Plant Life

Still from video by Mark McBeth


photo credit to David Samas

A version of psychobotany called “Psychobotanikon” was mounted at the Center for New Music in San Francisco. It was an interesting experience for me because it felt like PlantHaus for adults (there was a grand pianist as the closing act and Michael Dooley performed at both).

Among other things, what was different about “Psychobotanikon” was that David Samas, my collaborator on psychobotany wanted to direct. He wanted to address some feedback he got from audiences specifically about choreography, I think. Also he wanted to make changes to the music, and had some ideas about wardrobe.

I said yes to this. It was a curiosity because psychobotany was the first production I’ve ever directed. (production in this case, meaning that it wasn’t just me doing a thing, but I managed a team and liasoned with the venue, etc.) Anyways, I told David that I would let him direct if we changed the name and he established his directorship over the production. I would just be doing the live light looks with my overhead projector and making the programs and purchasing and hanging fabric to drape on the stage.

It was super weird because it was like I was a captain of a ship and then I stepped down to be a science officer, but it was the same ship with the same mission but then some of the crew got replaced. The show used a photograph of the old show with a mover who wasn’t on the new ship for the facebook event. The whole thing felt very weird. I love art and I love the music and all of that but it felt weird to have less control over the result.

Instead of 2-3 dancers, there was just one. I enjoyed her movements, but I miss working with the other dancers and their joy at the end of the piece when they talked about what they experienced with each other through the improvisational freedom. I think that is an integral part of psychobotany, the shared experience of the movers.

I do like that I was commissioned to paint wardrobe. Everyone involved on that stage was petalpetaled! That was really lovely to feel like they were unified by this pattern. That part was really a dream come true for me. The first time my handpainted clothing were worn onstage in a group! (the first time for my handpainted clothing on stage for a solo performer was last month :) so cool!)

I loved the way Christina’s dress turned out. To watch her move in it made me feel alive and fulfilled.


(text from the program)


PlantLife: an Immersive Evening of Phyto-Experience December 12, 2018

at the Center for New Music 55 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Join us for an evening of music, meditation, art and dance celebrating the consciousness of our allies in the green world.

7 PM Meditation with Plants, Michael Dooley — every 10 min in the rehearsal room (limited to 4 guests)

8 PM Pet the Tiger: Psychobotanikon

Cheryl Leonard, David Samas: Invented Instruments Christina Braun: Butoh Katarina Countiss: Live Projection, Painted Wardrobe

9 PM Sarah Cahill, Piano: Patterns of Plants, Mamoru Fujieda

Meditation with Plants is an opportunity to turn off the conscious mind and experience a deep listen to a musical track being spontaneously created by plant energy, violin, and water.

The format is a headphoned experience for 4-6 people for 7-minutes for as many sessions we can do in an hour.

Psychobotanikon was collaboratively composed by instrument inventors Cheryl Leonard and David Samas, all of whom have been working with natural materials for decades. It explores themes of plant consciousness, botanical perception of time and the voice of the plants themselves. Developed with live projection and dance to express the private life of plants and celebrate the interconnected sentience of every living thing.

Patterns of Plants, composed between 1996 and 2011, is Mamoru Fujieda’s magnum opus. Working with the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yūji Dōgane, the composer measured electrical fluctuations on the surface of the leaves of plants, and converted the data thus obtained into sound using the Max programming system. Through a process he has likened to searching “in a deep forest” for “beautiful flowers and rare butterflies,” he listened for musical patterns, and used them as the basis for composing short pieces, which he then grouped into collections reminiscent of Baroque dance suites. The resulting music is as varied and lovely as any garden. But it is more than ornamental; as pianist Sarah Cahill notes, these are pieces of great depth and expressivity.


BIOS Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer, and instrument- builder whose works investigate sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Her projects often feature natural-object instruments and field recordings from remote locales. Leonard has received grants from the NSF’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, American Music Center, American Composers Forum, and ASCAP.

Christina Braun, a lifelong dancer, has produced Butoh dance symposia, performances, and workshops. Her choreography with collaborating composers has been presented regularly since 2002. Her core teachers in the Butoh form are local treasures Hiroko and Koichi Tamano.

David Samas is a teaching artist, composer, instrument inventor, curator, conceptual artist and social sculptor. A queer, native San Franciscan from mixed immigrant roots, David got his a BFA from the SF Art Institute in conceptual art in 2000 and studied poetics at the New College of California. He is the director of Pet the Tiger Instrument Inventors Collective and curates the Window Gallery for Invented Instruments at the Center for New Music.

Michael Dooley is a sound artist, violin looper, and experimental performer. His work is centered around texture, repetition, process, chance, and spell — built from a blending of violin harmonies, modular synth noise, samplers, and contact mics on practical objects. Much of his work is site-specifc, and creates a relationship between the sound, space, and scenario. He received a degree in Literature & Film from Colorado College, and has completed a Meisner Acting Technique training program under Rachael Adler, and currently studies Yat Malmgren Movement Psychology under Tom Bentley-Fisher, all of which have deeply impacted his approach to music and performance.


Katarina Countiss is a multimedia artist based in Oakland, California. She enjoys exploring color and texture through light, ink, fabric, and paint. The leaf/petal motif she calls petalpetal is an exploration in patterns, a celebration of nature, and a meditation in its creation. Words: There’s a soft rustling. Crunch, crunch of leaves underfoot. The clouds the clouds the clouds– I like watching nature, the cycles remind me how time passes and how precious is our one wild life.

Sarah Cahill, recently called “a sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde” by The New York Times, has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Yoko Ono, and Evan Ziporyn, and she has also premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Ingram Marshall, Toshi Ichiyanagi, George Lewis, Leo Ornstein, and many others. Cahill’s radio show, “Revolutions Per Minute”, can be heard every Sunday evening from 8 to 10 pm on KALW, 91.7 FM in San Francisco. She is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, and curates a monthly series of new music concerts at the new Berkeley Art Museum. For more information, visit

SPECIAL THANK YOUS Derek Drudge for your supportive role in Psychobotanikon

The Center for New Music for hosting this event at their lovely venue. With performance/rehearsal spaces, shared and dedicated work spaces, and community resources, the Center is a hub of activity around new music that amplifies the work of creative musicians and creates space for new ideas.



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