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Caroline Locke: Significant Trees and Warning Bells

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

In 2017, I worked with the artist Wolfgang Buttress and physicist Martin Bencsik. Martin has developed various bioacoustic techniques. Using his accelerometers (ultra-sensitive vibrational sensors), we monitored the resonances of The Original Bramley, a famous tree in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Our readings suggested that the frequency of the Southwell Bramley Apple Tree is 500hz.

Thus began The Significant Tree projects. Through 2018/19, I scanned and collected data from The Major Oak Tree and The Parliament Tree in Sherwood Forest; Newton’s Apple Tree in Woolsthorpe; and The Bunya Pine Tree in Queensland Australia.

In the studio, I created compositions and recordings using the fourteen forks tuned to the frequency of trees. I was shifting from the idea of seeing sound to the idea of feeling sound, focusing on the power of sound as it affects the human body.

Across the world, 2018-19 was a time of major climate catastrophe. Wildfires in California; the warmest June ever recorded in England and Scotland; fierce Atlantic hurricanes; raging floods. Climate change was ramping up, accelerating beyond control. Drawing upon my childhood in Somerset, I recalled church clock bells giving rhythm to my days. My first visit to Loughborough’s John Taylor Bell Foundry was in the early 90’s with my father. When I next visited the foundry in 2018, Mike Semkin, the engineering director, helped me create my first Significant Tree Bell. Bells are traditionally used to ring out warnings and tell us of danger. The bell became my next fascination.

The 320-year-old Sycamore tree where the Tolpuddle Martyrs met in 1833 is the symbolic birthplace of the Trade Unions movement in the UK. The National Trust looks after the tree. Drawn by its significance, I pondered the notion of ordinary people instigating a mass climate uprising, achieving the extraordinary and creating change. In March 2020, I was due to scan the Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree in Dorset, casting a bell based on the tree’s data. It was to be part of a publicly engaged event at the Bournemouth Arts Festival. Working with the public and a town crier, I’d arranged to exchange tree saplings for the public’s stories about their own significant trees. The town crier was to use the tree bell to ring out 'tree cries'. I was planning to write the tree cries, based on stories gathered from members of the public. Covid-19 struck and all was postponed.


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