That question has Bartholomäus Traubeck given us a fascinating and beautiful answer to. The German artist and inventor has built a record player that can read the inner rings of a tree, more precisely it is using:
"a hacked PlayStation PS eye camera that is attached to the tonearm of the record player. It collects data about the density, shape, thickness and growth of the annual rings of the tree and streams it to a computer. The collected parameters determine the volume, pitch and length of the tone and the computer translates them to the 88 tones of a piano keyboard."
"Years" was originally made as an art installation, but will also be released as a 7 track cd some time in the second half of 2012. More information about the cd can be found here.
bartholomäus traubeck "years" + scratching a tree trunk