. The Perelandra approach is entirely non-linear and self-referential. Here, a collaborative process with Nature completely eclipses scientific objectivity. An empirical approach to creative experimentation with Nature is established in the same manner artists do when guided by a “muse.”
Buhner’s and Wright’s tools and techniques have proved very useful in orienting ourselves in an unusual situation. We accept that our current efforts, while employing scientific tools, cannot be considered in anyway scientific, but are nevertheless very compatible with art process.
Artistically, our experimental relationship with the rock and plant signals has become a way of expanding our own consciousness. We sense and enjoy Nature Intelligence, with the added benefit of a sonic journey.


1) [2003] Backster, C. “Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods and Human Cells,” White Rose Millennium Press

2) [No date} Brown, T.T. “Electrical Self-Potential in Rocks” Psychic Observer Vol. XXXVII No. 1.

3) [1978] Brown, T. T. “Geophysical Sensor Preliminary Patent Application”

4) [1997] Brown, T.T. “ Phenomenal Variations in the Self-Potential of Rocks,” Optical Multimedia and the Townsend Brown Family

5) [1980] Brown, T.T, Furumoto A. S, Morrison, H.F, Gottscholk W. M, Potter J.G, Kautz. W. M: “Phenomenal Variations of Resistivity and the Petrovoltaic Effect” Republished 1997 Optical Multimedia & The Townsend Brown Family

6) [2005] Lyall, S. New York Times, “Building in Iceland? Better Clear it with the Elves First” July 13, 2005

7) [2004] Buhner, S. H, “The Secret Teaching Of Plants In The Direct Perception of Nature,” Bear & Co.

8) [1997] Wright, M.S, “Behaving As If The God In All Things Mattered,” Perelandra, Ltd, 1997