The Musician Inspired By Mushrooms

“[Mushrooms] have the same sort of capacity for non-verbal communication as, say, flowers or animals or trees.” —Vaclav Halek on his mushroom compositions

In A Nutshell

Vaclav Halek is inspired by mushrooms. (No, not in the way you’re thinking.) This Czech composer claims every mushroom has its own unique song, and it just so happens that he has the ability to capture their mycological music.

The Whole Bushel

When most people spot a mushroom, they either think, “Mmmm, delicious!” or, “Danger! Don’t touch!” Vaclav Halek isn’t most people. When this Czech septuagenarian sees a Boletus aestivalis or a Tarzetta cupularis, he hears entire symphonies in his head. Halek has been passionate about fungi ever since his childhood, when his parents and grandparents took him out mushroom hunting. However, it wasn’t until 1980 that the composer discovered his special skill. While on a mycological expedition outside of Prague, Halek looked down the lens of a camera and spied a lone mushroom. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he heard beautiful music, string instruments and flutes. Excited, he dashed off to grab his composition paper, much to the befuddlement of his friends. Despite their confusion, Halek went from mushroom to mushroom, listening to their songs, and soon composed an entire symphony.

Ever since then, Halek has spent his days wandering through parks and woods, looking for inspiration in the form of fungus. According to Halek, “Each type of mushroom has a different melody; it’s their way of expressing themselves.” And some types of mushrooms have more songs than others. One genus might have as many as 20 songs while others might only have one. As of 2011, he had composed for almost 2,000 types of mushroom. Some compositions were written for violins, other for violas, and some for flutes. Halek describes his music in incredibly beautiful terms, explaining that one piece might be about “enjoying freedom but knowing that it will end soon” while another might sound like “the neverending cosmos, like you can see in the deep space pictures taken by the Hubble telescope.”

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Since there are quite a few mushrooms on planet Earth, Halek has been a very busy man. As of 2011, he’d written over 5,000 songs based on fungus, and he tries to write a least one piece every day. While some think Halek might have some sort of synesthesia (a neurological phenomenon where colors have sounds, sounds have smells, etc.), the elderly musician would tell you he’s listening to nature’s secrets. A devout Catholic, Halek writes his music to thank God “who created it all.” He also wants to instill joy in his listeners and create a sense of wonder, just like the wonder a child feels when “he sees the ocean for the first time.” Sure, Halek might be a bit crazy, but if he is, it’s the kind of craziness we need more of.

Show Me The Proof

VICE: The Mushroom Whisperer
The Baltimore Sun: Melodies of the mushrooms
VICE: Meet The Mushroom Composer (video)
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, by Andy Letcher

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