Wood and Mood
Most stringed instruments use softwood (needle tree) soundboards. This gives volume but less character to the sound. Here at Sounding Bowls we are conducting unique research into the innate sounds of British broadleaf trees, offering a range of colour in sound not available elsewhere. This research is conducted in relationship with the trees rather that as part of a reductionist technology.
Here at the Sounding Bowls studio we choose our woods carefully from local trees, selecting pieces that have high resonant potential or particular aspects of sound that embody healing charactersitics. We pre-shape and season our pieces, giving them months or years to settle, set aside together in our settling room. We are happy to choose the piece most suited to your needs from here or you may discuss availability of a particular species with us.
Every tree has its own form and personality with particular characteristics and strengths. Knowing a tree is a relationship and how we experience the tree character has as much to do with our own character as with theirs. The differences are subtle and the descriptions below have been amplified for clarity.
When considering the sound of different woods a range of different feelings arise in response to what is heard and is unique to each individual. The size, type, number of strings and thickness of a Sounding Bowl are the primary influences on its sound; the type of wood being a smaller factor. Choices can be made on sound at a distance, many people have chosen their Sounding Bowl using phone or video link. Not all woods are available in all sizes to commission. Contact us for more details.
Standard timbers that we use for Sounding Bowls are Ash, Cherry, London Plane and Sycamore.
Ash - Fraxinus Excelsior
With a large timbre and strength, Ash sounds like a younger man’s voice, as if having a sense of inner purpose and direction within the sound. It is the sound of confidence and reliability such as one might expect for a tree whose nature is allied with the Sun around whom the wheel of life depends. In the tree we see the budding branch ends turning towards the sun more than other trees and we can notice how the wood is used in other purposeful applications such as, tool and sports handles, cart shafts and spokes.
Cherry - Prunus Avium
Sweetly feminine in the way a young woman’s voice is light, akin to a sunlit meadow in the morning with something of a May-day, dancing feel to it. Cherry is linked in some ways with the Venus and Moon as described astrologically. Her characteristic blossom and suggestive fruits are reflected in the inner nature of the sound. Though this image is of a flowering Cherry we mostly use the wild cherry.
Sycamore - Acer Psuedoplatanus
Full bodied and strong, the sound is slightly fuller or heavier than Cherry as though the voice has matured and we are listening to an experienced woman singer. Astrological associations are with Jupiter whose jovial nature is expansive, generous and maternal. In the tree we see this in the large spreading canopy of a parkland Sycamore as well as the generous spreading of her seeds that can take over the whole woodland if not checked. It should be explained that Sycamore as a name is used for different trees in different regions. Mediteranean peoples use it for a type of fig. North American peoples use it for a type of Plane whereas in England it describes the Acer Pseudoplatanus, a type of Maple native to Europe and common in english gardens, pastures and hedgerows.
London Plane - Platanus Acerifolia
The sound is expansive and inclusive with resilient warmth, similar to the voice of an older male singer that has tolerance and softness within the strength. The wide leaves, spreading habit, vitality and longevity of the tree point to Jupiter as an influence whilst the spiky fruit and red sap suggest that Mars is also involved. Plane’s strength and resistance to city fumes underlies it’s vital, forgiving nature. Of the three types of Plane growing in England the London plane, a hybrid of the other two is the most common. I have not detected much difference in the sounds of each type.
Rare and more expensive timbers we use include Walnut, Yew, Acacia and Birch.
Walnut - Juglans spp.
With the qualities of a wise elder Walnut is a quiet, serious wood whose sound is undemanding yet deeply rewarding if given time and attention. There is a sense of quality and depth to the sound as mirrored by the colour of this wood. The sound, like the tree is not eye catching at first yet under it’s soft bark and inedible fruit is a rich and hidden value, warm and melodious.
Yew - Taxus Baccata
Yew has a remarkable sound which is muted and warm with incredible strength and depth. The wood itself is richly colourful; being bright orange when new and ageing to swirling warm browns with the light. Shamanism has held this tree in high regard as an entry point to the world below. English culture has found great use for longbows made from Yew which won many wars in Europe. Putting these two together, sacred depths, and power to push back enemies gives some idea of the inner nature of this sound. Planetary associations show a relationship with Saturn by the fact that nothing will grow under a yew tree. The intense redness of the under-bark, the berry and the wood together suggest that Mars is also involved and it’s use as weaponry backs this up. The shiny, edible berry (technically called an ‘aril,’ tasting sweet but with a poisonous seed inside) suggests a little Moon influence, though given it’s small size and redness this is a minor presence.
Yew is more ancient that other trees in two ways. 1. The genus precedes conifers by millions of years, conifers also precede broad leaf, fruiting trees by millions of years. 2. we do not know how long Yews can live. Some are known to be 5000 years old having regenerated from the roots or even from within a hollowed trunk and it is this capacity to regenerate themselves that means that we cannot tell if other individual yew trees may be uncountable dozens of thousands of years old.
This journey into death and back again is represented in European culture by Orpheus who travelled down into hell to retrieve his wife and seduced a release-agreement out of the king of the underworld with his Lyre.
There is something about the sound of a Yew Bowl that offers support on this most human journey, into hell and back again.
Acacia - Robinia Psuedo-Acacia
Acacia has a very mixed sound. Clear, crisp and assertive at first strike each note goes on to a warm bright note leading into an amazingly melodic ‘decay’, or ending. This tree has long thorns on its new growth, deeply fissured bark and highly acidic wood, all of which suggest Mars as an influence. This is what you hear in the strike. The leaves and flowers of this tree are light and delicate, moving in the slightest breeze and given to yellow-green colours that bring light to local envirnoments. These are Mercurial charactersitics and given that Hermes was also credited with inventing the Lyre it is not surprising that the sound of this wood is so delightful. Not a native of Britain its presence here is popular in gardens and parklands since Victorian times.
Birch Betula Spp.
Birch is a recent addition to our work and is proving extremely popular, eliciting a deep response from a wide variety of people. Traditionally Birch is particularly good with Children, its nostalgic, almost melancholy tone touching on Wordsworth’s “trailing clouds of glory.”
As a tree Birch is supple, swaying with each breeze where other trees stand firm, yet surviving storms that fell mighty oaks.
Birch casts only a delicate shade and her soft yet resilient wood is similarly pleasant to cut.
Astrological associations are firmly with Venus as one might guess from the feminine elegance of her tresses.
For deep emotional work or for repairing forgotten trauma Birch is a reliable choice.
For a deeper dive into tree-planet connections see Brotherhood with Trees, Ch4