Liza Lim: How Forests Think
How Forests think reflects on the work of anthropologist Eduardo Kohn who writes about forest ecologies as the 'living thought' of human and non-human selves. Each of these selves may have its own subjectivity, creating the world with its own registers of knowledge, sensation and meaning. These selves organize into communities: in ancient forests, a stump may be kept alive for centuries by the surrounding trees through underground fungal networks that nourish the old connections and keep a song going. One might think of a forest as a choir or certainly as an ensemble. Stories, dreams and thoughts inhabit multiple forms in a living matrix; they ask us to look beyond our limited human gaze and limited human time-span.
How Forests think is music made from assemblages of instruments whose qualities are like tendrils looking for places on which to clasp and entangle themselves. Its forms are emergent, like plants growing toward light and water; like mycelial strands entwining with tree roots in a co-evolving internet of plant-life. The music emerges out of criss-crossing conversations patterned like roots, vines, fungal networks; or like airborne, insect and animal-borne cross-pollinations (the breath, the buzz, the scratch, the love songs), where one thing looks for best fit with another.
The Chinese sheng is an instrument with a 4,000-year old lineage, and Wu Wei has been instrumental in developing the 37-pipe sheng for contemporary music. The cluster of bamboo tubes is activated by the musician's breath vibrating internal reeds, making flutters traditionally associated with the mythical phoenix that rises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. There is something intensely organic in how the interactions between breath and reed and bamboo pipe create a flowering of sound that may not be completely predictable - one hears a trace of the wind in the forest. Neither the wind nor any weather, nor growing things can be completely controlled, contained or resisted - there is a tempest of forces that dwells in the forest. That tempest is also a song in us. —Liza Lim