Vivaldi’s Four Seasons re-imagined in the age of Climate Change

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18 April 2019 || Forbes

Note: see original article for links to two Vimeo videos 

Climate change research can be daunting and depressing. To properly engage with it takes time, and short catchphrases, like “the Earth is warming” don’t tell the full story of what’s going on. How can climate researchers convey the urgency and importance of their message? Some of them have turned to music.

In a new, ten-minute Polish documentary produced for ClientEarth, composers Szymon Weiss and Szymon Sutor describe how they reinterpreted Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to convey the effects of climate change.

Their piece, “The Lost Seasons”, uses musical composition to represent how the musicians perceive climate change to affect “a change of seasons from four to five, or maybe to three, maybe to a chaos of seasons.”

The work was first presented at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP24 in Katowice, Poland, last December.

Watch: THE LOST SEASONS (ENG)  How would “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi sound if the composer lived in the times of climate change?

While “The Lost Seasons” is an artistic interpretation of climate research data, others have taken a much more direct approach.

In 2013, Daniel Crawford, of the University of Minnesota, turned 130 years of climate data into a cello piece. Two years later, he created a new piece for string quartet, where each instrument performs temperature data from a certain part of the Northern hemisphere.

More recently, Judy Twedt shared with TEDxSeattle how she took 36 years of measurements on Arctic Sea Ice levels and turned them into a piano piece. In this piece, the left hand plays a constant repetition of four chords, representing the seasons, while the right hand plays a note representative of the level of sea ice in a given month. Higher notes mean more ice cover, lower notes represent less ice.

Connecting to climate change through music | Judy Twedt | TEDxSeattle

There are also several ongoing collaborative projects that regularly perform music based on climate change research. In the UK, filmmakers Leah Borromeo and Katherine Round worked with composer Jamie Perera – and with scientists, journalists and others – to create “Climate Symphony” out of scientific data.

Another collaboration, The Climate Music Project, based in San Francisco, has been working with different groups to create musical works inspired by climate science data. Their most recent piece, “Climate”, incorporates both historic data and models of potential future scenarios.

How effective is this type of communication? Twedt was inspired to turn data into music after she noticed the undergraduate students she was teaching about climate change started suffering from information overload after seeing so many different visual representations of the data.

In her TEDxSeattle talk, Twedt says, “Music can be intimate, even vulnerable,  and help us understand, through rhythm and vibration, that climate change isn’t simply a test problem, or a policy problem. It’s also an experience of loss — and disruption.”

Meanwhile, “The Lost Seasons” composers hope that their composition will encourage listeners to learn more about the message of the work. “If someone is sentimentally impressed immediately after the concert, they will want to return to this material in result,” they shared in the ClientEarth documentary.

Sometimes the same attention-grabbing effect is achieved even by just turning climate data into sound that isn’t very musical at all. Last year, Chris Chafe of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford converted temperature and CO2 data collected by researchers at the University of Berkeley into sound. It’s not what you would normally describe as music.

The sound starts as a low drone in the middle ages, and suddenly shoots up in pitch in the very last seconds of the audio, representing the rapid changes in the last few decades. In an interview with radio station KQED, researcher Valeri Vasquez, who contributed to the research,  said “The whole concept that we’re trying to explain here is not a pleasant one, it’s actually a frightening one, so it might be really appropriate that it ends in this kind of ambulance sound.”

Hear Climate Data Turned into Music

Making connections with an audience isn’t the only reason to turn scientific data into sound. Sometimes, the process of “sonification” – converting data to sound – can help researchers identify certain small changes or disruptions in a pattern in a way that are less obvious with visual representations.

A classic example of sonification is the Geiger counter, with which you can hear whether you’re getting closer to a radioactive source. Sonification of data has also helped researchers discover new astronomical features, and the method is used in climate research as well.

Researchers are using seismic recordingsof the shifting of an ice shelf in Antarctica to monitor its condition. When sped up, these vibrations turn into audible sounds in which you can clearly hear changes corresponding to warmer periods.

