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Branching into New Sounds

Air Date: Week of
Diego bows twigs to create tonal sounds. (Photo: Diego Stocco)

Diego Stocco, a sound designer in Burbank, California, discovers the wealth of sounds he can produce by playing a tree.


CURWOOD: Now, Cornell’s Sound Ring is a 9 foot round of walnut wood – and a lot of our music depends on wood: the bodies of guitars and violins, the keys of a marimba, drumsticks and, of course, those clarinets and other woodwinds. Sound designer Diego Stocco decided to go back to the source and play a tree itself, for his project, aptly titled, “Music from a Tree.” All the sounds that you’ll hear come from an old olive tree behind his house in Burbank, California.


STOCCO: We are in the backyard of my house and there is a tree. It’s a regular tree, nothing special, not one of the tree you see in the pictures, you know, that look all perfect – this one looks imperfect, but that’s probably the beauty of it. That’s why I was able to extract so many sounds. So, the beginning of this musical experiment was to create the rhythm first, and to create the rhythm I used a big branch by hitting against the cortex and leaves, so basically it’s like this:


These two green twigs started to grow very fast after the recording of “Music from a Tree.” Diego wonders if playing music on the tree increases circulation and stimulates growth. "I don't know if it's a coincidence, but those are growing exactly from the branch I was hitting at the beginning of the video," he said. (Photo: Diego Stocco)

STOCCO: There is a sound that comes from the cortex when you pluck it.


STOCCO: I tuned the twigs with a pencil sharpener, so the shorter the twig, the higher is the pitch of that note. And then I added the tonal sounds. So, I have in front of me, I don’t know what, at least five different twigs. So, this is one.


STOCCO: Then I have this here for the bass.


STOCCO: And I have another here, which is higher in pitch. I can also play them with two bows, but what I did was trying to organize those sounds into something more meaningful. I mean more musical, I don’t know if it’s more meaningful or not, but more musical.


STOCCO: So this, it doesn’t really sound as a musical piece now, but…


STOCCO: OK. I got it. That groove keeps going and then…


Diego uses a stethoscope-like microphone to amplify the sounds of a tree. (Photo: Diego Stocco)

STOCCO: It might be just an idea, but I was thinking it would be really fantastic to play a forest, not just by myself – imagine like 30 people in the forest selecting different trees, selecting different sounds from those trees; creating a real piece of music not just hitting branches and stuff. Definitely, you cannot bring the forest in the stadium, you know? [LAUGHS] Some people thought that I was, you know, kind of violent with the tree, but it’s not! It’s not! As an additional note, I would like to say that moving the tree is creating vibrations actually makes the circulation better, so the tree is enjoying people making music with it.


STOCCO: And, uh, that’s the idea basically behind music from a tree.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah whittled our audio portrait of Diego Stocco and his musical tree. There are pictures at our website, LOE.org.



Hear more of Diego's compositions

Watch the original music video from Music From a Tree


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