Composer R. Murray Schafer believes that we should all try to hear the environment as music. More audaciously, he suggests that we should all take responsibility for its composition. This is the foundation of Acoustic Ecology, a discipline that attempts to understand the world around us not through what we see but instead through what we hear. It is at once both art form and conservation effort. It implies that there are changes that can’t be seen but, oh, they sure can be heard.
But what if this composition isn’t the cohesive brilliance of a symphony but instead hot, sweaty jazz? Everything that’s making sound around you is improvising — environmental bebop. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and we don’t always understand it. But, ask any good jazz musician, and they’ll tell you that half the fun is figuring out what’s being played. It’s about learning the changes - the way the harmony shifts from one place to the next. Once you understand that, the music opens up for you. So, maybe, we need to start there. We don’t often have names for the sounds around us; we just say “the sound of a helicopter” or “the sound of the river.” But, how can we understand something that has no name? And if we don’t understand the thousands of nameless sounds around us, do we really understand our environment? Instead, let’s think about that helicopter over your head, let’s think about the river that runs through your town, and let’s give their jazz a name. It’s active listening as music critique! It’s music critique as climate justice! So, from now on, the cow goes “Moo!”, the helicopter goes “Skabridash!”, and the river goes “Ropliga!”
Climate Changes! is a new series of site-specific installations by composer ZW Buckley that exists at the intersection of climate justice, soundscape composition, and community-engaged art.