Whether it’s for data analysis or education, listening to climate change data as sound tends to convey a sense of dissonance and urgency. It’s not always pleasant to listen to, but that’s exactly the point. WIth Earth Day coming up, these compositions are worth a listen.

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“The Lost Seasons”: musicians take on climate change in new Polish documentary


“The four seasons as we know them are disappearing” – Marcin Stoczkiewicz, ClientEarth.

ClientEarth has been running a campaign in Poland – called ‘#ico2dalej’ – to boost recognition of how climate change is affecting everyone in the country, in ways they may not have recognised – and making the link between climate change and heavy use of fossil fuels.

Ahead of the climate conference in Katowice last Christmas, as part of our campaign, composers Szymon Weiss and Szymon Sutor teamed up to find a new way to tell the story and to inspire people and leaders to take action.

Their joint creation, “The Lost Seasons”, reimagines Antonio Vivaldi’s original composition “The Four Seasons” – altered to reflect the changes the world is seeing as global temperatures rise.

The electro-classical piece debuted on stage at COP24, with a live orchestra, against a dystopian backdrop: drone footage in monochrome of Poland’s biggest coal plant, Belchatow, and the mine that surrounds it.

A new documentary has just aired, telling the story of how the collaboration and the piece came to be.

“Changing such a great piece of art is not easy”

Both artists agreed that the project was risky. Weiss describes how they approached the challenge of creating musical parallels to climate change, trying to represent “a change of seasons from four to five, or maybe to three, maybe to a chaos of seasons.” Weiss programmed “digital rain droplets”; Sutor wanted to take the instruments to the limits of their range – and maybe beyond.

The result is something completely original, and hard-hitting. The piece kicks off with the jaunty string motif of Vivaldi’s Spring movement. But it’s cut off almost as soon as it’s started, replaced by an eerie semi-electronic soundscape. Footage of the immense power plant crackles into life on the screen behind the orchestra and the composition tumbles into a journey through Vivaldi such as you’ve never heard him, complete with intense techno and interwoven strings and synth.

At an interview after the show, Sutor said: “I am glad that, together, we could do it how we feel it – Szymon [Weiss] through electronic music, while I had the opportunity to write a string part. We connected these two poles.”

Is Poland a major polluter?

Poland is still a major coal user, burning millions of tonnes every year, rivalled only by Germany in the EU. Mammoth plant Belchatow alone burns a tonne of coal every second and has an annual carbon footprint four times the size of Ryanair’s entire plane fleet.

In the documentary, Head of ClientEarth Central and Eastern Europe Marcin Stoczkiewicz says: “A grassroots opposition movement must emerge in Poland to oppose a coal-based economy – because coal destroys the climate the most of all.”

The pressure is on Poland’s government, and its state-owned and private utilities to find a way to move out of coal and into cheaper, cleaner alternatives. Domestic heating is already shifting away from solid fuels thank to court rulings made to protect the health of people living in inner cities. Meanwhile, many of the bigger suppliers in the energy sector are seeing more lucrative opportunities beyond coal.

Building the momentum for climate action

ClientEarth’s celebrity-backed #ico2dalej campaign is gaining traction – this collaboration with Weiss & Sutor has been an exciting development.

Radek Dudzic, director of digital agency OS3, which is supporting the campaign pro bono, said: “It’s important that people try to talk about climate change all the time. Politicians and scientists are doing this but they don’t always understand each other. We want to use the universal language of music.”

Sutor finished: “The most important thing for me is that this message and our vision have to move the conscience of our society, but also to make them change their decisions, turn their actions into something better.”

“The Lost Seasons” documentary was directed by Magdalena Zielinska (Papaya Films) and produced by Ewa Kurzawe. It premiered in Poland on April 4, 2019 and is available to watch online.

Original Link: What Does Climate Change Sound Like As Music?

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James Porteous

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