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Kate Carr: Listen to Weather

img  Tobias Fischer

When there's nothing to talk about, one talks about the weather. What makes it interesting to listen to it?
Well this project isn’t making a case for people to spend hours sitting in silence straining to hear the clouds rumbling. Some people find this interesting, others do not and that is just the way of things. What Listen to the Weather is attempting to do is offer a slightly different take on climate change by pointing out that even the act of deploying ‘water’ as a metaphor in sound art or music more broadly relies upon a shared set of understandings about what water means and the role it plays in our society – and that as our climate changes this understanding will shift also. So this project is not really about listening to the sounds weather phenomena make as such but examining the ways our historical weather patterns have shaped who we are as human beings, and highlighting that our understandings and assumptions about weather patterns and when and how they occur has permeated our cultural output.
For example Darren McClure’s piece which is up on the Listen to the weather site samples a song which references water sprinklers -- quite a whimsical and romantic image. But in my hometown in Australia water sprinklers have been banned for many years because of a longstanding drought, which changes the way you perceive even such a simple object and gives the piece different emotional connotations.

Why water?
This project is being produced for the Ear to the Earth environmental sound festival in New York, and they picked the theme to draw attention to the crisis we are heading towards in terms of water scarcity and management as well as the pollution of water systems. What I was interested in was combining the idea of weather data, which is obviously quite a dry topic (ha), with the more nuanced ways the idea of water is used by artists from the most obscure to the insanely poppy to express a vast gamut of emotions and ideas: from TLC’s "Waterfalls" to Handel’s "Watermusic", composers, along with other artists, have returned again and again to the idea of water for inspiration.

There are many possible fields for exploring the themes of „Listen to the Weather“. Music is perhaps not the most obvious one. Why do you think sound as a medium can give answers to the questions posed by the project?

Water has held particular resonance for sound artists and ambient musicians and I think this historical fascination gives the genre an interesting take on the new challenges we are facing in terms of our water supply and water pollution. It is almost like the old clichés have lost their currency not just because of overuse but because our world itself has also changed. Water isn’t so readily accepted as an easy metaphor for love or desire or moodiness or even the magical or the sublime because there is this other facet to water these days which is that through floods, pollution and droughts it is presenting us with challenges we need to face. Water today has become threatening or worrying in so many different ways beyond merely a choppy sea, or the threat of drowning.

Was one of your reasons for inviting particular artists to the project that you knew they'd be able to see past and work their way around the clichés and New age connotations?
Straight up meditations on water have had their day within sound art probably a few too many times. Although having said that I think clichés can be interesting to reference and work with, and I’m certainly interested in sound artists who are cognizant of what has come before them. This project really forces participants to engage in the different ways water has been presented either lyrically or more generally within sound and I think that is a good thing.

Just as with image transfers into sound, there's always the problem of translation, of establishing audible links between two fundamentally different media. Why do you think this works in the case of „Listening to the Weather“?

It is funny because although weather obviously has an aural dimension, this project doesn’t particularly encourage participants to record the actual sound of the wind or rain or what have you. Not that I’m opposed to that but I don’t think 20 or 30 different recordings of the rain in different countries would have been particularly thought-provoking. By asking sound artists to incorporate weather data into their pieces in whichever way they see fit, I suppose what I’m getting at is the science behind both measuring weather and charting the changes in weather. That when it comes down to it, these numbers actually represent something much broader than just a day - they are a daily manifestation of the way our world is changing. I think there is a big challenge in incorporating raw numbers meaningfully into a soundpiece, but by the same token I think there is something quite cool about going: “hear that sound, that represents how much it rained today” as well. It is quite modest but also I think quite moving to think of different sound artists around the world looking up how quickly the wind blew in their cities on a given day and charting how much rain fell. One, Guy Birkin, who is currently working on his piece is going to gather his own data measurements as he has a science background and that is a great process I think, given a major theme of this work is engaging with our world, both culturally and in terms on natural phenomenon.

You're a sound artist yourself. How did you approach your own contribution? Were you possibly inspired by some of the entries by other artists as well?
Definitely I’ve found this project excellent to work on and I’ve been really happy with how enthusiastic everyone has been about the theme and the framework for making the works which I’ve come up with. I think the theme has made people more interested to get involved because more and more people are worried about what is happening in the world, and so that has been really inspiring. I’m always really excited to hear each piece, and have of course been challenged and inspired by heaps of them. I love how varied the pieces are, and even the samples people have drawn on: everything from Slayer to Handel and all things in between.
In terms of my own contributions, I’ve delved into some pop samples for my works, of which there are four, with Prince and the Sugarcubes in there. I made a triptych for the month of May because it was the rainiest May here in Sydney for I think 10 years so it was pretty memorable. I don’t own an umbrella either so spent weeks constantly damp which was quite interesting. My works are probably less ambient than most of the others which I’ve received. I go in a bit more for drums than some of the other artists seem to have. But really in terms of my approach, I listen to some sounds, decide on an overall atmosphere I’m going for, and it goes from there.

What kind of insights with regards to the issues discussed in „Listening to the Weather“ are you drawing from the various tracks submitted so far?
I suppose the most interesting thing for me so far has been how engaged a lot of the sound artists who have submitted works actually are in the environment, and weather in particular. Craque, for example, used a topographic outline of the water basin near him in Orange County USA in his piece ‘Water us through’, while Letna included a straight recording of the rain falling in Paris in his piece ‘Kisa Pada’. Guy Birkin, as I said before, wants to collect his own weather data and Broken Chip hunted down a weather station in the Blue Mountains to source his measurements. I’m also really thrilled to have just received a track in support of the project from Francisco Lopez. Not known for his use of samples, Francisco has offered a project he did using wind recordings from Argentinian Patagonia in 2000 and 2003.

An important aspect of finding out more about the world around is that it can be a tool of empowerment. In which way, do you feel, can „Listening to the Weather“ „make a difference“?
I think it is difficult to encapsulate any project in terms of “making a difference”. Obviously no-one wants to feel like they are totally useless in the world or have zero impact, but I think as well people just act around things which inspire them or they care about. And even if this only makes an impression on very few people or just the individual who has acted then I think this is worthwhile, and can lead to positive outcomes. Certainly I don’t expect hardened climate change cynics to take a peek at the Listen to the Weather website and realize the folly of their ways, but on the other hand if this project and the works involved can make anyone think with wonder about sound and about our world and even about the troubles we face ecologically then I think that is a beautiful thing.

Homepage: Listen to the Weather
Homepage: Kate Carr
Homepage: Ear to the Earth Festival

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