RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Ear to the Earth: Defining a new kind of artist

img  Tobias

The theme of Ear to the Earth is certainly urgent. Was there, nonetheless, a key experience or moment which made you put the idea into practise?
I had been more or less casually interested in environmental issues before 2005, like most people not quite aware of the dangers of the situation. But on vacation in a small fishing village in Maine during the summer of 2005, I had the chance to read some articles on climate change and realized, to my horror I might add, the seriousness of the situation we're in and the urgency with which we need to act. I asked myself: what can we do? And the answer, of course, was that we heighten environmental awareness through sound.

What kind of interesting answers and insights have artists provided?

The single most interesting insight is in the way that animals and humans reflect, adjust to, and interact with their environment in sound. A healthy ecosystem will include a broad spectrum of communication, indicating healthy activity. In different ways, all of the artists in the festival are demonstrating the varieties and richness of those communications and their social goals.

From our naturally restricted European perspective, it would seem as though ecological issues are currently becoming more important politically in the USA. Do you consider the festival an important part of contributing to the recent debates?
We're a bit off the debate center. The debates are largely on how to make environmental programs work, and they focus on aligning economic and political goals with environmental actions. It's hard to do and almost always represents a compromise. The festival has a different goal, which is to raise awareness in support of solutions. And the festival is but one result and function of our Ear to the Earth network, which is centered in the Ear to the Earth website, still nascent but quickly transforming. I do think that the potential of the network, the festival, and the many other events that we hope to encourage throughout the world, is amazing as a way of engaging people in environmental issues and pushing the politicians towards the radical actions that we need.

I suppose it's no coincidence that you chose to match the theme of bio-diversity with a notable focus on musical diversity. How did you decide upon the line-up for the festival?

We have a large field of contacts and advisors. Many of them contact us with suggestions on an ongoing basis, and we often contact them for research leads. In this festival, Suzanne Thorpe, an associate director of Electronic Music Foundation, did a lot of the research. And based on what we learn, we curate the programs. 

Your report from your performance of Yoko Ono's „Secret Piece“ was incredibly insightful. How important, would you say, is demonstrating the tangible and „real“ relation between music and the world around us – instead of further nurturing the idea that it is something „artificial“ outside of our daily reality?

Historically, the content of art has always been related to its social function. Sonatas and symphonies in past centuries, without the CDs and large concert halls, were entertainments for the artistocracy and bourgeoisie, and that audience has to some extent redefined itself in more recent years and grown enormously. But thanks in large part to technology, a new content based on found sounds of the world has emerged, first as an extension of acoustic instrument sounds (as in John Cage's or Pierre Schaeffer's music), then as a study (as in acoustic ecology) of our "soundscape", and now as an effort to understand the world through sound. So to put it another way, a new kind of music is emerging that is connected more tightly to our daily realities.

There will always be the question of whether the arts can ever actively bring about change. But in which way are you hoping or even expecting Ear to the Earth to have concrete results?

We are witnessing, and Ear to the Earth is defining and presenting, a new kind of artist. I view this as a significant moment in the cultural history of the world. As a movement away from CP Snow's lament about a growing gulf between scientists and artists, artists today collaborate with scientists. In fact, many of them are scientists with phds in ecology and related fields. And many of the sound and media artists associated with Ear to the Earth are knowledegable and very alarmed at the general insensitivity to the disasters we face. Their art is distinguished by its intent, as art for life's sake, and its roots in portrayals of the realities of the world. Yes, then, I do think that this will have concrete results. I do think that, if we can move fast enough and find support, that Ear to the Earth will play an important role and have concrete results. Mark Moffett, ecologist, prize-winning photographer for National Geographic, recipient of the Lowell Thomas Medal from the Explorers Club and Rolex, wrote: "Modern ecologists may have reached a limit on how effectively they can convey messages to the public, and they may now need to draw upon the emotional vibrancy offered by the arts." But the important conclusion is that a new breed of artist is creating artforms in sound and image that to relate with emotional vibrancy to environmental issues.

The Ear to the Earth Festival will take place from October 8-10, 2009. For more information visit the EMF Productions website.

Homepage: Ear to the Earth Festival
Homepage: Joel Chadabe

Related articles

London in Berlin: Musikfest Berlin 2009
A tour de force featuring ...

Partner sites