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Music Makes the World Go Round

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elr_cage_visual_-_version_2_med.jpegBirds twitter and chirp, as a bell begins to toll, no doubt from the chapel you are gazing upon in the distance, just past a wire fence and a large pine tree. A distant sound comes closer. Passes. You are lying on your stomach in the grass. Listening.

This is Room 2 at the Ecomusicology Listening Room (ELR), a collection of sounds and songs accompanying different visual cues, which was funded by an IonE mini grant. The ELR began as an exhibit displayed in New Orleans in early November at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Association (AMS), Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and Society for Music Theory (SMT), but now has an online home where visitors can listen to the soundscapes and gaze upon the images.

IonE Fellow and ELR director Mark Pedelty says that the compositions are "designed to inspire reflection, questions and new ideas concerning the relationship between music, image, sustainability and place."
The field of ecomusicology isn't always easy to comprehend. How music can affect our environment isn't necessarily the most obvious connection to make. It's not, on its face, doing something tangible, like reducing carbon emissions or rebuilding costal wetlands. It deals in a different realm, according to Pedelty, who is also the author of Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment. In Momentum last year, Pedelty wrote, "For starters, [ecomusicology matters because] music fits into the big black box of 'anthropogenic variables' so often used to describe cultural influences on the environment. Ill-equipped to deal with the human beliefs and behaviors that alter ecosystems, many environmental scientists set them aside, assuming social scientists and others will eventually attend to the complex problem of culture. Ecomusicology is musicology's way of taking up that challenge."

More recently Pedelty told me that music is important because it can serve to connect people to place. "Music helps us identify with each other in the places we cohabit," he says. "When people make music about the places where they live, they learn to care about them, and for them, much better than if music is purely a commodity purchased from afar."
According to Pedelty the session accompanying the exhibit in New Orleans was a great success, with lively discussion, all of which can be heard on the ELR website. While the website has yet to be used much by a general audience, Pedelty says he has used it in environmental courses he teaches and knows that others in the AMS and SEM plan to do the same. "The ELR is a communication tool for building the field of ecomusicology in a creative, interdisciplinary, and above all, collaborative fashion," Pedelty says.
Next year will see more from the ELR and Pedelty, including a Frontiers in the Environment talk at IonE on Feb. 27 where Pedelty plans to explore the environmental effects of mechanical noise and human music. He will look at how human sound is negatively impacting the ecology in Puget Sound, but also how sound is being used to solve environmental problems. In addition, Pedelty plans on bringing the ELR back to the AMS, SEM, SMT annual meeting, based of participant interest this year, but with slight changes that he hopes will add value to the exhibit. "As the director of the ELR, I made a point of facilitating the themes that design teams were interested in representing," Pedelty says. "I made sure not to let my own biases toward popular music and more explicit connections to biological ecology and environmental movements intrude. For selfish reasons, and because I think these issues were somewhat underrepresented [at the first ELR], I'd like to see a bit more of all three."

For now, the ELR website is waiting for you to explore the audiovisual compositions. Whether it's a somber pop song playing while you stare at a picture of a highway, river and cityscape on an overcast day or Bach's "Gavotte en Rondeau" from his Partita No. 3 in E major playing while you look at a tree branch or forest sounds overlaid by alien-sounding noises as you look at a wooden path leading through the woods, you're likely to be moved in some way. And, that's the idea, after all, as the ELR website exists, it says, "with the intent of evoking the broadest possible range of interpretations."

Mark Pedelty's band, Hypoxic Punks, will be playing at the Fineline Music Café in Minneapolis on Dec. 12 as part of the Rock for Raingardens Benefit, which benefits Metro Blooms and raises awareness about rainwater pollution in neighborhoods & communities.

Photo: concordlibrary.org

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.