An Audience with the Trees

2005

Sound installation for a woodland environment

An Audience with the Trees (2005) is a sound installation for a woodland environment. It presents a ‘performance’ of my 2003 concerto for violin and strings, Vivaldi’s Menagerie, which itself reworks melodic material from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. An Audience with the Trees takes six audio samples of birdsong, recorded in rural Oxford, and uses them to recreate a performance of each instrumental part from Vivaldi’s Menagerie (solo violin, first violin, second violin, viola, cello, double bass), using a unique bird call for each part. Each electronic ‘bird’ therefore gives a ‘performance’ of one of the individual parts of the violin concerto.

The sound installation thus ‘reverses’ a process of representation that underwrites live performances of Vivaldi’s famous concertos. Instead of string players imitating the songs of birds in order to create a musical performance, visitors walking past the birdboxes on the trees hear an avian ensemble ‘performing’ a work of mine from 2003. An Audience with the Trees ‘returns’ Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to nature in an attempt to resolve its mimetic aspirations. After all, why make a violin sound like a bird? The perceptual game is one of sorting natural birdsong from synthetic birdsong that aspires to a performance of a musical work.

An Audience with the Trees was originally designed for the woodland environment of Addison’s Walk in the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford and first installed there on May Morning, 2005 to coincide with the 6am singing of Magalen College Choir atop Magdalen’s Great Tower. The work was subsequently installed in the courtyard of Said Business School, Oxford in 2007 produced by Oxford Contemporary Music.

Footage from the Said Business School installation (2007)