Forests: A Book of Hours
January 6, 1999
Forests: A Book of Hours is a journey, in sound and music, through some of the tropical forests I have had the opportunity to visit and work in over the past decade, including parts of Madagascar, Kenya and Brazil. These are enchanted places: not wistful projections of a Paradise Lost but living and breathing communities of plants, animals and people. They are imbued with a worldly mystery of their own unique place in an infinite universe. Many of these habitats are endangered and disappearing. Despite the ‘progress’ of civilization, we face a catastrophic loss of life on earth: a march of folly which will be unforgivable in the eyes and ears of those who follow us. It is hard to know what to do or how to respond meanfully, for the environmental crisis is also a crisis of cultural values––a moral, spiritual and aesthetic lassitude. In the most profound capacity, music and listening afford us an opportunity to be mindful, to be present in the lives we are living. If nothing else, this is a beginning from which change is possible.
Forests: A Book of Hours is also a personal meditation and a work of fiction. I am not attempting to document the natural soundscape, as an objective endeavor. There are traces of documentary evidence in the field recordings, which are otherwise a subjective and musical representation. The transformations of ‘natural sound’ and ‘music’ are the shifting perspectives of a figure in the soundscape: listening and sounding, apart and a part. These are my songlines: geographies of mind and spirit. As a composer, I am interested in sonic pattern in a broad sense: the morphic resonance, as it were, of the soundscape. The term is borrowed from Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist and philosopher, who is interested in habit and the persistence of memory as inherent aspects of nature. In thinking about his ideas, I have often been struck by not only by the particular and unique acoustic features of a place, but also by the similarities that exist in the sounds of species half a world away. I refer to this relationship of like sounds as acoustifractal––referring to scalable sound and morphological similarity in a soundscape. For example, the early morning contact call of black and white colobus monkeys from dormitory trees in East Africa has a corresponding sound and voice in howler monkeys, whose roaring can be heard through the rainforest canopy of the Amazon. The same is true for the barking, hocket-like calls of a pair of Amazon barred-forest falcons and the similar sounds of fruit bats from Southern Madagascar. These are a few of the many species are represented on this recording.
Finally, Forests: A Book of Hours is a mythical conjuring of place, through intuitive response and memory––a recalling of personal experiences and the collective memory of sounds with myriad voices. As a journey in time, the composition encompasses the hours of a day, from pre-dawn into night. The sections are titled after the Benedictine horarium, the Book of Hours, describing periods of prayer and meditation that mark the passage of a day. Within this structure, there are overlapping and intersecting sound fields, corresponding to different spaces and places, both real and imagined. These include fragments of unadulterated and unedited field recordings, processed soundscapes, electroacoustic instruments, human voice and hybridized sounds that comprise both living voices and electronically generated timbres. I am reminded that we ‘play’ music and I consider these musical materials as playful constructions and deconstructions, created to efface the boundaries between what is perceived of as ‘real’ and that which is musically manufactured. Only the mind knows such distinctions; the ear and the heart do not.