Mark Booth’s Secret Audio Life of Ferns (Chicago)

Never seen a poem as lovely as a tree? Then try the tone poem in the Fern Room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago, which I had the pleasure of visiting during a quick trip to the city earlier this week. The Conservatory rises from the park like some Victorian Biosphere, and has, since November 2001, hosted a series of audio installations under the project name Florasonic, the latest of which is a pre-recorded work by Mark Booth that plays from speakers dangling from the ceiling of the Fern Room.

According to Booth’s note at the entrance to the room, the recording is founded on two materials: prepared guitar and voice, both of which he manipulates electronically. He likens the resulting noise to the songs of cicada, but it comes across as a more varied menagerie than that. There are suggestions of bugs, yes, but also of frogs and birds, not to mention rustling foliage. There’s a hint of a fog horn, thanks to the sound of a bow against strings.

And, of course, there is other sound. There is traffic outside and planes overhead. The room is, fortunately for Booth, free of the massive electric fans that circulate air elsewhere in the Conservatory, but two small water features — open pipes doubling as lilliputian waterfalls — provide more babble than do most of the visitors.

Booth’s work is initially disadvantaged by an unruly title that reads like a warning, however fanciful: “In the event that the stag horn fern becomes metallic and that each of its bifurcating leaves rings like a tuning fork, please turn off this recording.” No warning is necessary; the music settles easily into room. But he does have a point. One has to wonder how the growth of the ferns at the conservatory has been influenced by the ongoing Florasonic exhibitions.

Booth’s installation opened on June 3, 2007, and will run through September 30. More info at the websites of the curatorial organization (, of Florasonic curator Lou Mallozzi ( and of the Conservatory (

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