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Sonic Garden
Doug Moffat and Steve Bates


Another installation at this year's International Garden Festival at Jardins de Métis/Reford Gardens is Soundfield by Doug Moffat and Steve Bates.

According to the brief, this avant-garden is “an intervention that frames and presents this experience by creating an electronic sound field amidst the poplar trees – building on it, transforming it, and ultimately creating a woven fabric of sound.”

As visitors wander through the site they will become aware of slowly shifting and changing sounds that are familiar but not clearly identifiable – the buzz of insects, perhaps, or white noise from a radio. Five sensors capture changes in wind speed and direction that are then translated into subtle changes in the sounds broadcast through a grid of small speakers and amplifiers that are distributed throughout the site. A conversation develops as the trees whisper back and the electronic sound field changes in response.


But consider, meanwhile, Alex Metcalf's Tree Listening Installation, in which you listen in to the “quiet popping sound that is produced by the water passing through the cells of the Xylem tubes and cavitating as it mixes with air on its way upwards. In the background is a deep rumbling sound that is produced by the tree moving vibrating.”

Alex Metcalf


Consider, as well, Markus Kison's touched echo, a site specific sound installation attached to iron railings on a hill overlooking the city of Dresden. There, the public can hear the recreated aural landscape of Dresden during a nighttime bombing raid in 1945. But to listen in to the sounds of airplanes droning and of sirens wailing and of bombs whistling as they fall to earth and then exploding, you have rest your elbows on the iron railings and cup your hands over ears.

As explained by the artist, the sound “is transmitted from the swinging balustrade through the arm directly into into the inner ear (bone conduction) and cannot be heard by anyone else. Visitors suddenly get an idea of what it must have felt like that night; they travel back in time to this situation. Everyone by dealing with this terrifying event becomes a kind of 'memorial' of it. In their role as a performer they put themselves into the place of the people who shut their ears away from the noise of the explosions.”

Markus Kilson


Combining these two other installations, perhaps one could imagine a re-working of the first so that rather than the recording and listening devices scattered about the place, they are implanted into the trees. And instead of sitting on a bench or just standing there having reconstituted ambient noises blasted at you, there is a more direct, physical engagement: you cup your hands and let elbow and bark touch. Or you press your ear against the trunks to hear the soundtrack.

And yes, you can even hug them, letting the vibrations course through your body — reverberating through your bones and echoing through the chambers of your lungs until they hit an ear drum, much changed and re-sampled by your own body. It's a Forestry and Anatomy mashup.

To hear the sunless interiors of their roots, you'll have to lie down flat on the ground, on your stomach, your ear pressed against the soil.

And who knows, perhaps the sound emanating from the earth and then filtered through a certain body type may sound incredibly like the otherworldly harmonics of Jupiter.

4 COMMENTS —
  • brian t
  • July 2, 2009 at 12:16:00 AM CDT
  • Cliché overload: "intervention", "frames", "experience", "conversation", "site-specific", "engagement". I don't mean to be snarky, but some of these descriptions are so post-whatever that they make the installations sound dated already.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • July 2, 2009 at 12:55:00 AM CDT
  • Ain't snarky. Just classically wearisome.


  • Douglas Moffat
  • July 2, 2009 at 4:44:00 PM CDT
  • Weary or not, it's great to see our project on Pruned.
    Mr. Trevi, you must get up to the Gaspésie sometime and see/hear the Jardins de métis in person...


  • Alexander Trevi
  • July 2, 2009 at 5:03:00 PM CDT
  • Douglas, will try my best trek up there this year and experience all the installations in person myself.

    And just to be clear, it wasn't your project that I was referring to in my comment above, rather to the first comment.


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