Welsh rainforest symphony tunes into trees

Ancient moss in a rainforest in Wales. Image: Cheryl Beer

A musical composition inspired by the vascular systems of trees in the rainforests of Wales has been been created by environmental sound artist Cheryl Beer.

The Cân y Coed Rainforest Symphony comes from a unique collaboration with the rainforests themselves. The music connects five fragile pockets of Celtic rainforest across Wales, and has been made possible by a commission from the Unlimited arts charity, funded by the Arts Council of Wales.

"When I discovered that we have rainforests right here in Wales, it became my calling to raise awareness of their fragile existence."

Cheryl Beer, musician and composer

Beer spent a year working with the rainforests and her symphony launched at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in 2022, and has been touring since then. From 9 August to 4 September 2023 a photographic installation of Celtic rainforests will be on display in the window gallery of ONCA in Brighton, UK, with access to the Symphony online.

On 1-2 September, a free immersive sound installation will take place in ONCA's main gallery from 1-5pm. Visitors are invited to come and listen to the symphony, explore texts on Cheryl’s Cân y Coed reading list, and talk to her online. She says she was particularly influenced by Suzanne Simard, who discovered the mycelium wood-wide web in 1990.

Cheryl Beer repurposes biomedical technology to collect sounds from the rainforest. Image: Cheryl Beer

Beer says she has unearthed a previously hidden song tapestry, weaving a biorhythmic composition from within the vascular systems of ancient trees - which internally transport water and essential nutrients - along with ferns and mosses of the forests. The sounds were collated by repurposing hearing aids and biomedical sound technology.

Suddenly becoming hearing impaired, with hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis, shaped the way Beer now composes with nature.

"Overnight, my life radically changed. Until that morning, I’d been a full-time musician. It was how I defined myself," Beer explains. "Whilst waiting for my NHS hearing aids, I retreated to the woods and learnt an awakened understanding of how the natural world nurtures wellbeing.

"Compelled to ‘pay back’ nature, when I discovered that we have rainforests right here in Wales, it became my calling to raise awareness of their fragile existence. Their story, mine and that of the planet, resonated deeply."

Cheryl will launch her book during the ONCA residency. Image: Cheryl Beer

She continues, "By repurposing spectral frequency, a form of visual and digital sound used in hearing aid tests, I was able to collaborate with one of the most significant ecologies across the globe and yet remarkably, we seem unaware of it.

"Before we can take better care of our fragile ecologies, we have to know they exist. Through my practice, I reconnect audiences with our carbon cousins by evoking emotion that inspires us to better nurture eco-fragility."

Thanks to support from Unlimited, Cheryl is launching a new book during the residency at ONCA - Cân y Coed - Song of the Trees, which gives personal insight into her year's residency with the rainforests.