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17

Water Rhythms: Listening to Climate Change

2021, sound installation, dimensions variable






Water Rhythms is the story of climate change as told by the ice and water. It is a story about the dualism of water, the universal lifeblood of both nature and humans. It is also the acoustic story of our entanglements with a changing climate and changing landscapes of our own making. Through Water Rhythms, we hope to invite listeners into more embodied ways of understanding how we are inextricably connected to the Earth’s freshwater, by bringing art, music and science together, in dialogue.
⠀⠀⠀ Glaciers and ice sheets are the world’s water towers; only 2.5% of water on Earth is freshwater, and of this, 99% comes from the ice. As glaciers worldwide shrink and disappear in response to climate change, water availability and water quality are being threatened for the billions of humans and our more-than-human kin who live downstream. As the ice disappears, these water rhythms are also shifting and fading from view.
⠀⠀⠀ We have been sonically mapping changes in glaciers and their runoff from the source to the sink, from the mountain tops to the ocean, in some of the world’s most important water towers, including the Coast Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Indian Himalaya. Through field recordings taken from both above and below the ice and water, and including the sounds and music of the peoples who live along their shores, we are capturing the sounds of climate change on our lifeblood, freshwater, and listening to the stories the water is telling us about a world of increasing ecological precarity. Our connection to freshwater is deeply intimate; the same rhythms of glacial meltwater that flow from the mountains to the sea flow through our bodies, our histories and our music. In recording the sounds of glacier melt, we discovered that these soundscapes were not just ambient, but also very musical. They have precise rhythms, a precise tempo. These tempos match the sweet spot at which pieces of music from all over the world are created and played. They also match our heartbeats at birth. Hence, a world losing its flowing freshwater is not only a world of increasing ecological precarity, but a world losing its music, its culture and its humanity.

︎Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and Asian Cultural Council, Bennington College, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the National Geographic Society

A keeper of the stories of ice and stone, Dr. Michele Koppes is a Canada Research Chair in Landscapes of Climate Change, an Associate Professor of Geography at University of British Columbia, the Director of the Climate and Cryosphere Lab and a Senior TED Fellow. Her passion is understanding how glaciers respond to climate change, and how glacier changes impact landscapes, waterscapes and people. Susie Ibarra is a Filipinx composer, percussionist, and sound artist. She creates immersive experiences through sound to invite people to connect to their natural and built environments. Susie is a 2020 National Geographic Explorer Storyteller, a 2019 Doris Duke United States Artist Fellow in Music, Senior TED Fellow and 2019 Asian Cultural Council Research Fellow in working to preservation and support Indigenous music and culture, Musika Katatubo, in the Philippines, and sound recording climate change with recordings of water rhythms from glacier melt in the Himalayas.