Living Symphonies is a musical composition that grows in the same way as a forest ecosystem. Portraying the thriving activity of the forest’s wildlife, plants and atmospheric conditions, it creates an ever-changing symphony heard amongst the forest itself.

Composed and realised by James Bulley and Daniel Jones, Living Symphonies took place across four of England’s forests over summer 2014. It was produced by Forestry Commission England and Sound And Music, with support from Arts Council England.

If you are interested in commissioning or hosting a future edition of Living Symphonies, please write to .

Places that have hosted Living Symphonies
More about the making of the piece

Each forest location is surveyed in detail to understand what flora and fauna live nearby, in conjunction with ecologists and wildlife rangers from the Forestry Commission. We look for animal habitats, food sources and movement patterns, building up a metre-by-metre map of the forest.

Pictured above is the survey from Thetford Forest. You can see ash, hawthorn, elm and Scots pine trees, and a great deal of moss, grass, bramble, and Mahonia aquifolum.

Read more: The ecosystem model

This survey is used to make an sophisticated model of the forest ecosystem which mimics the behaviours of the real wildlife. Mammals, birds and insects move around the space in real-time, with nocturnal creatures coming out at night.

Current temperature, wind, rain and sun conditions are linked to this model via a weather station installed on site, so that a rainy day will cause wet-weather animals to emerge.

Read more: The growing composition

Each animal, tree and plant is linked to a unique set of musical instrumentation and motifs, which portray its changing behaviours. Up in the canopy, the gliding cello harmonics of a butterfly are heard fluttering from tree to tree, whilst from beneath a decomposing log comes the chattering percussion of teeming beetles. Amongst the undergrowth a spider spins a web of glistening piano, waiting to ensnare the discordant violin chords of flies whirring by.

Dozens of these musical elements are heard at once, collectively creating an ever-changing symphony from the complex web of interactions that make up the forest.

Read more: Exploring the space

Living Symphonies is heard from a network of speakers embedded invisibly amongst the canopy and undergrowth. Musical motifs swarm and flutter across the space, following the real animals’ movement patterns, and encouraging a mode of engagement that is spatial and exploratory.