There's a symphony of sound playing this month at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. Composer and sound artist Abby Aresty recorded the natural sounds of the park over the course of a year — including a gurgling pond, a bicycle rolling by on a gravel path, bird song — and then mixed the recordings into seven compositions.
The pieces are played through speakers that have been installed at seven sites around the arboretum. The project is called Paths II: The Music Of Trees.
When she was recording for a piece called "Vine-Covered Cedar," the sound of a lawn mower in the distance went from an annoyance to an integral part of the scene, Aresty tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block.
"I really wanted to record some of the softer sounds, but as I stayed there and listened, the lawn mower began to move away, and it started pouring down rain," she says. "And then a chorus of birds began chirping, and it was this really amazingly musical moment."
Aresty says it's up to each visitor to decide how to listen to the compositions, which play from speakers temporarily installed in the trees and shrubs. In "Vine-Covered Cedar," she recommends listening twice — up close and then a bit farther away.
"The lawn mower part of the piece, I think, works really well at a distance," she says. "When it gets a little bit softer, you start to hear individual rain drops, which I've transformed into these pitched melodies."
Like the lawn mower that initially covered up other sounds, Aresty says interfering noises like a car driving by are an important part of the experience.
"The piece really does transform based on the ambient sounds," she says."[I wanted] to create this bridge between these man-made sounds and these natural sounds. So if a plane flies overhead, it becomes part of the piece — and you may miss part of what I brought to the space, but it's really this dialogue I'm interested in."
Aresty says she hopes her installation will inspire visitors to the arboretum to stop, slow down and listen for a change.
"I feel like so often when we go to the arboretum, we don't really have the time or take the time to stop and listen to some of the softer sounds," she says. "Even the act of bringing a piece — or a series of pieces — like this to the space, I hope, will encourage people to listen a little bit more carefully, even once the pieces are gone."