Music Can Help Save the Planet.
(Part 2)

Stephan Crawford / Art Project Manager

To Promote the Project Across the World.

Stephan Crawford believes that music, as an universal language, has the power to mobilize people across the world into concerted action to address climate change and other crises of global significance. Focusing on this unique language, we asked him how he combines the explanatory language of science and the evocative power of music.

The epiphany that inspired ClimateMusic.

The ClimateMusic Project was conceived to solve an obvious problem: global warming is an urgent problem for everyone, yet only a tiny fraction of people take action against it. A dormant frustration over this situation lived in the back of my mind for many years. The actual drive for the project, however, came from an epiphany I experienced while thinking about a sculpture to express Earth's carbon cycle. While tapping away at my piece with a metal rod, I noticed slight differences in the pitches of the sound produced as the tip of the rod moved from place to place. The sound produced was musical. Differences in a physical form translated into variations in sound, as if the carbon molecules were expressed in music. Aha, I thought: climate change expressed through music can move people to action.

I acted on the idea immediately, contacting scientists, composers, and musicians through friends to organize a pilot event in 2014. In that first effort we gathered in a room to compose a musical piece that depicted climate change. We only had 8 hours to accomplish the task. As soon as the 20-minute piece was finished, we invited an audience into the room to hear us perform it.

The whole project was a gamble, a shot in the dark. None of us could predict if we would flop or triumph, least of all me, the organizer. So we held our collective breath and mustered our energies. To our great relief we pulled it off: the music was so good, it moved some of our audience to tears.

In 2014, Stephan and a few local composers and scientists; composer Erik Ian Walker, violinist Michele Walther, synthesizer player Thomas Dimuzio, keyboard plater Scott Brazieal and scientists Dr. William Collins and Dr. Andrew Jones, spent an experimental hack day at the studio to test his concept which later became the ClimateMusic Project.

Awakening people’s conscience with music derived from science.

Encouraged by the successful pilot event, the following year I established a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation and performance of music derived from science. Our music video “Climate,” one of the productions to emerge from this initiative, depicts year-to-year shifts in carbon dioxide concentrations and atmospheric temperature graphically, in charts, with a music accompaniment, spanning from the early 1900s up to the year 2250. As global warming progresses, the images become increasingly tumultuous and the music intensifies. By coordinating the data, visuals and sound, the expressions of the future are vividly depicted to stir a powerful sense of emotion in the audience.

This is a clip from their first portfolio composition, Climate, by composer Erik Ian Walker in collaboration with The ClimateMusic Project. It models with temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and energy balance of climate change within the climate system over 450 years, from 1800-2250AD.
Credits:Erik Ian Walker, composer; Dr. Andy Jones and Kinetech Arts, animations; Tony Dunnigan visuals.

Our plan was to present the data in a credible, quantitative form as a fundamental element of a musical arrangement. The composition must have the power to reach the audience’s inner awareness. Musicians work closely with scientists to explore the best expressions together, rather than simply coordinating data and sound brought into the process separately. We are building upon this process to create powerful sounds that move people in our new pieces.

Music with a purpose to connect people across the world.

The ClimateMusic Project uses music as a medium to awaken people to climate change as a force that is changing all of our lives. After every concert we set aside some time to hold a discussion on climate change with the audience. On one occasion, one woman in the audience shared a powerful insight by describing how the music hit home for her. As the music played, she told us, a shocking mental picture of the future world formed in her mind, a world where her grandchildren would be beset by perpetual weather crises. She pledged to take immediate action. We took heart from her words and were reassured that we were on the right course.

We have various ideas for the future of The ClimateMusic Project. A first step will be to broaden the scope of activities to institutions such as schools, museums, and public places. We also plan to collaborate with many other music artists based on the methodology of the ClimateMusic Project. We want to engage musicians across the world in a concerted effort to expand the project beyond musical genres and national borders. Solutions to climate change and the many other issues the world faces can only emerge through the efforts of the global community. Music shines a ray of hope for all of us on this front. If I were to pick one of the many virtues of music, it would be the power to connect people to people. I have experienced this tremendous power personally through the many wonderful encounters music has opened for me in my own life.

The ClimateMusic Project have an on-going collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 2018, they worked with a class over the course of a semester to provide an opportunity for the students to engage on climate change through their music. Most of them previously knew little about climate change, so this turned out to be a great way for the students to both learn and become engaged on the issue.

Read the Part 1

Stephan Crawford / Art Project Manager
San Francisco-based artist Stephan Crawford lived through a musically rich childhood and still plays guitar today. Stephan carried on with his musical endeavors for years alongside his career at the US Department of Commerce. When he returned to graduate school to study environmental sciences at the age of 47, his musical life was going as strong as ever. After grad school he founded The ClimateMusic Project, an initiative to combine music and science in creative ways that raise public awareness about global warming and other issues facing the planet.

Interview Date:

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