Interview

Corina MacDonald: You are using data sonification to establish a link between actions at a personal level and global climate change, what do you think this approach can reveal about these interconnections?

Kate Carr: I’m not so much using data sonically to underline that individual actions lead to climate change, although obviously I think there is a need for all of us to look at the things we can change to have a more positive impact on our environment. More what I am trying to do is emphasize that in our day to day lives we don’t often take the space to look at the way our weather patterns are changing.

I’m originally from Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, which is a subtropical town, and one thing I remember growing up were these terrific summer rainstorms and they just don’t happen anymore or rarely. In 2007 the state government banned all outside water use in a bid to cope with the drought there, and while things have improved it was quite shocking to me just how drastically the weather patterns in my hometown had altered in the 10 years since I’d lived there. So I wanted to use data to examine the ways these changes are charted over time. I think the rhythmic nature particularly of weather data, lends itself to aural works, and referencing this data so directly gives listeners and musicians the opportunity to reflect on what those numbers actually represent.

In this project I’m focusing on the beauty and wonder of weather, and in particular water the role of water in that, given this is the them for the Ear to the Earth festival, and the ways these things impact physically in our lives in terms of thirst or getting wet or even being scared by lightening and thunder.

I also wanted to point to the way the rhythms and the complexities of weather have infused our language and our lives way beyond just the physical impact of the weather. I love the way weather and water are used as a metaphors for so many things: “I’ve hit choppy waters”, “Every cloud has a silver lining” “Jump in the deep end”, and this is why I wanted to combine this emphasis on data with the use of existing musical or aural works which reference water. I’m trying to point out that the weather and the world we have has made us who we are and infused everything from the rhythm of our days to our language and the way we frame our creative practices, and so to change the weather really means we will change, and how we understand ourselves will change.

Darren McClure, for example, multiplied the raw weather data he collected for Masumoto, Japan by the length of various household items associated with water like his hose to make his piece ‘Elements’ which is on the website. I know it’s just a small thing, but I was just struck by the fact that even your understanding of such an everyday item as a hose can markedly shift when you live through water restrictions. For a while in Brisbane everyone were banned from using them, and so the hose became a nostalgic item around the house with no use. Sprinklers in particular, which are also referenced in Darren’s piece, are almost totally a thing of the past in Australia, whereas they used to be used on a weekly basis to water the lawn and gardens. I can’t remember the last time I saw a sprinkler anywhere and one of the museums here has started collecting them as period pieces! To me this really emphases just how much things are changing: I mean who would’ve thought a hose or a sprinkler could become a metaphor for this longing for a time past.

This idea of longing and change is emphasized in many of the tracks chosen by the artists so far in their works. Lots of them use water as a metaphor for desire or emotional distress, or even danger, as in the case of “Bridge over troubled waters” which was sampled for My Fun’s piece called ‘Troubled Waters’. To me this title really illustrates the themes of this project because right now ‘troubled waters’ means a very different thing to 20 years ago, when we have so many lakes and rivers and even oceans which are threatened by pollution and climate change.

CM: Can you describe the different types of interactions that will happen on the website?

KC: Obviously the major interaction is the hosting of the sound pieces produced for this project, but beyond that I’m hopeful that visitors will use the blog attached to it to comment on the project, suggest songs participating artists can sample, and ways the data could be converted into frequencies.

By using data from all around the world I’m also trying to give contributors and visitors the chance to explore weather patterns from different places. It is quite cool to think a visitor from Berlin could jump on the site and find a piece inspired by the weather in New York yesterday.

I also think the project, because of its global scope, can go someway towards illustrating that the effects of climate change are unevenly distributed. In relation to water, some countries are experiencing more frequent droughts, while others have been hit by floods.

I’m keen to chart both the modest and the dramatic affects, and the everday and the extraordinary. One contributor to the project for example was talking about using the data related to the volcano eruption in Iceland and I like the idea the site can act as an archive for weather events ranging from the most humble like my one which documents a very average day in Sydney to dramatic and globally significant events like that.

Finally, the artists who have so far contributed have been really enthusiastic about the project and the ideas behind it and so I’m also hopeful this can lead to future projects and collaborations between those involved.

CM: How does the environment influence your work with sound beyond the scope of this particular project?

KC: Since I began working in sound I always liked field recordings. Admittedly mine initially consisted of me tapping the tiny microphone on my MP3 player and so were pretty basic, but I always felt recording the world was in some way important and added something quite profound to an aural work, or at least could. Probably a big turning point for me in terms of really getting interested in sonic landscapes was travelling to Greenland a few years ago, where I stayed in Illulisaart which I was told had far more huskies living there than people, and also borders one of the biggest glaciers in the northern hemisphere, which is shrinking at some horrendous rate. Anyway the mountains in Illulisaart are all sort of ground away and no trees grow there because it is too far north, and the wind just whips in off the glacier. And I remember standing on this rocky escarpment and looking at the glacier and on the wind the howls of the huskies would gust in and out and I thought it was just incredible. I hope to go back there and capture that sound of the glacier groaning and creaking and huskies howling in the wind. Because as that glacier melts and shrinks, the way of life for all the people who live in that town, and even the rationale for having so many huskies and living a life which for many there still centres on fishing and hunting will be also changed and perhaps even eroded. And that is no small thing, so even though I was always into the environment I think since then I’ve always felt a sense of awe really about the enormity of our world, how amazing it is to live in it and how it really in a way stands on a precipice.

The Ear to the Earth festival, which I have produced this project for, has also go me thinking me about water, and lakes and oceans and I hope to travel later this year and complete a work specifically focused on some of the really important and also really troubled bodies of water in our world. So maybe I’ll even make it to the Great Lakes, I certainly hope to.

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