I’ve been thinking a lot this month about the relationship between music and activism, more specifically when it comes to the the climate crisis. Questions have been racing through my mind, such as ‘what is the response of a musician in 2021? How can music make a difference? How does it communicate? What can it do?’
As a band we’re in the process of developing a collaborative performance exploring the destructive impact of oceanic noise pollution. From what I’ve seen, noise is not a pollutant that is usually mentioned during the mainstream conversation about climate change. However, the amount of noise that we inflict upon the waters of our earth have devastated many of its ecosystems. We are still in the early phases of this collaboration and are planning to reveal more about it soon (so watch this space!) but our initial explorations have shown us already just how widespread the environmental damages are and it’s truly horrifying.
For anyone listening to new music in 2021, you don’t have to look far to find musicians who care about these issues and are talking about them. A great example of a community campaigning for awareness and change to the industry is Music Declares Emergency. I was going to try to sum up what they do in my own words but their website says it better than I can:
Music Declares Emergency is a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations that stand together to declare a climate and ecological emergency and call for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth. We believe in the power of music to promote the cultural change needed to create a better future.
As well as pushing for government reform, they ask artists that sign their pledge and commit to personally ‘speaking up and out about the climate emergency’ and ensuring that their business becomes more ‘ecologically sustainable and regenerative’ in the hope that this will eventually become normal practise within the industry. It’s a huge challenge, especially when it comes to larger tours and high budget travel- but seeing how many musicians are committing to making their footprint greener is massively encouraging. For an inspiring example, read this article about Massive Attack.
Two pieces of music have stirred my soul in profound ways recently and led me to think about my hopes and dreams for the earth as well as my responsibility to care for it. This they do without necessarily using words, instead capturing the song of the earth itself in intensely powerful ways.
The first is an album called 'Skule Skerry’ by Scottish artist and field recordist Erland Cooper. Erland Cooper has written three albums shaped by the air, sea and land of the Orkney islands where he grew up. I read a review somewhere where he called these pieces ‘sonic landscapes’ and I totally agree, he constructs a picture of the place through different shades of sounds. In Skule Skerry (the second in the series) Erland combines classical composition with electronic sounds, found sounds from all over the islands, spoken word and sung vocals. I listened to the whole thing in one go as I was walking through London, it is intricate and emotional and you can really feel his deep respect and love for the land. I came away moved by the feeling that the islands are unique and precious and we need to do more to protect them.
The second is ‘Glacier Music’ by Matthew Burner. The sounds of glaciers melting, cracking and shifting are intertwined with orchestral instrumentation and electronic sounds creating music that is beautiful, delicate and devastating. As Jayson Greene said in a recent review for Pitchfork, “variations in the frequencies of these seismic tones can warn us when meltwater is spreading beneath a glacier’s surface, rendering collapse imminent. Burner incorporated these sounds into his music, mingling them with high, glossy harmonics in the violins. His aim was to make people care more about glaciers through aural association, connecting listeners more directly to their fate.” I really felt that as I was listening to it - I was both connected and grieving as the music communicated directly to my emotions.
In an age where we have so many words overwhelming us all of the time, it’s easy to become disengaged when things constantly feel so monumental. Art— for me, particularly music— can move us in ways that news stories and statistics can’t. It goes straight for the spirit instead of the brain.
Peace & love to you