Notes for "The Trees Sing to Mark"


Mark Karrer ( is a freelance photographer and mycologist I met when goat packing in the Snowy Range, Wyoming several years ago.  To my great fortune, we became friends.  I have been the recipient of many photographs and mushrooms, but recently he sent me something very special--the sounds of trees rubbing and knocking against each other.      These pieces are all created solely from those sounds, which are the first track.  

The cover photo, by the way, is an oil painting of a set of huge pine trees located in the Rock Creek camping site we always went to, which Mom completed during a rainstorm.   Those 300+ year old trees welcomed us, starting when we first went there, probably around 1965 or so, until 1985, when they were cut down as part of a clear cutting done in that enchanting spot.  Eventually a forest grew back on that mountainside, but these trees, of course, did not resprout.  Mark actually recorded sounds from his trees in Iowa, which are likely not big pines…  

Original Tree Sounds

These are the original sounds that Mark sent to me, which he recorded from his phone.  There are the two rubbing squeals, which produced the tonal qualities, and then the variety of knocks.

1. Rings

Each of the three instruments was designed in the program Palindrome, which takes several different patterns of a sound and waves back and forth among them.  The first instrument was based on the rubbing sound and used the sound effect program Physion fx “J Bowed Glass,” which can separate the attack from the tone.  In this case it allowed for some overtones to shine out, which are the higher pitches heard in the beginning.  Near the end, the Cableguys Filtershaper “Underwater” was mixed in to give that final bubbly effect.  

The second instrument was a copy of the first, but sent through to HALion so it could get different pitches.  It used the same fx, but a deeper reverb.  The first two instruments get a bit more advanced processing with their tones from the beginning to the end of the piece.

The final instrument, the branch crunches, was also designed with Palindrome, using the program to bounce between the various cracks and knocks.  It uses the PhoenixVerb for a much closer, tighter reverb. 

  1. Roots

There are four instruments used here, again, all created from the original tree sounds:  The chuff drum sound with the delay is the foundation, developed from HALion, with the Soundtoys PhaseMistress effect.  The other tracks come from those sounds developed in Padshop and Soundtoys fx.  I had some bit of trouble controlling those sounds, in that I wanted subtle sounds, but they were being created by a constantly shifting low frequency oscillator, which meant that occasionally I got a louder bloop of sound.  Additionally, each time I recorded it, the oscillator would be in a different phase, creating a slightly different sound. 

This was actually the last of the four I wrote.   

  1. Leaves

To get more control over the subtleties of the main melody phrasing, I used the Hornberg breath controller.  The middle warbles are the tree sounds processed from the Padshop program, which produced a nice arpeggio with one keystroke.  The knocks are processed with HALion.  The fx processing:

Melody (Padshop “Mark higher tone”):  Cableguys FilterShaper3, “Space bird softer J” produced the little zips heard embedded in the melody.  Cableguys PanCake 2 “J little r l” gave the slight panning.  I added the “J Slowin Down” from Soundtoys Tremolator for the final tone color.  The reverb is “J barely anything” from Soundtoys Crystallizer.

Middle warbly part (Padshop “Mark 4 trim 2 ARP”):  Used the Steinberg Stereoenhancer, “J Mastering - Light Spread expanded” for more presence.  The Cableguys FilterShaper 3 “Panning Sweeper” designed by The Unshushable processed the filtering; and the Steinberg REVelation “Complex Echos Warm” gave the big reverb.

Knocking (HALion “Mark Single knock”):  Used Physion “J hollow green cuts” for filtering and tone, and Cableguys Shaperbox pan, “J Car rev high low” for panning.  Steinberg’s REVerence “Japanese Concert Hall” was the reverb.

  1. Bark

There are only two tracks here, both from the instrument designed on Padshop from one of the tree knocks , “Mark knock mod wheel.”  The modulation wheel controlled the formant, which produced the higher and lower and resonance differences.  The first track is the basic “drum” sound throughout, controlled by whipping around on the keys with the instrument on the arpeggio setting.  The other track, the high cow-bell like sounds (still produced from that original tree knocking sound!) are quick key strikes in the higher range.  

I’d been trying for days to write a wild rhythmic piece, meticulously writing in each separate note, quantizing the line, then speeding it up, then adding another line….  No good.  Putting the instrument on the arpeggio setting solved all that immediately.  Ah!