As late summer tilts to early autumn, Mats Edén and Stefan Klaverdal‘s annual growth rings makes a perfect accompaniment. The album speaks of birth and death, of cycles, of letting go. The perspective of trees differs from that of humans: the events of a year, summed up in a single ring, a round diary for those who know how to read it. There is a certain sadness implied in the cover photo: a tree fallen or felled, dissected and examined. Seasons and years are etched into the bark. Late in the set, “mourning a fallen tree” addresses this subject. Listeners may recall a favorite tree from childhood, struck down by lightning, crosscutting or old age.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At the start there is innocence and celebration. Edén (violins) and Klaverdal (computer) create a resonant suite akin to a new forest, filled with promise. The music is familiar, yet unnamable. Snatches of old folk tunes seem to thread through the vibrations of violins, the strings resting in carved wood. Listening is like walking through a canopied wonderland: no danger, only wonder. The artists were inspired by the woods of southern Sweden: roots interwoven with notes.
The tone shifts in “growing branches.” The mood darkens; the volume rises; the processing thickens. Swift plucks are balanced by slow draws of the bow, contrasting the rapidity of human movement with the patience of trees. The ensuing drama is a reminder that we don’t really know what’s going on in the wilderness. As Peter Wohlleben posits in The Hidden Life of Trees, vast root systems may communicate with each other on a deep, mysterious level. As such, the adventurous “following the roots” seems like a conversation between ecosystems. And when Klaverdal begins the next track with dial-up beeps, the indictment is difficult to miss. Recent writing on forest bathing suggests that the “developed” world has lost a vital connection.
The trees don’t care. They go about their lives, growing and shedding, protecting their trunks in cold months and blossoming in warm. Every year, they crack the binding on a new journal. “abscission (falling of leaves)” may seem mournful to our ears, because we have “lost the leaves,” which reminds us of other losses and launches for many a time of seasonal depression. But this is a necessary loss, and this gorgeous piece wraps the listener in auburn and gold.
The finale, “growth of new plants,” reminds us that even a forest fire may clear the path for seeds. In the hands of these artists, an elegy is not an elegy, but the start of another ring. (Richard Allen)