Author: Laurent Bigarella
Photo Credit: Laurie Diaz
Hello Pantha du Prince. Glad to talk to you today. First, can you explain why you decided to celebrate trees in your latest project “Conference of Trees”?
Pantha: The core of the whole project started because the trees called me – they really touched me in a way. Then I translated the information, I was just spending a lot of time with them. In a way, we are trees: we have an environment inside of our whole biology, a physiology inside of us. It is only possible because of the plants that live around us: they are a symbol of life.
Yggdrasil, for example, in the Nordic culture, is the “Weltenbaum” (editor’s note – the world tree). It is a metaphor for life. You grow from the ground, from the unseen, from the soil. Everything that dies gets in the soil and becomes nutrition, for every living thing. The richer the thing that dies is, the richer the soil and the thing that grows out of it will be.
Trees are growing towards the sun, as we humans are growing towards the sun, towards the cosmos.
They receive information from the cosmos. As we now know, all kinds of information go through the underground root channels, unseen things that you can only perceive if you tune into their community or if you have a very high sensor, technology to measure what is going on.
We are human beings, so we are able to move. But wherever we are, we can connect and grow. Trees are constantly growing. We are also constantly developing. In the end we’re the same and we are living in the same sphere. I wanted to have the trees as my guidance for some topics that I had to figure out.
“I wanted to become a tree myself and enable a group of musicians to become trees as well”, is a quote from you when talking about this album, Conferences of Trees. It could sound like bioinspiration / biomimetism, a creative approach which enables to think out of the box and to get inspiration from ‘nature’ (even though the concept of “nature” itself could be questionable). Did you manage to achieve this process in a way? And how?
Pantha: For modern science and for our civilization, living in urban environments, we had to distinguish natural and non-natural. Now that we basically occupy all the land with this idea of owning something, we are constantly creating financial systems to create more value. But this construction is not happening. What we realize now is that it is not working, because we are destroying everything that gives us life.
Therefore, we have to find different approaches. One approach for me would be to really try to become what we are. To understand what we are doing. Nowadays, we are constantly violating ourselves. It is not only about violating the planet: we are doing this to us.
It is not about blaming or shaming anyone. It is just about becoming conscious of what we do every day, to know that it is probably better to grow your own food. It is more fun, more joyous, more delicious. It helps everyone. It would be nice to just create communities where we can grow the stuff that we eat.
Anyway, if you tell someone that “Conference of trees” is the topic, and you tell them what your favorite tree is, and how it would sound like, then you are already strong with your imagination. From that point you can connect to that tree’s atmosphere which is evoked by the mind. Then, what does it do to your body? Your intelligence? To your inherent memory? To your muscle memory? What comes out of this metaphor when you imagine it? Then you go to your instrument. This was the approach to have a very direct intuitive connection to the topic for everyone involved in the project.
Talking about instruments, in order to do this album, you have been using a wide range of wooden percussion. In terms of production, what changed in comparison to other albums you worked on previously?
With Conference of trees, I tried to come from the material. We launched the process as a group, recording tons of stuffs, intuitive sessions where we got closer. I already had prepared the tuning and the instruments. Normally I write things, I conceptualize them, sometimes I give instructions or just weird quotations drawn by myself.
This is how we started actually. I gave them a drawing of mine, where I told them the journey that I wanted to create, a journey from the roots to the top, the same movement that we do in our life that we also go through in the conference. We had a session where we connected everything together. And then I would write with the material that was created in these sessions.
We also took recordings from the concerts, and recorded on top of it. It is a very fragmented way of working, linked to community. I collected all the things and edit them to create the world, but we had these first endeavors together.
These moments were created in a sense of togetherness. Sometimes I ask someone to play something, other times it is a very solitaire thing. I sit in my room and I am becoming music. Here I had to think about the musicians and what they do. I also kept kind of the origin of what they were good at, what they really enjoyed. It was a conference, where everyone’s favorite trees are connected.
Have you been reading scientific literature to build this project? If yes, how did it impact the production of this project?
It is important for me to have a certain cultural foundation, in order to not levitate somewhere in the fantasy world. This project is something very earthy, very grounded in our living reality. That is why I wanted to really connect with people that are dealing with the reality of trees.
One day in Kreuzberg I went into a small organic store. I bought a few apples and started talking with the guy behind the counter, he was a Turkish immigrant and had been forever in the community. He had some books on a shelf behind him. He gave me two or three books including The hidden life of trees from Peter Wohlleben. This is where it started. Then I got deeper into this kind of literature.
