Music and multimedia project hits the right notes on climate change – Monash Lens

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Eight years ago, when the existential threat of climate change was already critical, Australian National University science communicator Joe Duggan posed a curious but ultimately revealing question to leading scientists: “How does climate change does it make you feelThey had to respond in writing.

Among the list of scientists interviewed was the late Emeritus Professor Tony McMichael, AO, an epidemiologist and environmental health champion, also from ANU (although he received his PhD from Monash University).

“It’s sad when a society like ours sees no more than its bank balance,” he wrote shortly before his death in September 2014, “and stumbles blindly into a future where children cannot enjoy the flowing rivers. , mountain snow, colorful birds and bush animals.

Professor McMichael’s daughter, Dr Anna McMichael, has now taken over the project and propelled it in an intriguing new direction – as a multimedia and musical installation/performance called Climatic notes in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, as part of the Victoria Nature Festival.

She is an acclaimed violinist and joined Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance as Strings Manager, Honors Coordinator and Researcher in 2019. Her main collaborator on Climatic notes is percussionist Dr. Louise Devenish, School of Music Percussion Manager and Principal Researcher.

Real-time audience entry

Climatic notes was planned for last year, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. Drs McMichael and Devinish commissioned six classic compositions in response to the suite of letters from scientists, all of which were updated five years later. They’re sitting on Duggan’s Is This How You Feel? website online. People attending the free event will also be able to write their own letters, using the same question as a prompt: “How are you feeling?” »

The compositions commissioned by Monash’s musicians are the “musical equivalent” of the scientists’ handwritten letters, says Dr. Devenish. Their works include violin, vibraphone, electronics, percussion, aluminum bell plates, custom instruments, and field recordings of water, grasslands, forest, deserts, and nature. tundra. There are videos and live performances during the events.

Naturally: Louise Devenish and Anna McMichael at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, Melbourne. Photo: Lucian Fühler

A spectrum of emotions

Dr McMichael says the emotions expressed by the scientists were across the spectrum – “angry, frustrated, hopeful, worried, terrified, sad, motivated” – in contrast to their perhaps more unemotional research papers.

“How do they live with climate change on a day-to-day basis,” she asks. “How do you handle this? What is the emotional response? »

She also wrote a letter, on behalf of her late father, when they were updated: “…he said privately that it might take a catastrophe for Australian politicians to act against the climate change. Are the bushfires of last summer [2019] disaster enough?

Writing the letter on behalf of her father – as a musician – convinced her to start asking people in the arts the same question.

“That’s how the project took off,” says Dr. McMichael. “So I thought, ‘Let’s take it a step further and ask the public to also write letters when they come.’ So they can read all the letters from the climatologists, they can hear the musical answers and they can also write their own letters.

“It becomes a pretty inclusive activity – a streaming video of all the letters from the climatologists, a wall where everyone can write letters, then a video of the musical letters, the works of the composers.”


Read more: Here’s what you need to know about the Australian government’s climate change bills


The commissioned musicians had access to the State Botanical Collection and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne. Damian Barbeler used footage from the collection’s plant archive, as well as violin, vibraphone and electronics, in his video Presswhile Cathy Milliken, for red garden (violin, percussion), filmed at the Red Sand Garden at Cranbourne Gardens.

“I know there’s a lot of eco-anxiety around us, and we hope to empower people to express that,” says Dr. McMichael. “But we also want to show hope. It’s quite complicated, as it is. Lots of mixed emotions.

“I think what we’ve done is accessible to people from a lot of different angles, from a literary point of view or a musical point of view, or if you like art installations, or if you just like gardens and nature, and wondering about climate change. It gives a lot of entry points for a lot of different people.

Climate Notes is Mueller Hall, National Herbarium of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, through September 18.

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