fire break

2 2 2 2 / 2 2 / timp / str [13′] 2020.

Commissioner: The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

Funder: The Genesis Project

Premiere: The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Gemma New, FirstOntario Concert Hall, Hamilton, Canada, March 14, 2020.

Program note:

In the barren landscape of a gigantic reservoir in Oregon, silvery stumps of a dead cedar forest dot the red earth slopes. While I hold a contact microphone to the wood, my friend Darion draws a dusty stick back and forth like a bow across a spindly root. Through my headphones the voice of this long dead tree starts to sing: raucous moans and shudders, like an unhinged saxophone solo.

Over the following weeks, other trees speak to me: booming thuds as I “woodpecker” a fallen old- growth Douglas fir; cascading dry twigs snap and tumble; marimba notes ring as I strike the limbs of an ancient cedar in a lava field; my fingernails scrape hollow whispers from the charred trunk of a burnt lodgepole pine. Since the summer, I keep thinking about those trees — their rich and complicated lives; their deaths from flooding, old age and fire; and the howl of those spruce roots.

fire break is my song for the forests which burned this year, in fires super-charged by climate change.

I am grateful to Carla Bengtson who invited me to the Andrews Forest to be a small part of the two hundred year-long program for scientists and artists, LTER or Long Term Ecological Residency. Thanks to Darion Smith for dancing the sounds in the landscape with me. Thanks to the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra for commissioning this work and to the Genesis Project for funding it.

Video stills: Jessie Rose Vala