Regularly, I find myself yearning to be out in the woods. Whether it’s the stereotypical “call of the wild” or a deeply poetic passion for the natural, being among the trees has always been a rather important form of respite for me. It’s a place where sitting on a mossy stump doing nothing in particular is a productive action. Over the years, this urge has only gotten more potent. I started to convince myself that trail-running is the only form of exercise I actually enjoy. I really began to appreciate the tiny nuances, one being the interaction between the trees. I would notice the way the wind brushes the leaves and envision the trees communicating in some discreet waving pattern, like flag signals. In a way, I started to see the woods as a connected group. And if Conference of Trees is any indication, it appears as though German composer Pantha Du Prince may share my belief that nature holds a collective power.
Conference of Trees finds Pantha Du Prince continuing down the path of using more organic instrumentation, but perhaps with more intention and effectiveness than ever before. The project starts out with the soft hums of wood chimes and low groaning strings (reminiscent of Stars of the Lid), setting up the earthen mood and atmosphere for the rest of the album. Over time, wooden percussion hits appear, slowly progressing with more aggression and rhythm. All of this evokes imagery of the album’s namesake. Roughly the first 40 minutes of the album run together so unimpeded that it could easily be mistaken for a single track. On its own, it could be considered ambient; in context with the whole album, it acts as the pregame to the party that is the second half.
The album progresses by taking on a more direct tone. Songs become more beat driven and dance inspired. For many, this may feel like a bit of a departure from the way the album starts, but fluidity is one of Conference of Trees’s greatest assets — it never feels abrupt. Pantha wants to look at nature both organically and synthetically, yet impressively neither aspect feels all that forced. He walks the line between the two with deft precision. As a result, the reverie of trees conversing is never broken. If anything, the album depicts how the interaction of the trees changes over time. It starts out subtly and then gets more prominent until it dominates the forest, only to fade away into the background. Conference of Trees acts in the same way as nature: a cycle.
When I listen to this album, I can’t help but think of a forest in Utah called Pando. Walking through, it would seem like a simple amber aspen grove. Beneath the surface is where it gets interesting. The forest itself is actually just one tree, connected underground by a network of fungal roots. The woods itself becomes a single organism, able to send a message from one trunk to another even several acres away. It’s relieving to look at nature in such a way. We’re living in a world now where urban life and proximity to one another can no longer be comforting nor provide any security. Taking solace under a lonely pine or in a boysenberry thicket is beginning to look more like a necessity rather than a privilege. Unknowingly, Conference of Trees acts as a strong proponent of social distancing and therefore a fairly essential listen in these trying times. Trees are probably the safest thing to hug at the moment.