Branching into New Sounds
Air Date: Week of January 9, 2015
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.
[BACKGROUND SOUNDS OF THE CITY]
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:
[SHAKING BRANCHES; TAPPING SOUND ON TREE]
STOCCO: There is a sound that comes from the cortex when you pluck it.
[SOFT, HOLLOW SOUND]
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.
[HIGH PITCH, SQUEAKY SOUND]
STOCCO: Then I have this here for the bass.
[LOWER PITCH, VIOLIN-LIKE SOUND]
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.
[TREE AND TWIGS BEING PLAYED TOGETHER]
STOCCO: So this, it doesn’t really sound as a musical piece now, but…
[MORE SYNCHRONIZED, RHYTHMIC MUSIC]
STOCCO: OK. I got it. That groove keeps going and then…
[BASS SOUNDS FROM TWIGS ADDED]
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.
[MUSIC CONTINUES THEN STOPS]
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.
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