Singing - and Feeling - the Data: Four Drifting Seasons
How can we convey the urgency of climate change without simplification or propoganda?
How can we create a direct, moving experience from abstract scientific data?
Four Drifting Seasons
Together with Jan Driessen and Killian Elbers, activist composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven translated climate change data from the Northern hemisphere into music. The composition is true to the data, and the vocals are a direct reflection of the changes in our climate since the beginning of measurement in 1880 until spring 2017. A well-known graph is thus transposed from a visual to an auditory experience, ending intensely with one highly pitched tone. In this way, we can relate freshly to the story the data is telling us, surpassing the overly politicized and polarized tone which surrounds this topic.
In Four Drifting Seasons, each vocal group represents a season, with low voices singing the winter, middle voices the spring and autumn, and soprano voices the summer. The occurrence of extreme weather events like floods and storms are expressed through articulation, dynamics, and percussive sounds.
Since the music is neither melodic nor conventional, it is difficult to perform. To ensure accuracy, a team led by Marco Alkema developed an app to support singers in finding the exact pitches during the performance. A beta version of that app, called Conductless, was successfully used for the world premiere of the piece.
Read more about Four Drifting Seasons.
Concert for a Sustainable Planet
In June 2017, Merlijn's team learned about Every Voice Choirs' shared commitment to tying music to social and environmental justice and they reached out to see if we would perform the world premiere of Four Drifting Seasons in the Concert for a Sustainable Planet at Carnegie Hall on September 18th.
Merlin joined Every Voice Choirs for a weekend of creative rehearsals and improvisations, exploring the sound world of the piece, the expressive content of the musical language it employs, and our potential to improvise expressively in that language. Going into performance with a only a beta test version of the app, we were ready for anything, including the possibility that we would have to improvise (we didn't!) The performance, live streamed across the globe, was a great success.
Read more about the Concert for a Sustainable Planet.
The Future of Four Drifting Seasons
The artists that created and premiered Four Drifting Seasons would like the work to become available to choirs and audiences around the world. EVC and Merlijn are currently applying for grants to support the continued development and refinement of the app and the creation of a website that makes the technology, the score, and instructional materials all available for free download, facilitating future performances of the work. We believe that this uniquely musical way of presenting the dramatic data will be a compelling force for facing the urgency of climate change.