The ClimateMusic Project takes scientific data about climate change and converts it into music to raise awareness and inspire action.

Music. A universal force that touches a part of us no amount of data or discussion can reach - a direct path to our emotions.

It tells a story. Every note and every instrument is attached to a different meaning. Together, they move us, inspire us, and change us.

One San Fransisco-based non-profit organisation has utilised this force against another: Climate crisis.

The ClimateMusic Project aims to drive change for the better in humanity’s fight against climate crises by bringing together scientists, composers, and more to create music guided by scientific data.

“Music helps to create the necessary space and silence in a person’s heart and moment, allowing them to at least realise that there are other options in life,” composer Eduardo Del Signore, who collaborated with ClimateMusic for their most recent piece Audyssey, told TRT World.

“This in turn brings forth an understanding that we can take initiatives, or jump on board other current initiatives, in order to help with solving this giant common problem and assume responsibility for it.”

Audyssey is an ethereal 10-minute auditory odyssey that first conveys a “business as usual” scenario in which we fail to take urgent and effective action against climate crises.

The music then moves toward a hopeful tone, portraying a world characterised by urgent collective action where we succeed to follow through with effective mitigation measures.

“The ClimateMusic Project is focused on using music to drive action, so we want people to feel both motivated and empowered to act on climate crises when they hear the piece,” Dr F. Garrett Boudinot, the lead science advisor on the Audyssey project, told TRT World.

The association previously created three other pieces. “Climate” follows historical and projected changes in Earth’s climate from 1800-2250, “Icarus in Flight” explores humanity pushing the limits of carbon emissions, land use, and population growth from 1880 to 2080, while “What if We...?” puts the emphasis on sea level rise and asks: What if we change?

Their website also features paths to action to guide those wishing to act upon hearing their music.

“Ultimately, taking the time to hear the music that’s been weaved with threads of science means that listeners are engaging more with the issue of climate crises, are thinking about the decisions we make today determining our future, and that’s really what we need more people to do,” Dr. Boudinot said.

Audyssey, by composer Eduardo Del Signore and visual designer Angelo Chiacchio in collaboration with The ClimateMusic Project.

Creating Audyssey was a process that began 18 months ago. After approximately one year from the start, Del Signore had composed a preliminary piece called “Discovery Realization” based on his sentiment over climate crises and the human condition around it.

That inspired the core structure of Audyssey, which evolved to take its final form when data came into the picture.

How data becomes music

The first step in turning climate crises into music is selecting what data to work with. That depends on the story that will be told with the music.

In the case of Audyssey, when asked about what the main causes of climate crises were, composer Eduardo Del Signore pointed to “the human condition”.

“There are internal ‘climate changes’ in humanity as well as external ones, such as the droughts affecting the rivers of common sense, empathy, kindness and most of all self-knowledge,” he explained.

“External climate change is a reflection and projection of our own internal climate crisis. If we are not able to create a world based in kindness, empathy and common sense, the chances to adjust the direction of climate change towards a positive outcome, are going to become extinct as well.”

For the science team, this meant they would need to explore datasets that outline decisions humankind made that led to the current reality of climate crises – rising sea levels, exacerbated natural disasters, deadly heatwaves that result in record-breaking temperatures, and more.

The team took the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Special Report on 1.5C as their basis and extracted “a series of historical records and model projections … that cover fossil fuel use, investment in renewable energy, storage of carbon in soils, and overall carbon dioxide emissions,” said Dr Boudinot.

Another focus of the piece, however, was what decisions humankind can make today to move towards taking effective and immediate action against climate crises.

So, the data was selected such that after historical data up to the present day, “the modelled projections deviate moving forward, with one forecasting a scenario where we fail to act and continue to let the climate change unabated, and one forecasting what happens if we act now to mitigate climate change,” Dr Boudinot explained.

“The projection showing an overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is foregrounded in the piece, which gets across how all of the other actions – reducing fossil fuel use, investing in renewables, sequestering carbon – are really all aimed at fixing the carbon problem.”

That is the story told in Audyssey. But, data doesn't have musical qualities, nor does it carry inherent musical representations. So, how could climate crises be transmuted into music?

That is possible through sonification, which is the perceptualisation of data by assigning it an auditory representation. It is similar to data visualisation, except it’s for the ears and not the eyes. Geiger counters, sonar, morse code, etc. all utilise sonification.

Data selected by the science team was thus sent to Highcharts Sonification Studio, where they were sonified with a pitch assigned to each data point according to its value.

Then, the data, which was represented in plots, was sent to the composer along with their sonifications.

The red and blue lines correspond to two different modelled scenarios. Red shows the scenario where we act and blue where we fail to act. Up to 2020, the models overlap, because they’re the same historical observational data – and then they diverge dramatically starting in 2025.
The red and blue lines correspond to two different modelled scenarios. Red shows the scenario where we act and blue where we fail to act. Up to 2020, the models overlap, because they’re the same historical observational data – and then they diverge dramatically starting in 2025. (Courtesy of Garrett Boudinot / ClimateMusic Project)

Musical representations were assigned to the data by Del Signore in a way that they would fit with the key of the music, incorporated throughout the composition as earworms realised in Steinway piano melodies and counter-melodies.

The resulting product carries hints of several music genres including classical, jazz, world and electronica, Del Signore explains. Converged with the data sonification, however, Audyssey becomes a one-of-a-kind composition.

“I imagine each listener will have their own unique experience with the composition and data – it’s easy to take the piece in as a full coherent sound, or to tease apart the different piano-voiced datasets within the larger composition,” Dr Boudinot said.

Audyssey is accompanied by an animated graphic design created by visual artist Angelo Chiacchio that portrays the meaning of the sonifications incorporated into the music to help the audience make sense of the underlying science and data that was put into the piece.

In the end, Audyssey is a blend of science and art that portrays not only the facts about climate crises but also the human experience around it, inspired by “a fresh feeling of hope and joy,” as Del Signore puts it.

Audyssey is a warning, but also hope for a bright future where we change, and the world changes with us.

“I’d really appreciate it very much, if the listeners have felt space and silence in themselves, enough to be able to contemplate the fact that we have options and to ask themselves in an individual manner: ‘What can I do to help’?” he says.

Among the alarm bells sounding across the world over climate crisis, Audyssey inspires within us a way out, calling for us to rediscover our relationship with nature.

Source: TRT World