As a forester, Pantha du Prince is attuned to the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. Conference of Trees is a tribute to a seldom publicized phenomenon: the communication of our tall brethren. Their conversations may be slow, as portrayed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents and Swamp Thing‘s Parliament of Trees, but the truth is no mere fantasy. In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben enumerates the many ways in which trees relay information about threats (such as invasive species), inclement weather and other key facets of the ecosystem.
In the beguiling video for “Plus in Tacet,” mysterious creatures wander the woods, walking slowly, blending into their surroundings. One can imagine the bear from Björk’s “Human Behaviour” crashing through the trees. The atmosphere is infused with a sense of reverence; even when the creatures move inside, they touch hands gently, as if careful not to injure. In the words of Chief Seattle, “what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.”
As fun as the video may be, it’s only a glimmer of the whole. The track is buried deep in the album, and may give the impression that Conference of Trees is a collection of dance tracks, when it’s more properly described as a continuous mix, a journey akin to classic Global Underground CDs. The set follows an arc from ambience to dance and back again, taking in elements of tribal religion, most apparent in the trance-like percussion. But it takes a while to arrive that point. For nearly a quarter hour, the album is an exercise in meditation. Soft chimes and cello create a contemplative aura. The artist credits the forest with “opening up the senses, becoming calm, feeling there’s something bigger than yourself.” When light percussion finally enters in the eleventh minute, it sounds like rain.
Even the instruments are in harmony with nature: wood and stones from the woods, joined by Russian singing bells, vibraphone and marimba. Many of these instruments are handmade. Pantha du Prince has collected an incredible international percussion ensemble, who must have been thrilled to greet these new creations. This blissful period is extended across the first quarter of the album; the first electronic beat does not arrive until 20:28. As part of “When We Talk,” the album’s only vocal piece, the voice seems reticent to project, content to fade into the bark and sap. The introversion is a wise choice, preserving the feeling that time has lost its mooring.
The album gradually morphs into a dance section, but even the heart of the mix includes ambient breakdowns. No one is in any hurry. The album becomes the rare “experience” or “journey” that so many artists advertise, but fail to deliver. When the mix finally reaches the lead single, the dance aspects are in full force, more ancient and tribal than club-like or phosphorescent.
The visual conclusion is an image of two worshippers bowing to a large tree, a combination of deep listening and gratitude. This is how it must feel to commune with the wild. Again, Pantha du Prince makes a wise and rare decision, especially in the current age of acceleration: an extended comedown that returns the listener to a state of interactive calm. This passage allows room for reflection: a reset, so to speak, that completes the arc.
When the journey is over, the listener feels calm, balanced, recharged. Conference of Trees is a sonic form of forest bathing. The wild spaces call; will we respond to their invitation? (Richard Allen)