Speaking for Trees with Music and Film

Have you ever looked at a tree, like really, really look at it?

Taiwanese Composer Chou Hsuan-Hung (周宣宏) and Filmmaker Wei Zhao-Yi (魏肇儀) have. The pair, who started seriously observing trees in 2020, have translated their love for nature and connections to their home city Kaohsiung into a 50-minute film-and-music experience. “Whispers of Trees” /《樹仔聲》takes the audience through a respite in nature, showcasing the myriad transcendental qualities of trees and humans’ interconnectedness with them.

The production of the cross-collaboration project involves recording, filming, soundscaping, and music writing. It is designed to be a true joint effort. It is not a film score, or a concert with some visuals playing in the background. The five-part film-and-music explores the different faces of trees, which are listed in the order of:

  1. Beauty, inspecting the trees of Taiwan in their natural environment, including both native and non-native species;
  2. History, contemplating the passing of time and the endurance of trees through clips of trees growing out of old, dilapidated buildings;
  3. Religion, communicating with “tree deities,” or gigantic trees wrapped with a piece of red cloth;
  4. Nighttime, partying with the trees through the delightful play of various type of lights shining on trees;
  5. Daily Lives, examining humans’ lives from the perspective of the trees.


In an interview after the performance last weekend at the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, Chou and Wei said they visited many parts of Kaohsiung looking for the right trees—interesting trees on the road, trees recommended by locals, trees in deep mountains, trees near their workplaces, and more. The filming of each tree would take at least an hour.

“Beautiful trees,” joked Wei when asked about the pair’s criteria for selecting which trees are included in the film.

The project has reminded me of the many beautiful trees from my childhood, especially banyan trees. Banyan trees, which grow in tropical and subtropical trees and are common in Taiwan, make an arresting picture because of how they grow. They develop aerial roots from their branches that descend and take root in the soil to become new trunks, which allows them to spread laterally indefinitely, resulting in astounding massiveness.

The particular banyan tree that I’ve held on to is the tree in front of the police station that is next to my family’s apartment. For one reason or another, that single banyan tree felt very different from other banyan trees in our neighborhood park. I liked to climb that tree—feeling safe and secure knowing that the good policeman uncles would save me if anything happened—but I also made it a point to never go too high, out of fear that the same good policeman uncles would take me into the station for being naughty.

One thing I did learn about banyan trees in Taiwan from the performance is how in Taiwanese folk culture, trees that are over a hundred years old are revered. In particular, individuals would tie a piece of red cloth around a giant tree and sometimes even build a small shrine. Specifically, giant banyan trees are endearingly called “Tai Shu-Gong”(大樹公), or Big Tree Godfather/Grandfather because their dangling “air beard” (aka aerial roots) make them appear like a loving elder watching over the people. Notably, Chou and Wei shared that this practice of honoring giant banyan trees is common for the Hakka people who reside in the Meinong (美濃) district of Kaoshiung.

Image Credit: “Whispers of Trees”

To help you learn more about this production, check out the video below featuring Composer Chou and Film Director Wei talking about their creative process behind “Whispers of Trees.” English subtitles/closed captions are currently not available so I’ve provided selected translations.

0:05 Wei: To me, daydreaming underneath trees allows us to briefly remove ourselves from the busy rhythms of daily lives. We can take our time to simply sit or lay beneath the tree and let our imagination fly.

0:22 Chou: For me, music is abstract and every person hears differently. But when we leverage familiar objects [trees] to form a connection, we may be able to make this [music] more approachable for every one.

1:12 Chou: I think the most interesting part of the creative process was the sourcing. We went to so many different places [looking for trees]. It was like going on an adventure.

1:34 Chou: The experience has allowed me to really settle down and observe a tree, including its lines and shapes. Toward the end, whenever we see a tree, we would ask the other person “What do you think of this tree?”

1:45 Wei: Initially when we decided to film trees, I just thought trees are great, very therapeutic. But toward the end of the project, I realized that I was filming the interaction between people and trees.

Weiwuying, National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts / 衛武營國家藝術文化中心


  1. Lying on a strong branch and seeing sunlight through leaves was my best memory about tree, I felt in my mother’s arms again …. Safe and tranquil

    Liked by 1 person

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