Thursday, September 3, 2009

Out Today: Q&A with Tree Listener Alex Metcalf

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound? British artist Alex Metcalf thinks so—even if the timber never falls in the first place. Metcalf, you see, has become famous for attaching headphones to hardwoods, allowing humans to hear the sounds that trees make every day. Today the National Post published a condensed chat I had with Metcalf about his work, which is showing at Oakville Galleries to November 1. Right now, the article is print-only; here's an excerpt:

Q What on earth possessed you to attach headphones to trees?

A When I was studying at the Royal College of Art in London, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to listen to trees?” And since I couldn’t find a device that could do that, I designed one that did.

The listening sensor I designed looked like an old-fashioned silver hearing trumpet. Essentially, it was a contact microphone. And at first, it was only for me to use. It wasn’t until I heard the sound of the trees myself and realized it was so rich and interesting that I thought others might like to listen in as well.

So for my final show at the college, I implemented the headphones, which provide recordings of the tree they’re attached to—unfortunately, the sensor is too delicate for extended live use. Thousands of people came through. Since then, I’ve been doing the project in gardens, arboretums and galleries worldwide.

Image of the Alex Metcalfe's Tree Listening Installation at Oakville Galleries by Kristina Trogrlic

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