When Václav Hálek first heard a mushroom sing, a lifelong obsession of transcribing mycelium-inspired music began. Before his death in 2014 he had accomplished nearly 6,000 melodic mushroom translations from over 2,000 mushroom types, each piece unique to the soul of the particular fungal species. Hálek speaks simply of his craft: “I record music that mushrooms sing to me”.
Hálek’s love affair started in 1980 while on a forest expedition in search of rare fungus. “It was very dry, so for a while we could not find any mushrooms”, Hálek explained. “Eventually we got lucky and found a type of mushroom called Tarzetta cupularis … At the very moment I looked at the mushroom, I heard music…an orchestra: harps, flutes and even a harpsichord were playing a melody.” This sudden divine inspiration moved Hálek to pen more mushroom symphonies, and soon he published an entire collection of melodies called The Musical Atlas of Mushrooms: How Mushrooms Sing. The book contains 42 songs with accompanying photographs, and it also serves as the foundation for Hálek’s 30-minute symphony Mycocosmos.
For twenty years, Hálek devoted himself to channeling the diverse array of music bestowed upon him by these simple yet mystical creatures. He became extremely sensitive to the beings, and cultivated a loving relationship with them: “Whenever I connect with a mushroom I always have essentially the same two feelings. The first is that the mushroom is pleased that I have noticed it and then it wants to show me what it is and why it is in this world. Then a composition arises. Sometimes I give them a wink when I hear the music.”
The bond shared by Hálek and his mushroom collaborators is to him, a spiritual one. When he finds a mushroom that he wants to set to music, he places it in front of him and prays: “Because I want to understand the specific essence of that mushroom. When I feel ready, I examine it and then breathe in, smelling its body. Shortly, I can hear a motif. However, I always check if the motif corresponds to the mushroom. Only then, I write down the tune. During writing, I check if the music agrees with the mushroom. When I finish, I experience a feeling of joy, and I thank God for being able to write the music. See, I can’t really sleep that well any more, so I wake up and start praying. Then I pull out some mushroom that I’ve found and I start praying even harder, out of gratitude. I think that if a person is capable of showing gratitude then it’s more likely that they are capable of being astonished by something. That’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to recreate that first feeling of wonder and astonishment. Like when a little boy sees the ocean for the first time. It feels like a revelation. And now I’m trying to find revelation through my art. Every time I compose it’s like a tiny revelation from God.”
You can hear some of Hálek’s love songs here.
Photo by Brian W. Schaller [FAL], from Wikimedia Commons