Intersections: Duets with Nature

Humpback Whale by Christopher Michel

Humpback Whale by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Landscape Music isn’t really a publication for conventional music journalism, but interesting projects frequently come to my attention that are well worth mentioning here. Accordingly, I bring you Intersections: a series of articles highlighting large-scale, interdisciplinary, multimedia, and/or collaborative projects at the intersection of music, nature, and environmental advocacy. These articles will profile groups of diverse projects that share compelling thematic connections.

Each of these projects provide new and illuminating answers to the question of how we can make music about, with, and from natural landscapes (or, as the case may be, seascapes!). And all of the work I’ll be exploring is closely aligned with the ideas behind this website, though these artists are not affiliated with Landscape Music or the Landscape Music Composers Network.

For this first article, I’m focusing on a few unusual projects in which new music is created through a “duet” with sounds from the natural world: POD TUNE, an ambient album featuring whale song; E-Mago, music made with geophysical data; Inuksuit, John Luther Adam’s outdoors epic; and Nat Evans’ The Tortoise, a sonic documentation of the Pacific Crest Trail.


Singing with Whales

POD TUNE, an “interspecies symphonic conversation,” is an album of new ambient music created in response to, and integration with, recordings of whale songs. POD TUNE features a diverse team of noteworthy musicians and composers, spearheaded by a producing trio steeped in environmental advocacy and storytelling. Together, they weave a sonic tapestry evoking oceanic experiences and imagining sonic bridges between human and whale. The album is available for listening on Soundcloud and can be purchased at podtune.com

(Note: Landscape Music Composers Network member Alex Shapiro also has a beautiful piece featuring whale song, Below for electronics and contrabass flute, which can be sampled here.)

Complement your exploration of POD TUNE with segments from podcast Studio 360‘s excellent episode, “Do Animals Have Culture?” This fascinating interview illuminates the scientific study of whale songs, while this segment looks at how whale song has been integrated into pop music to promote environmental causes.


Music of the Earth

E-Mago is an Italian concert presentation described as “the first scientific-musical show where musicians improvise directly with the frequencies emitted by the Earth.” E-Mago concerts in Italy this spring and summer will present live improvisations over electronic tracks created by EMusic, a project which generates music through real-time sonification of geophysical data. Percussionist/composer Michele Villetti and geophysicist Antonio Menghini are directing this collaborative project, which offers a vision for the “sound of the Earth.”

The following EMusic track, “Palanzana,” was created by translating data from electromagnetic measurements of an ancient volcanic dome in Viterbo into musical pitches and rhythms.

News and information about performances of E-Mago can be found at their website. Menghini has also published an academic article on the sonification process behind EMusic.


Soundscapes

There are numerous and varied examples of ambient soundscapes making their way into composed music. Here are a couple of projects that take this concept to an unusual level of scale and collaborative engagement.

John Luther Adams has composed more notable environmental pieces than could be recounted here, but one work especially worth mentioning is Inuksuit, a place-based work that transforms according to the performance locale and the performing ensemble (“9 to 99 percussion players”). In this work, percussionists are widely dispersed through an outdoor area, creating a fully immersive spatial listening experience that creates a sonic landscape in itself and, by necessity, is integrated with the non-performance sounds of the environment in which it occurs. Although this work has been released in an epic surround-sound recording by Cantaloupe Music (available here), I hope to someday experience this work live—the way in which, I imagine, this work has its greatest potential impact.

Composer and sound artist Nat Evans created album The Tortoise around field recordings made during five months spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. On several of these tracks, Evans collaborated with composers local to the areas in which he’d recorded to create pieces responding to these soundscapes. This project conveys a search for the essence of place, resulting in sonic “windows” into moments along a journey through changing landscapes.


In my next installment of Intersections, I’ll be focusing on projects that integrate film, music, live performance, and education to tell stories about environmental sustainability on an epic scale.

Please share this post:

2 thoughts on “Intersections: Duets with Nature

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *