If you’re like me, you probably forgot Arbor Day existed until just now (or, in my case, while staring blankly at your work calendar during a slow afternoon). It’s a shame Nebraska is the only state that’s dubbed international-plant-a-tree-day a civic holiday, especially when you compare trees’ importance to our general disinterest in their conservation. Not to mention they helped name one of our favorite post-rock bands. Besides inspiring this eco-warrior rant, my mid-afternoon attempts to avoid working also led to an unexpected epiphany—I’ve yet to write a proper post about Bartholomäus Traubeck‘s exceptional album Years, a piece of art that takes more influence from trees than any other album in existence. Nature is a central influence for some of my favorite artists, especially black metal projects like Botanist and Grima. But Traubeck takes this a step further by literally making trees part of the lineup.
This isn’t an exaggeration—every single note on Years is sourced from the rings of seven different tree species from the Austrian forests. Traubeck analyzed these trees’ trunks for the strength, thickness, rate of growth, color and texture of their rings, then feeding the resulting data sets through an algorithm that matched them with a different piano scale. Before diving into my interpretation of the results, you should first check out snippet of this process:
How sick is that? It’s simultaneously the most analogue and high tech vinyl setup I’ve ever seen. Though I don’t believe this installation is still on display, the music is an art exhibit on its own, or at the very least rises above being classified as just an album. Dissecting Years is an interesting task for this reason; it’s difficult to determine whether Traubeck or the trees deserve more credit for the project’s success. It’s a cyclical issue—the rings would merely circle their stump in silence without the algorithm, but all of Traubeck’s programming would be for naught if it had no rings to decipher. This isn’t intended to be metaphysical question, but rather, a musical one. After all, how do you judge a musician that hasn’t consciously played a single note?
Pseudo-intellectual ramblings aside, this is actually the precise reason that Years is such a successful experiment. Traubeck obviously deserves credit for the concept and execution of the project, but it’s ultimately the trees that fulfill his stated goal to a superb degree. At the album’s lightest and darkest moments, there’s a haunting air that hangs around every note, both in the general sonic atmosphere and the untold decades of experience that lies behind each ring. From improvisational-esque flurries to incremental, measured notes, it truly feels as though a narrative without a script is unfolding before you.
There’s no other way to put it—Years is nothing short of mesmerizing. Traubeck elevated everything I love about solo piano while also using a wholly unique concept. I doubt I’ll come across another album like this, and that thought only emboldens my love of the music it contains. So in the spirit of Arbor Day, put on Years, plant a tree and weep while marveling at the wonders of nature.
You can purchase Years digitally via the Bandcamp embed above or on vinyl here.