Paths II: The Music of Trees was a solar-powered sound installation featured on NPR and in the Seattle Times. To find out more about the project, please visit the project website.
Paths II: The Music of Trees is a series of sound installations that explore the layers and permutations of acoustic space in seven sites throughout Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum. Each installation creates a sonic dialogue with its acoustic and physical space. The striking forms of the trees and plants, as well as their relationship to the surrounding environments, provide a unique opportunity for the artistic and physical exploration of sound in space.
In the Arboretum, a number of sound worlds coexist: the delicate whispers of leaves falling to the ground are interrupted by the buzzing of bees in search of nectar. The laughter of children and the scampering of wildlife exist in contrast to traffic from Lake Washington Blvd., and air traffic above. The sounds used in each installation were gathered on-site from this enormous variety of sources and perspectives. Paths II brings these simultaneous yet distinct layers of sound into dialogue with one another.
The Arboretum’s soundscape is dynamic: it varies by precise location and depends on the time of year, day of the week and especially time of day. Whereas the beauty of the trees and plants is apparent at first sight, the nature of the soundscapes at each site is constantly shifting, and is only truly revealed after a period of reflection.
Composing these pieces was first and foremost an experience in silent reflection–of returning to the sites in different seasons, to listen at different times of the day and in different weather. Each visit revealed new elements of the soundscapes and ultimately affected the nature of the pieces composed.
But while I visited the sites regularly over the course of a year, many of the pieces explore only a single sound memory chosen from the hours of recording. The event is captured and re-framed to be part real acoustic memory, and part imaginary soundscape. In writing these pieces, I have been keenly aware that they are ultimately only a single layer of the intricate web of sound in the Arboretum. Rather than existing as independent compositions, they function as a bridge between the blur of daily hearing and the potential for deep listening at each site. The pieces bring attention to the Arboretum’s dynamic soundscape, but also depend on it to bring new life to each listening: as each piece cycles back to the beginning, it is framed in a new context of Arboretum sounds.
The installation is named after the first piece I wrote as a doctoral student at UW. Often, in composing, I find myself following a number of divergent paths before settling on the one that best fits the project. Like its namesake, the process of writing Paths II was one of constant exploration. While ideas transformed over the course of time, many returned or found their way—sometimes unexpectedly—into the final work. The title is significant not only because of its relationship to an earlier work, but also because it describes how I hope people will experience the work–not feeling the need to follow a prescribed order but making their own paths through the piece.
Watch the video (created in collaboration with Martin Jarmick):
Or listen to a twelve-minute collage of the work (includes both the composed pieces and ambient sounds from the Arboretum):