IS THERE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSIC AND CLIMATE-CHANGE? By Sharon Williams



A note on climate-change and music composition.

This morning ash and charred leaves fell as I put shade cloth on my vegie patch (while wearing a mask).

 I am living in a poorly insulated rental property which seems to heat up quickly and cool down slowly, and I have a chronic health condition (ME/CFS) which is exacerbated by the poor air quality. I don’t feel the need to ponder the intricacies of climate change and its causative impact on the current fire situation and impending heatwaves in my local area. This is not my area of expertise. But it appears (in addition to my somewhat disturbing subjective reality) that the science is in and there is no room for dispute. I will instead focus here on the relationship between music composition and climate change, as that is something rarely (if ever) considered.

What is the relationship between climate change and our current way of “doing” the arts in general and music composition in particular? I would have to argue the relationship is important, impactful, and that it needs to be rethought.

We cannot continue to do things the way we have always done them. No area of society is exempt.

Everything and everyone must start working towards responsible self-governance and small community self-sufficiency.

To think that we can have a concert to raise money for local firefighters and rescue efforts or that we can write music about how sad (or infuriating) it all is (while having noble intent) seems to be completely missing the point.

 As composers and musicians, we must be prepared to give up everything if we desire social change

As experimental composer John Cage pointed out, we must be prepared to give up music “as we know it”, and be prepared that in the process we make ourselves and our profession redundant if necessary. Because the only way to fix things is to empower individuals and encourage them to self-govern, in all areas of their lives.

We cannot exempt the discipline of music from this necessity.

Music composition in its current manifestations is commonly a narcissistic pursuit. A hierarchical system that turns the listener into a powerless and passive consumer of the composer’s self-expressive content.
This is insulting and dehumanising, considering that humans have an innate capability to create music for themselves when and where they need it, and they can do this either alone, or with other humans.

Our current way of “doing” music, is a relatively new dynamic in terms of our social history.

There is an undeniable connection between the way we “do” our industries and run our societies and the way we “do” our music.

Divide to conquer and keep the power in the (often completely incompetent and self-interested) hands of a few.

Meanwhile, the majority are convinced they cannot be self-sufficient but instead still need authority figures (parental surrogates) to provide their essentials - like food, shelter, clothing and MUSIC.

 These things are purchased at a huge cost to individuals and collective global humanity. We are able to make music for ourselves. We have simply “forgotten” how. This is not an innocent “forgetting”, but involves coercion and the toxic agendas of self-interested individuals and groups. We can also grow our own food, build our own dwellings and make our own clothes, individually and collectively. Yes, we can.

Written by: Sharon Williams.

nb: The above is by and with permission of Sharon Williams. Copyright. December 2019, Blue Mountains, Australia. Photo: Courtesy of and copyright of, Lona Logan.

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