There is also this book, The Spirit of the Trees, by Fred Hageneder who is actually a friend of Friedrich, our cello player. Fred is an anthropologist, specialized in botanic. He researches on what we do with botanics in the history of humankind. I still didn’t know what to do with all this. And then I discovered Suzanne Simard and more on the Internet.
There is also different kinds of documentaries about shamanic tradition, about the spiritual, about Buddha, the whole connection between enlightenment and the giving of information through a tree. This is also what Fred Hageneder is explaining in his book. For example, he explains that everywhere where we have churches today, used to host a very special kind of pine. All these spiritual places are where the trees grew.
As you mention the link with spirituality: this spiritual dimension behind this project also exists as its name itself is taken from the 12th century Sufi Farīd-al-dīn Attar’s Conference of birds, which tells the story of 30 birds traveling across 7 valleys to find their king, Simurgh. These steps are actually ways to reach the real nature of God for Sufi. Can spirituality help to reconnect with our environment?
Here we come back to the beginning, when we know that our creation creates us. In all spiritual traditions, the core is to realize that there is something beyond our perception that holds this life. When we accept that those plants are living consciousnesses, that they have brains, it is already a step. Realizing that everything has a certain dimension of being helps us understand and that all these living organisms have feelings.
The only thing that will help us survive on this planet is a massive renaturation process. We should put all the money in the world into renaturing parts that are not living according to to the highly intelligent beings that are surrounding us. Spirituality helps perceive this information. It doesn’t matter if you are a catholic, a protestant, doing yoga or if you are an atheist.
We are a beautiful human race, and we can we can do whatever we want to use the information. I, as an artist, feel the urge and feel the responsibility to share my insight and to share what I experienced. That when you are not respecting a surrounding, you are not respecting your own needs, what your body needs and what your family, what your community needs. This is also why I love this idea of a conference.
How do you see the role of of artists in tackling all these urgent topics of connection with our living environment, but also fighting against climate change… What can you/they do?
We can strengthen our communities and do something where we live and do something in our everyday lives. I think this is the starting point. Then, if you have enough energy and the resources, you can go to South America to protest against the destruction of the Amazon forest.
What we are creating with our agriculture and with our transportation system is really ridiculous compared to the needs to change that are there. The transformation is not happening. Now we all have to transform and raise our voices to say that we don’t want to create buildings like the building that we’re living in now.
This is something that you become aware of when you have a certain practice and when you are in tune with your own senses, and with your own perceptions, and perceive yourself as who you are. This is a journey. It is not an endpoint. It is a constant journey. There are a lot of moments where we can really tune into a certain harmony – an harmony that gives us the power to also create the reality that we want.
If we just focus on the climate crisis, then we will not solve anything, we also have to valorize our relationships. Everything feels, everything has a feeling and we create feelings. What kind of feeling is behind this building? What do these people want to create? What did they want to create with this building? Did they want to make money in the first place? Or did they want to create something beautiful with living organically in unity with its surrounding made for the people to meet, to socialize, to create a platform for cultural life and happiness?
We should really start for from the human aspect, from this, the idea of atmosphere. What do we want to create? What do we want to live in in which kind of environment? The environment will change after anyway, but you will have a new idea of it, of how to valorize it.
Where can one start to build his or her own alternatives? Yourself live in the periphery of Berlin and you are working on a project of a garden forest. Should we have more of these to build a better world?
I see a lot of people organizing themselves to create food forests. They do not have to work as much as normal agriculture, but they still change their nutrition. You eat what grows. You do not eat what is in the supermarket.
But I am an artist, I am traveling, making music. I need a community to do this project. I am not doing this myself, I give an idea, a frame, and then people are welcome to join and help us, they can come to our land. I did this for my own mental health. I needed a piece of land where I know people will grow food where I can help and support. I think we should all get land, really. We should connect with 10-15 people and then and then get your acre.
It is fun, it is like clubbing, you get a good workout. You are outside, you eat your own food. It is fantastic. It is better than going to a gym and running on a robot watching TV while you are running. If you don’t feel like it, then you should do something else that you feel like you’re you are connected to. But I can just tell from my own experience that it is a lot of fun, but that you should not forget that there is also something in you that wants to be lived. And if there fits a garden in somewhere, I think it is not the worst.
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About the Author
Laurent Bigarella is the editor in chief of We are Europe. He’s also the editor in chief of the semestrial revue Akki.