Band of Weeds, consisting of Olli Aarni, Lauri Ainala, Kalle Hamm and Hermanni Keko, create sound art primarily using plants. They convert variation in the electrical conductivity of plants into sounds. Their works have been presented in exhibitions and they also perform live together.
The Weep of Trees is a four-channel work of sound art by the Band of Weeds based on the poem on a weeping birch tree in the Kalevala epic. In the poem, Väinämöinen listens to the lament of the birch about how people treat it badly.
Answer made the leaning birch-tree,
And the green-leaved tree responded:
“There is much that I could speak of,
Many things I might reflect on,
How I best might live in pleasure,
And I might rejoice for pleasure.
I am wretched in my sorrow,
And can but rejoice in trouble,
Living with my life o’erclouded,
And lamenting in my sorrow.
“Often unto me defenceless
Oft to me, unhappy creature,
In the short spring come the children,
Quickly to the spot they hurry,
And with sharpened knives they score me,
Draw my sap from out my body,
And in summer wicked herdsmen,
Strip from me my white bark-girdle,
Cups and plates therefrom constructing,
Baskets too, for holding berries.”
At the end of the canto, Väinämöinen fells the birch and turns it into a kantele for himself.
When the aged Väinämöinen
Thus upon his harp was playing,
Fine his hands, his fingers tender,
And his fingers curving outwards,
Then rang out the wood so speckled,
Sang the sapling green full loudly,
Loudly called the golden cuckoo,
And rejoiced the hair of maiden.
Thus played Väinämöinen's fingers,
And the harp-strings loud resounded,
Mountains shook and plains resounded,
All the rocky hills resounded,
In the waves the stones were rocking,
In the water moved the gravel,
And the pine-trees were rejoicing,
On the heath the stumps were skipping.
The poem is among the about 3% of the Kalevala written by Elias Lönnrot himself, who compiled the rest from Finnish folklore. While editing the Oulun Wiikko-Sanomat newspaper in 1852 and 1853, Lönnrot wrote several articles expressing his opinion on how his contemporaries treated Finnish forests and trees.
He described Finns as the enemies of forests, with young boys amusing themselves by making marks on trees with their axes. He blamed workers, travellers and shepherds for causing forest fires with their carelessness and said that trees were felled for timber so that their tops were left to rot, thus smothering growth.
The Weep of Trees is a modern version of Lönnrot’s poem. Whereas in the old version Väinämöinen fells a birch to make a kantele, in the new one the tree need not be felled to be turned into a musical instrument. By using modern technology, the responses of the tree can be measured, and the data obtained can be converted into sounds audible to the human ear.
The Weep of Trees uses the measuring results obtained in the SMEAR II forest at Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station from the period when the 60-year-old* commercial forest was thinned. The work employs monitoring data on the stress responses of the trees left standing and the secretion of VOCs** before and after the thinning. Additionally, the work uses sonifications of variation in the electrical conductivity of liquids flowing in the area’s trees as well as the drumming sound made by a Eurasian three-toed woodpecker against a tree trunk.
The final version of the work consists of a computer program that produces a constantly changing soundscape from data fed into an algorithm. This work of sound art can be listened to at the forestry field station in the thinned forest behind the 100-year-old Pilvilinna log building.
Recordings: Olli Aarni, Kalle Hamm
Measuring and monitoring data: SMEAR II station, University of Helsinki Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research
Sound post-production: Olli Aarni, Lauri Ainala, Hermanni Keko
Sound art programming: Hermanni Keko
Electrical installations: Heikki Laakso
Log-plinth carving and construction: Andrei Baharev
Fittings: Juha Laine
Birch blocks: Tapio Taipale
Finishing and landscaping: Valpuri Talvitie
*The measurements were completed in 2021.[KE1]
**VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.
You can read W.F. Kirby’s English translation of the poem in full here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33089/33089-h/33089-h.htm#Runo_XLIV_Vainamoinens_New_Kantele.