Words: Gary Rees
In 2012, ecologist Thomas Crowther began assembling data on the distribution of trees around the globe. It became clear that the 28,300 species he documented in 70 countries were more than just isolated figures in free-standing forests. Patterns that Crowther detected suggested deep and consistent connections among trees that were not evident above ground. In an estimated 3 trillion trees across the planet. Trees interact at the root level. The phenomenon is so consistent that a new term was created for it, a Mycorrhizal network, or Wood Wide Web. Central Office of Information’s 2020 release, Treedom, reflects on this phenomenon.
Alex Cargill, working as the electronic act called the Central Office of Information or COI, worked with the Woodford Halse label to release this excellent 16-song outing. The title, Treedom, is neither an arboristic twist on freedom nor a play on kingdom. It describes the sense of being a tree. Trunks, branches, roots and leaves are all elements of a living body’s treedom. Just as the exquisite electronic sounds, noises, beats and samples on this album are hallmarks of COI-dom.
At a bit over 45 minutes in total, Treedom’s offerings are neither uniformly short nor long, ranging from Rhizobium’s 1:23, an interlude of lo-fi synth and moving water, to Mycelium at 5:57, a beautifully building piece with featured synths swapping places and a wonderful live feel in its oscillators and filters.
The song titles on Treedom mostly invoke the scientific rigor behind the idea of the Wood Wide Web. Mycelium, Exopheromones and Rhizobium are terms equally exotic and prosaic in the context of the Mycorrhizal network. It’s no crackpot theory and it’s fully engaged Cargill, to the point of inspiring this entire collection. The tracks Oaken Social and Fairy Ring have less academic titles, but are relevant all the same. The Fleeting Freedom of a Seedling supplies a wonderful metaphor for the lifecycle of something that must take root and stay put if it is to stay alive.
Cargill’s musical interests are wide ranging from his earliest days, starting with the gift of a Casio PT-80 keyboard at age 10, then guitar lessons. But keyboards dominated and turntables took a turn as his interests widened. Influences evolved: from Metallica to Hardcore rave, acid electronica, techno, house, breakbeat, acid, drum n’ bass, glitch, trip hop and dubstep. Treedom is none of these things. But it’s influenced by all of these things. It’s a craft creation, a lovingly made-by-hand electronic offering that uniquely reflects COI’s sensibility from combining just the right tones with just the level of subtle beat for just the right amount of time in the mix.
Treedom is synth-dominated. But samples amplify and insinuate and bring ideas to bear that synths alone cannot. A lo-fi affect, tastefully employed, is welcome as it comes and goes. The tracks have a certain organic quality. One may say, well of course they do, this is about trees! But electronica parades in many guises. Making it feel organic is no easy feat. Cargill and Bob Fischer of the web site Haunted Generation note this in their conversation published online in March, 2020. It’s this “haunt” genre, an invocation of memories of former days in the U.K. made manifest in media samples, that animates COI’s self-titled first release .
Tracks of note include those featuring a mellotron sound: Vaporous Chemistry, Fairy Rings and Symbiosis, of both the flute and string varieties. Guitar, not used on COI’s debut album, make appearances in the album’s opening track, The Fleeting Freedom of a Seedling, Vaprous Chemistry, and Treedom. The opener is the most guitar forward piece on the album, a confident acoustic guitar overtaken by pads that evoke a chorus of cicadas. Fairy Rings features Theremin, which comes in like distant taunting banshee, becomes progressively unhinged, then recedes to robotic chirps.
In all, Treedom is a wonderfully crafted collection that showcases Cargill’s sensibilities for a subtle but well-informed curiosity in electronica. Treedom is available on Bandcamp in digital format: https://coi-woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com/.