On a hillside in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest is a tree, and if you listen very carefully, this aspen is talking to us.
This one plant actually looks like a forest of 47,000 genetically identical trees, which are effectively branches of the same organism connected by a massive root system. Each stem or ramet is a clone of the original tree, called trembling aspen (species Populus temuloides), all emanating from a single seed that sprouted over 9,000 years ago. Known as “Pando,” it is the world’s largest tree and one of the largest living organisms on the planet.
We can say the tree is talking to us thanks to the work of sound artist Jeff Rice. As artist in residence with the non-profit Friends of Pando, Rice created a body of audio work listening to and recording the innermost workings of the tree’s root system. He did this by using an array of different microphones, including stereo and ambisonic rigs for capturing soundscapes and more experimental gear like stethoscopes, contact mics, and hydrophones, which were designed for listening underwater.