Composer’s notes on TreeSong

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Ahead of the world premiere of William Goodchild’s TreeSong, an 18 minute, 3 movement work based on the audio recorded at the tree in early October, here is the composer’s note about the piece. The concert takes place in St George’s Bristol on Sunday at 4pm:

“Inspiration and source material for this work came from the TreeSong installation on Durdham Downs at the beginning of October, in which movements of and within a beech tree were translated into electronic sounds and simultaneously broadcast, across a period of four days. The sounds generated by the tree were recorded and a selection of these was passed on to me, after the installation had finished.

The tones I heard when visiting the installation, and later received as audio files, were extraordinary, from sustained and slowly evolving pitches to gong-like effects, to unpredictable gritty percussive hits and rasping melodies. It was a remarkable and varied sound world, archaic, mysterious and quite new to my ears.

The first stage was to choose and organise the electronic materials into a shape that would become the basis for the work you are hearing today. What eventually evolved was a three-movement piece for a chamber orchestra consisting of Flute/ Alto Flute, Oboe, Clarinet/ Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, French Horn, Percussion (Tubular Bells, Suspended Cymbal, Tam-Tam, and Bass Drum), Harp and Strings, and Electronics, from the tree installation.

The first movement, Canopy, has an ethereal quality. We explore the upper reaches of the tree and the delicate and intricate movements of leaves and branches in relation to the elements of sunlight, breeze and wind. Insects, birds and small mammals moving in and around the tree can be imagined.

Movement two, Roots, explores a dark and unfamiliar underworld. We can imagine the tree’s strong and unseen foundation penetrating earth and wrapping around rock. This movement explores dark sonorities and intense dissonances leading to a powerful and unforgiving climax.

The final movement, Tree of Life, is a lyrical and rhythmic celebration of the tree. During the first two movements, elements of a traditional folk song melody are seeded (excuse the pun!). In movement 3, embedded in the texture, we eventually hear the folksong, The Trees They Do Grow High, played complete. I wanted TreeSong to connect musically with something historic and lasting. This beautiful tune, with its hint of joy and melancholy, does just that.

In the piece’s introduction, during Canopy, and between Roots and Tree of Life, you will hear some of the electronics captured at the tree. These form a necessary ingredient that connects the work with its origin and inspiration, the beech tree on Durdham Downs.”