Monday, May 12, 2014

Dancing to the rhythm of Lebanon’s Cedars

The "3,000 Years" track

Long ago, the French poet and historian Alphonse de Lamartine wrote, “The Cedars know the history of the earth better than history itself.”

This might well be true. The Cedars, it turns out, are into music too!

“3,000 Years” is the first track in history created using a rhythm extracted from inside a Lebanese Cedar tree in the Barouk Forest and is now the focal point of the “Save the Music” campaign for Cedar conservation in Lebanon.

Although a few weeks old, I was blown away by the sounds and had to share this.

The initiative to give the Cedar a voice for conservation was launched by the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.

The Cedar tree's rhythm was extracted by Derek Shirley, a Canadian bioacoustics engineer based in Germany He extracted the audio data from the Cedar by hooking a synthesizer reading mechanism sensitive to electric movement in living organisms to the ancient tree.

We've recently discovered that each tree species creates its own rhythm,” Shirley said in a YouTube video entitled “Save the Music -- Save the Cedars.” “As it turns out, the Lebanese Cedars are especially rhythmic,” he added.

After Shirley extracted the raw, rhythmic beat, Beirut-based DJ ESC (Ribal Rayess), in collaboration with Jad Jazzy Jay (Jade Hazim), used the raw sounds to compose a House track.

"At the beginning of the [original] track you can hear about 20 seconds of raw footage that make base sounds," Rayess told Beirut’s The Daily Star. "It blew my mind."

Rayess said the lyrics, sang by Marlene Jaber, were "simple" with the intent to unite Lebanese, regardless of sect, under the symbolic Cedar tree. "The words reminisce 3,000 years of the Cedars," he said. By downloading the track and sharing the video, you're not only acting to save Lebanon’s Cedars, you're buying a song that's been playing for 3,000 years.

The Barouk Forest Cedars

This reminded me of a post I wrote in September 2012 about Lebanon’s Cedars fighting for their life. You can read the full post, Lebanon Cedars fight a “winter revolution,” but it said in part:

…Throughout antiquity, the Cedars of Lebanon were prized above all other trees. Their fine wood is strong, straight and wonderfully scented. Cedar wood was the first choice for any temple or palace.

These magnificent trees helped give the Phoenicians a high place among other nations, and became the symbol by which they and their descendants were known. Revered and admired, they stand for prosperity and national pride.

But the cherished Cedar Tree (Cedrus libani) is not well. It is fighting its own revolution against time. It is feeling the strains of centuries and is at risk from global warming and insects. It has now been added to the list of threatened species, although at the lowest level of threat, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization.

In the past, Lebanese mountains were covered with Cedars. Sadly, all that is left today is 18 scattered patches of protected Cedar land. In total, protected forests (both Cedar and other) make up approximately four to eight percent of the Lebanese territory.

Alphonse de Lamartine visited the “Cedars of the Lord,” or Arz al-Rab near Bcharre, back in 1832. Putting a memorabilia on the trunk of a very old Cedar tree commemorated his visit.

Rudy Rahme's "Lamartine Cedar"
When it died, Lebanese Bcharre-born painter, sculptor and poet Rudy Rahme created the “Lamartine Cedar,” one of the most remarkable wooden and largest vegetal sculptures in the world. It stands 39 meters high and contains 70 human figures representing the relationship between time and place. Among the figures are the birth, life and death of Jesus.

Arz al-Rab are the oldest Cedars in Lebanon and give an accurate idea of the stature and splendor these trees attained in antiquity. About 375 Cedars of great age stand in a sheltered glacial pocket of Mount Makmel. Four of them, many hundreds of years old, have reached a height of 35 meters and their trunks are between 12 and 14 meters around. They have straight trunks and strong branches that spread their regular horizontal boughs like fans.

Also among the inhabitants of the forests are some thousand young trees. Concern for this modern remnant of historic Cedars goes back to 1876, when the 102-hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall. Financed by Queen Victoria, the wall protects against one of the Cedar's natural enemies -- the goats who enjoy feasting on young saplings.

Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expeditions to Mount Lebanon for timber or extracted tributes of wood from the coastal cities of Canaan-Phoenicia.

The Phoenicians themselves made use of the Cedar, especially for their merchant fleets. Solomon requested large supplies of Cedar wood, along with architects and builders from King Hiram of Tyre to build his temple. Nebuchadnezzar boasted on a cuneiform inscription: "I brought for building, mighty Cedars, which I cut down with my pure hands on Mount Lebanon."

Its fragrance and durability, as well as the length of the great logs, made Cedar wood especially desirable.
The Egyptians used Cedar resin for mummification, and pitch was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking.

Luckily, there is now an active program to conserve and regenerate the forests. The Lebanese approach has emphasized natural regeneration rather than planting, and this by creating the right conditions. Cedar and Nature Reserves created by the Lebanese state that contain Cedars include the Chouf Cedar Reserves, the Jaj Cedar Reserve, the Tannourine Reserve, the Ammouaa and Karm Shbat Reserves in the Akkar district, and Arz al-Rab forest.

In 1998, the Cedars of God were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Much more needs to be done to restore and preserve these proud, tall, strong symbols of Lebanon and its people. Lebanon’s Cedar needs all the help it can get. One step is to download the “Save the Music” track to donate:

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