SFCM’s technology and applied composition (TAC) department regularly partners with some of the most forward-thinking and innovative companies and organizations in the Bay Area. While performances that result from these collaborations often take place at the Conservatory, sometimes the music makes it to a venue that offers a different experience for the audience. This was the case when TAC students and faculty premiered new works inspired by climate change data at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on May 9.
A collaborative concert between SFCM and The ClimateMusic Project—the second in two years—this event brought musically minded visitors to the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum, a perfect spot to put on a performance featuring electronics and various forms of multimedia. The house—packed with regular Exploratorium visitors and SFCM concertgoers—was presented with a stage that featured a station with laptops, mixers, microphones, and other supplemental music-making devices.
The event started off with faculty member Taurin Barrera’s Climate Momentum. Using data collected over the years documenting the rise in sea levels, Barrera’s music shifted as the minutes progressed, and even noted the calving of a glacier. Vocals were prominently featured in both Alton Sato’s (’21) Anthropocene and Eliza Carrington’s (’19) Drowning, bringing a human element to the tech seen onstage. Molly Monahan (’20) used brought in snare drums to pronounce a sense of urgency with video clips of natural disasters in her piece, Breaking. Synth sounds highlighted CO2 emissions and variations in sea levels in works by Seira McCarthy (’20) and Cory Todd (’19), and Kamran Adib’s (’21) Change brought in cellist Stephanie Li (’19) to provide the live sound of the cello, mixed with recorded vocals and recorded violin, in a piece that evoked sentimentality and purpose.
“I was really impressed,” said concert attendee Francesca Del Frate. “It’s really interesting to think about how sound can be used as a medium to communicate about climate change. It’s something I never thought about.”
“There were a lot of powerful visuals that went with the audio that I thought were really cool,” said Ben Choi, another attendee. “It was cool to see all the diverse avenues through which people attack this issue of climate change.”
In addition to the concertgoers, the composers and performers also felt the purpose come through their art. And the need to use the source material of climate change data presented interesting possibilities.
“It was a challenge getting the scientific data into music,” said composer Seria McCarthy. “I enjoyed using the data because we usually compose music however we want to, but this time we couldn’t. It was controlled.”
“Before I got onstage, I was actually really nervous,” remarked Stephanie Li. “But when I got onstage, I could hear stuff that I was going to play. I felt inspired and that creativity flowed as I was playing.”
Although this collaboration is in the books for this year, it won’t be long until we see the TAC department making more connections with organizations and initiatives that share a common purpose.