The earth has music for those who listen.
― George Santayana
Waking up at literally the crack of dawn, the four of us found ourselves wandering around one of the many beautiful, forested areas on the UBC campus, recording the sound of nature’s silence during this eerily early morning. Looking up at the tall, barren trees, a few Polaroids were snapped. The images instantly developed as blurry and blued, with just a hint of light peeking through a slim section of tall trunks, the sun barely there in the darkened, chilly atmosphere.
This was part of the process in creating an audioscape project with several of my classmates during an undergrad digital art course. We’d later modify our recordings using computer software, and combine them with visuals to produce a new landscape, questioning the relationship between our senses and the environment. We titled our piece “Incidental Occurrences,” a name of which I’m still quite fond.
Looking back, the project wasn’t particularly well-focused, nor eloquently executed. And yet, there was something memorably magical about the collective time we spent recording in the deserted forest at dawn, just listening patiently. It felt as if we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. This, in and of itself, was quite a deep life lesson. Despite the fact that the project didn’t fly as we may have hoped, the process had been worthwhile.
It had been years since I’d thought about that particular experience when I was recently reminded of it while watching a commercial for a smartphone, of all things! Even though the values behind our makeshift, natural soundscape are light-years away from those of a smartphone, the promotional video for the latter rings numerous bells: discovering, creating, and documenting unexpected sound in nature.
However, the Japanese commercial takes the notion of producing one’s own soundscape in nature a great deal further than we did. The team of artists, engineers, and musicians set about constructing a giant xylophone that plays a piece of Bach music when a wooden ball is rolled down it — a veritable masterpiece ensues. Here’s a look at the extraordinary making of this surreal, sonic experience:
Similar to the concept behind Scrap Arts Music — where unique instruments are created with pieces of junk — the Japanese team produces an instrument that has never before existed: using natural wood in combination with the sloping forested landscape, the seemingly never-ending xylophone organically merges with its environment; the two become one and the same, and the treed atmosphere is suddenly illuminated with the gentle sound of Bach.
The amount of dedication required to execute something on this level is mind-boggling. The creative devotion necessary in art is similar to the investment in making a well-designed product — the work is simply not finished until the final piece is perfect.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a peaceful simplicity to this audio-art installation: the inherently whimsical sound of the xylophone is augmented by the serene surrounding natural environment. There is a lightness to it, neatly contrasted with the perfectionist precision demanded to make it happen in the first place. Like dancers who practice their entire lives in order to make a complex lift seem effortless, part of the xylophone’s charm is that it feels so easy, simple, and sweet. The heavy lifting has already been done; our only job as an audience remains to sit back and enjoy the show.
Peacefully simplicity is achieved through dedicated effort — a lesson we can take to heart. Spending our time and energy on something we’re passionate about will always turn out to be prosperous, even if it’s not in the way we first imagined. Such is the nature of life: as we’re on our journey, the path will twist and turn countless times, unexpectedly; the important thing is to stay true to our values and passions, moving forward with authenticity and purposeful intention. It is only then that we, too, will have a chance to hear our own music through the multitude of trees in our forest of life.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more
― George Gordon Byron