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.
Hear more of Diego's compositions
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
NewsletterLiving on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Creating positive outcomes for future generations.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth