I am always drawn to artists who like to take risks and have a genuine sense of ambition. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is one of these rare breeds, and Listening Forest is truly an epic work.

Rafael is an award-winning media artist originally from Mexico City. He creates platforms for public participation using technologies such as robotic lights, digital fountains, computer vision, artificial intelligence, and telematic networks.

Blue tinted photo of a forest at night, trees and leaves visible, with bold white strips of light from fluorescent light tubes on the ground

Our paths have crossed over the years but only in playfully casual moments, last time in a lift in Manchester. And the many stories I could tell about my lift encounters is for another day, though perhaps I should mention I did once get stuck in a lift with legendary singer songwriter Lou Reed in a lift in Earls Court London when we were both attending a house party there. And no, it certainly wasn’t a ‘perfect day.’

Over the years we’ve searched for ways of collaborating. In 2019, I wrote music for the fascinating documentary about his work, Megalodemocrat: The Public Art of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

Offering voices to everyone

His work has always appealed to me by way of its accessibility, often proffering difficult and challenging ideas, but offering a voice to everyone. His art doesn’t discriminate and continues to offer ways for the public to connect.

So, earlier this year Rafael offered me this opportunity to collaborate with him on this grand scale at Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, on an outdoor project. Crystal Bridges itself is an amazing architectural wonder, so an opportunity to create new work in such an inspiring space in the North Forest was extremely exciting. The museum houses a world-class collection of American art, with 120 acres of Ozark forest with five miles of trails.

Colourful image of a modern art museum, with three modern architecture buildings, a little like insects with a body of water in between them

So, after a few obligatory Zoom calls, we swiftly met up in Bentonville where the museum is located, to explore the area and talk through what could work in the different outdoor spaces.

Listening Forest uses light, sound, and technology to create an interactive walk through the woods, where your body, your voice and even your memories can contribute to the experience.

Two strong beams of blue light shoot in the sky from the ground in an outdoor scene. Trees and foliage can be seen all around as a crowd of people stand around the bottom of the projector

Capturing the heartbeat of a moment

Rafael is using absolutely state-of-the-art technology that I created music for, and just imagine for a moment the experience. You can add your heartbeat to an array of 3,000 lightbulbs simultaneously blinking the rhythm of peoples’ pulses. You can control giant, 20-foot-tall stick figures made of light which I’ve designed sounds for. You can even leave a voice recording that will join a chorus of voices left by previous forest visitors, and so much more.

It’s been extremely rewarding to see social media posts from visitors, sharing in this exhilarating experience and always full of joy.

Soundtracking the experience

The soundtrack is atmospheric, dynamic, and expertly tailored to enhance the Listening Forest experience. I focused on using natural acoustic instruments as far as possible, to compliment to the location and not allow ‘alien’ sounds to enter the space. Some of the pieces incorporate the sounds of nature too, from birdsong to frogs.

Some of the music offers a robust physicality to the experience, such as Thermal Drift, whilst others like The Village are a moment to breathe, have a drink and relax in between the installations. Thorn Thoughts bids farewell to the public, in an emotive address with strings and female singer.

You can buy the full score here, and listen on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and elsewhere very soon too.

Blue tinted photo of a forest at night, with bold white strips of light from fluorescent light tubes on the ground. A text 'listening forest' is on the top left of the image. Two figures at the bottom of the page marvel at the image before them as they stand on a bridge

Listening Forest runs until 1st January 2023