Estonian composer Elis Hallik on the way to the trees
François Mauger, magazine “4’33”, 12.04.2022
“Estonian composer Elis Hallik on the way to the trees”
To become a tree… Such is the dream of the Estonian composer Elis Hallik , or at least the title of one of her works: To become a tree . The Fractales ensemble has just recorded it on its first disc. Dialogue with the composer about this abrasive and syrupy track, listening to which brings to mind images of growing branches…
What were you thinking when you wrote To become a tree ?
Elis Hallik : Inspiration always comes from the need to find my inner song, to get in touch with it. Music for me is a matter of the heart. For me, this is the essence of creation: to feel the force of inspiration, which leads to the very heart of my song . And this song is always somehow combined with archetypal images and experiences (words, meanings, affects, rituality) as well as current affairs. One such case was, at the time I wrote To become a tree , an article about Peter Wohlleben’s ideas about trees and how they communicate . I think it was even before the release of his book The Secret Life of Trees. I felt very connected to the topic, especially the part of the article where he talked about intuition and how people can intuitively perceive forest health. With the constant development of data-driven industries, it becomes particularly necessary to remember that we must always use our inherent ability to make a decision by integrating different levels of intelligence (intuition, inspiration, ability to distinction).
There was also a Japanese legend , The Secret of the Willow, which will never lose its relevance. The story goes that about 1000 years ago a great temple was built at Sanjūsangen-dō. A willow had to be cut down before it was built. Heitaro, a young farmer, rescued him and unknowingly married the tree spirit. Years passed, they had a child, but one day the tree had to be cut down for the temple to be built. It was there that Heitaro learned that Higo (his wife, whose name means “willow”) was the now deceased willow spirit. Despite all the efforts of the loggers, no one was able to move the cut tree. Only her son, after saying goodbye to his mother, was able to help lead the tree to the river with his little hand. It’s a good story, as it attempts to illustrate the emotional connection between nature and humans.. We must cling to nature with our hearts, otherwise we don’t care what happens to her.
What did you want the listener to feel?
Elis Hallik : It’s always wonderful when the listener finds himself at the very heart of a human experience. I like when the creative process is intuitive, but also analytically well constructed. Crescendo magazine wrote that To become a tree “supports the composer’s disapproval of the attack on our intuitions by such a technological world”. When my musical ideas develop through the piece, for me it is both an intuitive work and a process of calculation. It’s a very fun and playful process most of the time, sometimes painful too, but it seems that the more the composition process is linked to the music itself, the more it allows the music to reflect the surrounding existence, and his motives too. For example, inTo become a tree , I started with small patterns, like swirling notes (I noticed it’s like little seeds floating in the air), then the swirl turned into glides (like a descent towards the ground), slips formed impulses (like a contact with a ground), the impulses descended in a lower register (like rooting). Then I noticed that the whole shape really resembles the growth process of a tree . At the same time, of course, these extra-musical ideas sometimes help to understand the music but they are not necessary; the words simply help to magnify, to give a kind of model for thinking.
The title could pass for a reference to the work of John Luther Adams, the author of Become Ocean and Become Desert . Is that the case ?
Elis Hallik: Become Ocean was written a few years before I wrote my track. There is really an obvious link between these two works; however, I didn’t really know Become ocean , I heard it for the first time last fall, thanks to the National Orchestra of Estonia under the direction of Olari Elts. I keep a very good memory. I’ve always really liked the idea of the intrinsic quality of music having a desired effect on the listener. I like the idea that the structure can also function as an autonomous energy system, a sort of multidirectional sense of time. Time and ambivalence, different aspects of the same sound object, all of this has always fascinated composers, myself included. The ritual aspect of music also seems to have a very strong impact on composers and listeners. The Firehearted and To become a tree have the aspect of a ritual but also bring into play different aspects of the same sound object, considered on several time scales, and this is closely linked to my studies in France and in particular to the music of Gérard Grisey.
To become a tree was written five years ago. Have you continued, since then, to work on the question of ecology?
Elis Hallik : One of my pieces, Born in Waves , created by the Musikfabrik ensemble and Clement Power , is actually about the future of species and the anxiety around them . Like I said, I feel that in order to have some sort of need to save nature, we have to build an emotional connection with it. Then try to share this experience with others… I come from the small island of Kihnu, which is a UNESCO heritage site. I have very fond memories of my childhood: memories of the forest, the sea and a multitude of animal species. It helped me value nature. Today, the changes are visible and tangible: the number of species is declining; sounds, scents and colors no longer exist. When you no longer see those things that used to bring you joy every day, it saddens you and makes you think about what each person could do to help reduce our ecological footprint. What concerns me is that the new generation of children – mine, in particular, to begin with – need contact with nature similar to that which I experienced in my childhood. This connection provides a deeper understanding of life and helps us see the cause and effect relationships around us. We need to ensure that our children have a good emotional connection with nature.
Finally, the disc of the Fractales ensemble which allows us to discover To become a tree, will be released in 2022, when the IPCC announces that we have very little time left to change our lifestyles. Is it a coincidence?
Elis Hallik : It’s a very significant coincidence… There were other notable coincidences around this piece. For example, around the time of the premiere, there were quite remarkable waves of protest against the brutal cutting of forests in Estonia . While we borrow this world from our children and prove unable to preserve nature, the only thing I can give is innovation and creative intuition fueled by emotions. But maybe, when a person is trying to do something, they shouldn’t worry too much about speed; what matters is to move forward, even slowly…