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ways of knowing

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Tree Feelers

For the initial sound experiments with trees, we used our hands to touch the trees in various ways in order to create sound from this interspecies contact. However, we thought that integrating materials from the land around the trees, as touch interfaces, may be an idea worth exploring and offer more nuanced interspecies sounds. For this research stage, we explored land-based practices and indigenous ways of knowing, led by Lara Felsing, artist and ECU grad student. Lara developed a set of ‘tree feelers’ based on drum mallets, rutes, and brushes and bows for string instruments, handmade with local plant-based materials. The tree feelers help us listen to the sounds of trees, and the material character of the plant life participating in the project.
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Some of the Tree Feelers created for Branching Songs

Traditionally, mallets, rutes and brushes are used by percussionists to activate instruments such as drums, vibes, bells, etc. Mallets can have a soft or hard head which will produce a diffused or hard sound when used to strike an instrument. Rutes are like drumsticks but made with a bundle of small dowels or sticks at the end which achieve a softer or more diffused sound than a drumstick. Brushes are used to create a shimmering type of sound. Bows are usually used with stringed instruments and allow the musician to create a continuous sound. 
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Lara showing some of the Tree Feelers

Lara used these models to create a set of Branching Songs tree feelers, custom made to suit our performances with trees. She used ‘cast-offs’, such as small branches on the forest floor, found in the upcoming performance locations. Some of the tree feelers have cedar branch tips that act as brushes, or have stones on the end that act as a hard mallet. Tree feeler bows are made with feathers found on site — we found raven, eagle or hawk feathers are best — made by joining the two ends of the arc of a curved branch. They produce a wonderfully soft continuous sound when played along a ribbon with a contact mic underneath.

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Julie using a mallet Tree Feeler and feather bow

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The feather bow being used on a Ribbon holding a contact mic

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