Soundtrack for a Soniferous Forest

Conifers, in my humble opinion, is about transformation. Transformation from the inanimate to the animate. In its fullest realization, Conifers is a "total art" experience: a room full of 25 wooden organ pipes standing upside down and at odd angles, planted in bases of concrete polymer. Some of them hide speakers and some of them hide nothing. Scattered about their "roots" are circuit boards and other electronic sundries. In the corners of the room are "ferns" of crumpled paper and wire. It is a forest full of unknown promise, beckoning to Hansel & Gretel in us. But nothing in this particular Black Forest is natural. Nothing is animate. Like this flat, little box of plastic, paper and ink you hold in your hand, Conifers is a self contained universe. All the elements are controlled, computerized.

Except one.

You. You are the catalyst for transformation. "Real" conifers don't need you. They're perfectly happy swaying, dipping, or shedding on their own time. If one falls in the forest, it doesn't need you to hear it. The rest of the forest responds to the sound in beautifully appropriate ways. But the man-made creation that is Conifers (with a capital "C") does need you. If you're experiencing the installation in person, it needs your reaction and responses to give breath and life to 25 tall, skinny boxes, eighteen of which are emitting music. If your experience is limited to just this recording—a stereophonic representation of the audio portion of an octodecaphonic work of art—it requires you to walk in a more personal space.

The problem is that this space is rather chaotic. It is whimsical and seemingly structureless. But then so is a hillside full of trees. Yet one can't escape the sense that there is some grand design, the limits of which are just beyond the scope of our perception, behind it all. Similarly, there is a complex program of "if-then" statements governing every pitch, every timbre, every duration, every event in this piece-without-end, but in the final analysis, such technological motivation is irrelevant. One needs not know the chemistry of the sun in order to appreciate its warmth. The thing about chaos is that unless it is embraced in all its messy glory, it is unfathomable. But if it is allowed to just happen, it is wonderfully simple.

Do not, however, relegate this recording to function as a mere reminder of the installation. This is not a soundtrack—at least not in the mundane sense of the word. From the days of silent film, directors of limited vision saw music as no more than incidental accompaniment. Today, the descendents of these myopic filmmakers see soundtracks as convenient ways to recoup the money they lost on the project. No. Look instead to Eisentein, who, in 1925, said of Edmund Meisel's score for "The Battleship Potemkin ". . the music... could not remain a mere background or accessory. It had to become .. one with the rhythms and textures and feelings of the piclure.. the effect is raw, intuitive and elemental." Indeed.

Here is raw headspace, intuitive movements of sound, and elemental harmonies. An experience unto itself that calls for a dedicated lack of focus—a directionless stroll through our own inner forests. We are taught in school that daydreaming is unproductive. But this is true only in situations that require constant focus. A bit of non-focus is important once and awhile too. It allows the mind to be receptive to everything from limitless creativity to nothingness—both equally valuable, and both as dependent upon each other as night and day. Without said mind, Conifers remains wood, concrete and electricity; this CD remains plastic, paper and ink. With said mind haplessly, inactively engaged, both art and music are transtormed into something much more than the sum of its parts. But the real magic of transformation happens in reverse. If you let it, such an interaction with the forces of art just might animate some inanimate quarter inside of you as well.

Jamie Allen is a writer, educator, and composer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico; where he also serves as music editor for THE Magazine.

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