If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The perennial philosophical question can be answered with a resonating ‘yes’, thanks to a huge megaphone that amplifies the unique sounds of the woodland. Architecture students from the Estonian Academy of Arts installed giant wooden megaphones that create a surround-sound effect in a forest at RMK Pähni Nature Centre, so users and hear the soothing tones of trees swaying or leaves rustling in the distance. “I believe that the biggest value of the megaphones is listening to your own thoughts via the sounds of nature,” Hannes Praks, the head of the interior architecture department of the Estonian Academy of Arts, told Metro.
Q: Why did you create these gigantic wooden megaphones?
A: A year ago, over at the interior architecture department of the Estonian Academy of Arts, we started a course called ‘public forest library’ for our first-years. In the initial stages, we sent the students into the forest for a few days to look for input and inspiration for a possible concept. The forest seminar failed utterly, because after half a day of intellectual chatter, a helicopter started to circle the forest where the students were located and a moment later, the woods were filled with police. The reason – a local granny had gone mushroom picking and had gotten lost on the same neck of the woods. Students spent the rest of the seminar helping the police, calling out for the lost old lady. The megaphones are inspired by the search for the mushroom-gathering granny and symbolize all the calling out in the forest.
Q: How does your contraption amplify the intricate sounds of the woodland?
A: I think from the physics point of view, not much happens. Basically, huge wooden pipes amplify some sounds at a certain angle, but there’s no incomparable cave or canyon effect. On a metaphysical level, however, a lot happens. Parts of a broken space ship, scattered on a tranquil forest path, stun with their monumental size and a shift in scale. When you reach the location, you do get the feeling that something has happened here, something you need to pay attention to. In truth, nothing has happened – birds are singing and the forest is rustling the same way as in any strip of forest. The megaphones simply make you more perceptive towards this ordinary singularity.
Q: What value comes from listening to the forest?
A: The question leaves me in a predicament – indeed, what is there to listen to? Sure, the song of some birds is quite beautiful, but do we really need an installation for this? I believe that the biggest value of the megaphones is listening to your own thoughts via the sounds of nature. The location is right on the edge of Estonia, deep in the forests. Mobile reception is shaky there, which means there’s no means to keep up with the newsfeed of social media. Meeting your own thoughts can be a nice interlude or a frightful experience.
Q: And wood was the ideal material for the megaphones?
A: From a design point of view, it was a very practical decision. 50% of Estonia is covered with forest. Wood is one of our few natural resources. Who else, if not an Estonian designer, should be an expert in working with wood? Secondly, the installation is a symbolic object, highlighting the sounds of the forest, as well as the silence.
Q: What’s the user experience like?
A: It is a different experience for every user and it is to a great extent linked to their previous mental tuning. The time spent to listen also plays a role. I believe every person will get their own unique listening experience on the spot. And I’m not being esoteric here, it is purely a question of focussing.