Blog Post 1
June 17 2021

We began with Tree #1 from the tree project, ‘wind in late summer trees’ recorded by Duncan Chapman.

First off my son said it sounded “scary, like a ghost” which was an interesting response that was completely the opposite of my daughter’s more positive reaction. It was interesting how he changed his response to it being like “a happy, sunny day’ once I reminded him it was a tree.

We all thought the recording of the leaves in the wind, rising and falling in intensity, sounded like waves breaking on a pebbly beach. Later we happened to be visiting the seaside and as we walked down to the beach through a wooded glen, we climbed trees, tried to hear the sea and separate out the sounds of the waves from the sound of the wind and the leaves. We talked about their similarities and differences. “Both go loud and quiet” “The sea is more bubbly”.

When we got home we read the notes on Tree #1 and discussed how it was the irregular shape of the leaves that created the distinctive sound. We had collected a variety of interestingly shaped pebbles which were a visual clue to why they created a similar sound when the waves hit them.

The connections with waves was an interesting link to what we had discussed previously about perception of sonic frequencies. We then started talking about the shape of a wave and sound being represented by waveforms. We talked about what we thought different parts of the wave would sound like and why, discussing how high and low are physical descriptions that we apply to this intangible thing called sound. We played notes on the piano and discussed pitch in relation to position on the keyboard. From here I played up and down the octaves on a midi keyboard until the sound was either too low to hear or too high for comfort. On my computer we looked at a waveform analysis of the sounds that we were playing and compared it with white noise, which was “Sooo spiky!” (There are plenty of good videos online that talk about pitch, frequency and how sound works…. https://youtu.be/3-xKZKxXuu0)

This was a really useful starting point for discussing how sound can be represented visually in waveforms, musical notation and in art. We decided we would do some drawings when we listen to other tree recordings. At that point my son pointed at the school logo on his school uniform and said “ Look, there’s a tree on it because trees are educational”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Prologue

When I was told about the tree project I immediately got excited and jumped to a lot of associations between trees and sound. Ahead of hearing the clips I had already made a long list of points about the sound of trees, what they represent to us as images and the connections that exist between trees, us, our ears, brains and minds.

I thought it would be interesting to log these points and then compare them after hearing the clips. In this vein I also thought it would be good to take each clip one at a time in order to respond to each clip more freely without dwelling on it too much in advance.

I make music and podcasts so sound is a familiar medium for me and I probably pick up on associations with sound more readily but I was interested to hear what my daughter and son, aged 9 and 6 respectively, would think of when I mentioned sound recordings of trees.

At school my son has started practicing meditating at the end of the day, so when I explained how we were going to focus on the sound of trees, he saw it as a meditative process. We talked together about how a tree works well as an aid to meditation. The relaxing sound of leaves in the wind is a nice, simple starting point that led on to how focussing on our breathing can allow our mind to rest. I thought this was a really interesting point where the conversation could either lead into more psychological and spiritual territories or remain with discussions about the physical realm, such as trees producing oxygen.

My daughter who is several years older was better equipped to discuss how bringing to mind the root system of a tree as well as its aboveground network of branches, could be a powerful image for jumping into a conversations about the concept of the conscious and subconscious mind.

This metaphor is a good starting point to discuss how the world is full of things that surround us on a daily basis but which cannot see, hear, touch or smell. The mind is a good example of this but also – bringing this thought process all the way back round to sound – so are subsonic and ultrasonic frequencies.

I find this a really fascinating idea to consider, especially in terms of how we can discuss this with children. I know from experience that many adults struggle with this kind of thinking and I suspect that actually children have a greater capacity to understand this than we might presume. A tree in this instance is a powerful metaphor, and it provides the basis of a conversation that will only be strengthened when we listen to a minute of tree sounds.