Boreal symphonies: forests singing at UQAC

Researchers at the University du Quebec à Chicoutimi (UQAC), who are studying the evolution of boreal forests, have found a unique way to share their research results with the public. Rather than presenting numbers on paper, they succeeded – with the help of arts master’s students – in blacklisting 755 trees harvested near Lake Mistassini, north-west of Lac-Saint-Jean.
Presented grand premiere on Wednesday until Friday in the 13th Symposium of Forest Research (CEF) that takes place at UQAC, exposure Symphonies Lights germinated from an idea of Maxence Martin, candidate PhD in Biology and Old Forest Specialist. A research colleague who was observing his study results on mature tree growth circles – some hundreds of years old – noticed that the broken line graphs looked like musical scores.

“We measure the growth of hundreds of trees to understand their experiences. This kind of results is not very attractive. It looks like curves and numerical values. We wondered how to make the whole thing more interesting, and we thought that by transforming each growth curve into a musical note, we would obtain for each tree a melody that explains how it lived, “explains Maxence Martin.

Artistic Team

To achieve his vision, the PhD student in biology then approached art students to transpose a full year of data collection into an exhibition mounted between the walls of the gallery The Work of the Other of the UQAC. Assisted by Frederic L. Tremblay, Valentina Butto, Joanie Simard, Alexa Tremblay-Francoeur and Gabriel Brochu-Lecouffe, Maxence Martin will present fascinating results in sound and visual version. The process of creating symphonies is worth the detour.

“The lower [circles] growth is, the higher the score and the higher the growth, the higher the rating. We get for each tree a melody that explains how he lived. Once we group that by forest, well that gives us the life of each forest. We can thus hear these forests tell us their whole lives, their history of stress, strong growth, when some appeared or when they died, etc. We get 28 different symphonies, because each old forest is different “, illustrates the one who leads this project in parallel with his doctoral thesis on the state of old Quebec forests.

And this project, if it can not be called an absolute “unique”, is certainly one of the few ones to sing trees this way.

“There have been cameras that filmed pucks on a record player, but 50% of the sounds were random. Me, each note has a meaning and means something for each tree. That’s more than 100,000 notes per 100,000 measured growth circles. Every note, every sound, every melody has a precise meaning and that nobody has done. For a single artist, succeed in recovering data and measuring the growth of 750 trees, it’s a hell of a job. Going like that from research to art, I sincerely think that it has never been done, “says the author of the symphonies.

The audience will be able to hear the 755 melodies grouped into 28 symphonies until May 3rd and a second time at the Center for Musical Experimentation at the end of May. Excerpts from the symphonies are available for online listening at

Alan Carter
Alan Carter
Alan Carter has been a reporter on the news desk since 2015. Before that she wrote about young adolescents and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Koz Post, Alan Carter worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella.