The Tree, by Nazim Ozel
In the early 1980s Nazim Ozel first conceived the idea for what was to become the Tree. Walking in a Colorado woodland area, he came across a fallen evergreen. On the spur of the moment, he used some fishing line he had with him to run strings from dry branch to dry branch all along the tree. In an impromptu performance attended only by himself and his walking companion, he gave a quiet woodland concert on the stretched strings.
For some time after that Nazim carried in his head the notion of a string instrument based on the natural form of a tree. He decided to make the instrument from one carefully selected system of branches from an oak tree, and began looking around for a promising candidate for the job. Soon he had created something that he called “The Semi-Civilized Tree,” a precursor to the instrument you see in the photos on this page. It too was a beautiful instrument, with over 400 strings, and we ran a full length article on it in one of the very early issues of Experimental Musical Instruments (Volume 1 #6, April 1986).
Twenty years later, the larger and more fully realized instrument you see here has come into being. The Tree’s evolution, in fact, is still ongoing; it’s as if the tree is inventing itself. Some aspects of the instrument come about through careful planning, while others have evolved on their own.
This current version of the instrument is about six feet high, six feet wide, and twelve feet long. There are currently close to 800 strings on it ranging from half an inch to ten feet in length, with the potential to add as many strings again as the instrument continues to take shape. Nazim sounds the strings in many ways, including various techniques for plucking, bowing and striking. He has also developed a range of techniques to bring out variety and changeability in the string sounds, creating timbral shifts and pitch bends to impart a living, organic quality to the instrument. Wind effects are finding their way into the instrument, and techniques for self-sustaining or repeating sounds based in slower oscillatory motions appear as well. Variety of sound, rather than uniformity or predictability, is the aim.
As for tuning, Nazim thinks in terms of free tonal music. This is a grand and wide-ranging concept developed over his thirty years of musical exploration, a non-binding approach to musical scales that has no governing mathematical rules. It encompasses fixed tonal scales, microtonal scales, primitive and naive scales. Within different groups of strings on the tree can be found a variety of random, casual and deliberately odd scales.
In performance the tree may be given contact mics providing a window to a world of subtle effects taking place within the wood itself — or it may be given regular air microphones, or played without amplification, in which case the sounds are quiet and a different sort of subtlety emerges.
Contact Nazim Ozel at firstname.lastname@example.org