This recording is a result of embedding two contact microphones into either side of a tree trunk as the tree is cut down.
carving from allée pin oaks with an angle grinder, 2017. processual material encounter with the temporal archive of the tree.
The goal of this project is to attempt to disorder the cultural archive of the tree with an experiential practice that engages with one tree—and perhaps collapses, ever so slightly, the remove between us. I use an angle grinder to make a hollow in the living material of a pin oak in the campus allée that would shortly be felled. The operation is grounded in experimental veins of cultural geography and archaeology that use performative landscape practices, specifically those involving movement and feel, to foreground the body in the revelation of the human and nonhuman world. The embodiment of the process makes for a lived experience of the material chronology of a tree, its otherness/closeness, and the tightly interlocked grains and folds of its matter—haptic exchanges mediated by a tool across time. The outcome is a kind of intimacy with a tree. The resultant concavity of its substance is a subtly-evolving processual artifact, and an accompanying essay a translation of the practice.
The tree quartet imagines four trees roughly situated at four corners of a piece of the allee as receivers, transmitters, conduits for sound. The trees listen, they perform, they are performed by people, wind, birds. Each tree is equipped with a contact microphone and a guitar amplifier situated to create a space which gathers the four trees and begins to depict the soundscape of the trees as individual attentive bodies and the allee as a collective array of antennae. (recording by Jesse Vogler)
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earthbound root?
—William Shakespeare, Macbeth IV.1.95-96
[WS means here impress, as to conscript or press into service…]
Hacking into the final weekly
GAC happy hour to congregate
around this tree and sample beers
brewed with oak elements.
The second iteration of our root/tree enclosure has been in place for several weeks and has seen more use than the first. Perhaps this is due to the increasingly warmer and sunnier spring weather? Perhaps it has something also to do with the configuration of the enclosure itself? A series of drawings for each iteration of the enclosure provides further opportunities to consider what it means to create an interior and exterior space, what it means to position ourselves in relationship to the tree. Critical to this analysis is the point of view of the drawing. Four drawings for each enclosure were made, all done in parallel (isometric) projection, however the most compelling point of view in my mind, was the worm’s eye view.
This point of view seems appropriate for the enclosures because it positions the observer looking upward into the tree, as you would be if you were seated in the enclosure itself. It also strengthens, lengthens and underscores the tree and the enclosure, and their presence, while humbling the viewer. The worm’s eye view offers a sensation of being embedded within the earth looking through transparent soil to the tree and the enclosure above. Perhaps root’s eye view is more appropriate for the context of our studio? At least one more set of drawings to add to the current two would make a more complete series, so I am thinking about the next iteration of our enclosure project and what that might look like…
Another set of tests with listening to the trees today, this time using simpler microphones – two 27mm piezo discs (acoustic pickups). The simplicity of their design offers other possibilities for connecting them to the trees. I tried two different configurations today; slotting them into spaces between the bark, and adhering them to a branch with two-sided tape. Having two of these microphones also allowed for recording in “stereo.” I inserted the microphones into the tree one on either side of one of our boreholes and began speaking into, blowing into, and prodding the borehole. (it’s best to listen to these files with headphones)
I also tried adhering the microphones to two locations on one low-hanging branch. The left channel (ear) microphone was placed closest to the trunk and the right channel (ear) microphone was placed further out along the branch. I then began repeatedly bending the branch.
The second recording marks a significant step in the tree listening experiments. Rather than generating a sound with an external device and recording that sound as it travels through the tree, the recording of the branch bending is the sound of the tree itself as it responds to an external stress. The result is much richer and the difference in location of the microphones is audibly detected. There is evidence to suggest that smaller plants (and perhaps trees?) produce an immediate electrical response when subjected to stresses such as having a leaf torn, or having stems shaken. If this holds for our oak trees, capturing that electrical variation and feeding it through audible output (vocoder, MIDI controller) might be one way to give a voice to the trees.
Twenty Tree Core Samples taken from the every tree of the inner Brookings Allée. Tree core samples reveal the inherent capacity of tree structure to archive its own history.