For these artists across Canada, nature is more than a muse or subject: nature is an artistic collaborator, directly engaged in the process of making art and deepening our understanding of the natural world around us. In Natural Collaborators, we meet artists who share creative control with the wild. The wind, the trees, the grass, the plants, the sun — they're all potential partners in art-making, and what they have to express could surprise you. Watch the first episode now above.
The artists and musicians known as Honeypaw have an unusual method of making music, and musical instruments. The Ontario-based duo Jurgita Žvinklytė and Matti Palonen build "tree harps" — harps made from hollow or dead trees. They drill small sets of holes in the trees to set up strings, play the tree harps, record it, and then disassemble it when they're done.
Žvinklytė and Palonen are the subjects of the first instalment of Natural Collaborators, a new video series from CBC Arts about artists who find inventive ways to use the natural world in their work.
Žvinklytė says that tree harps are a special kind of instrument, because there's no way to tell exactly how they'll sound until you start playing them.
"It always has some kind of excitement, because how is it going to sound this time?" she says.
In their recordings, they also mix in ambient sound from the surrounding forest: birds chirping, a woodpecker beating on the trees, the wind in the leaves.
"I try to record each part separately, including bass strings on the trees and all of that," says Palonen. "So when we put it all together, you want the full atmosphere of the open woods."
In the video above by filmmaker Nicolas Pollock, the pair are using the tree harps to record an album of nine songs called Ninth Tree Standing, including traditional Finnish and Lithuanian songs, which they have since released.
"Finnish music is very connected to the forest, as well," says Palonen. "So it makes sense that we would end up in the forest, singing about those things."
Palonen and Žvinklytė both say that the temporariness of the tree harps is part of what makes them special, and has a certain beauty in and of itself.
"At the end of the recording session, we take the strings off so we can use them on another tree," he says. "We take the pegs off so we can re-use those, as well. I just wanna come in and leave nothing but a couple little holes for some bugs to get some food."