Dunn's 1990 composition of underwater pond insects, Chaos and the Emergent Mind of the Pond, became a classic in the field, excerpted widely on compilations and remaining in demand to this day as part of the CD Angels and Insects (OO Discs). Now, almost twenty years later, Dunn’s research into the acoustic behaviors of bark beetles in our native Northern New Mexico has produced a stunning new CD-length work that opens ears to the wonderfully complex acoustic ecology of pinyon (piñon) pines.
[See link to left to access David Dunn's extended liner notes for this album, especially if you are purchasing the MP3 version.]
The Sound of Light in Trees had a dual genesis. The first was creative. For the past several years, David Dunn has been developing innovative, low-cost microphones for use in recording sounds that are normally out of reach of human hearing: probe mics for use in small spaces (like the holes made in trees by beetles), mics to record infrasonic (low frequency) sounds in prairie dog villages, and a revolutionary omni-directional ultrasonic mic that has led to many long nights listening to bats, as well as an increasing catalog of unidentified high-frequency sounds both in the wild and in urban settings. His writing and recording has taken a turn toward encouraging an appreciation of the vast spectrum of sounds in our world that are outside of our normal human experience; intimately related to this is Dunn’s call to listen closely to the voices of our planet in these times of dire environmental stress.
This led to the second genesis of the new CD, the use of acoustics in ecology research. In the forests of the west, diverse members of the bark beetle family are devastating pine species on local and regional scales. The fierce southern California fires of 2004 and Arizona fires of 2005 roared through beetle-killed stands of white and ponderosa pine, respectively; in northern New Mexico, a tiny bark beetle species, Ips confuses, has, in many areas, killed 50-100% of the core pine tree of the Rocky Mountain foothills, the piñon pine (referred to in the scientific literature in its Americanized spelling, pinyon). In an effort to better predict where outbreaks would be the most intense, regional foresters turned to Dunn. As one of several monitoring methods being tested, Dunn went into the field and used his new recording techniques to try to find areas of increased beetle activity. As it turned out, his recordings were often able to identify population booms before pheromone traps, the previously accepted best method. But in addition to simply finding what trees had active bark beetle populations, Dunn found himself captivated by the variety of sounds being made by the little invaders. As he explains in the extensive liner notes (and as explicated in more detail on the associated online material), bark beetles have a complex acoustic repertoire, one that deserves further scrutiny by bark beetle biologists and forest ecologists.
Thus The Sound of Light in Trees serves a dual purpose: it offers a first glimpse of an innovative approach to studying the biology of trees and insects, while also being a compelling listening experience, yet another landmark in Dunn’s long career as a contemporary composer and innovative soundscape designer. It is a clear expression of Dunn’s vision of art and science engaging in a mutually fruitful dialogue.
In keeping with this project’s contributions to the study of the role of acoustics in understanding larger patterns of interaction and co-evolution, the CD is being released in collaboration with The Acoustic Ecology Institute, which will receive 100% of the proceeds of all sales of the disc. AEI is a resource and information center focusing on sound-related environmental issues and academic research. Its website, AcousticEcology.org, offers science coverage, special reports, a news digest, and comprehensive resource directories of research institutions, non-profit organizations, and conferences addressing topics related to acoustic ecology.