Author Archives: Ben Cosgrove

Music, Climate, and Therapy in Kallawaya Cosmology (Part 2): Dysfunction of Seasonal Change, Climatic Reversal, and Musical Worlding


By Sebastian Hachmeyer[1]



Valley of Niñocorin (Sacred Mount Akhamani in the background)



Ecomusicology –  the study of “relationships between music and sonic issues, both textual and performative, related to ecology and the natural environment” (Allen 2011, 419) – offers an interdisciplinary toolkit needed to study music in times of environmental crisis (see also Titon 2013). One of the most profound manifestations of the environmental crisis is anthropogenic (i.e. human-influenced) climate change. The conventional environmental science discourse focuses on fossil fuel combustion and exponential greenhouse gas emissions and on humanity’s impacts on the global atmospheric system: global warming. The impacts of climate change and global warming are plentiful, depending on local contexts: glacier retreat, desertification, water scarcity, sea-level rise, inundation, floods, changing local weather patterns, migration, to mention just a few. Also dependent on local context is how diverse peoples understand climate change and how they produce climate change related knowledge. Many studies of indigenous people and climate change in the Andes take for granted a conventional understanding of climate change and the predominant scientific explanation of its appearance. In such studies (e.g. Lara & Vides-Almonacid 2014; Vidaurre et al. 2013; Nordgren 2011), local knowledge may well serve for climate change impact detection or as an adequate and cost-efficient source for alternative adaptation strategies increasing resilience.

There are ecomusicological studies about the relationship between music, sound and climate change (e.g. Titon 2016; Allen 2013; and various authors in Allen and Dawe 2016). Some themes touched upon are musicians’ evocation to nature as a source of inspiration, dealings of environmental issues in activist music, the ecological (and carbon) footprint of live music, world tours and recordings, the sustainability of prime material use for instrument making (i.e. deforestation and included liberation of CO²), as well as changing animal behavior, especially bird sounds and communication. What all these aspects have in common is that they tie in with naturalist understandings of “Nature” as something universal and objective. Descola (2013) defines naturalism as typical to Western ontologies, which supposes a metaphysical dualism between nature, the domain of necessity, and culture, the domain of spontaneity, separated by metonymic discontinuity (see also Viveiros de Castro 2012). Titon (2013) states that most ecomusicologists accept “Nature” as real, external and objectively knowable. He further argues for a more ecological construction of “Nature” based on a relational epistemology of diversity and interconnectedness. Ethnomusicology can contribute to denaturalize assumptions about “Nature” while studying other-than-Western epistemologies involving sound and music, so called “acoustemologies” (Feld 1993). In an aurally minded society, Ingold (2000, 284) argues, people would express their ideas of knowledge or understanding by drawing on metaphors from the realm of acoustic experience.

Hence, in relation to ecomusicological research, consider the following question: How do diverse peoples engage in local and situated musical practices that produce climate change related knowledge? In the context of the Northern Bolivian Kallawaya, I argue that music is a local and situated knowledge practice” (Strathern 1990) that produces climate change related knowledge in a local relational field. Thus, in order to better understand the present situation of climate change in the Kallawaya region, it is worth listening to the cracking sound of melting glaciers, to bird songs appearing in different time-spaces, to sirens singing songs of rivers drying out, and, ultimately, to music being played with different musical instruments, each of them telling a story about their unique ecology and meaning in a meaningful and “radical different world” (Blaser 2013, 549). In the end, this opens up ontological questions about the very idea of climate change “as we know it” (Viveiros de Castro 2014).

The sonorous and musical meshwork in Kallawaya cosmology

The Kallawayas is a Quechua and Aymara speaking ethnic group known for its naturopathic medical tradition, ancestral agricultural and ritual practices, and famous musical genre called qantu. Today, the Kallawaya region mainly corresponds with the province of Bautista Saavedra in the Northern Andes of the department of La Paz, Bolivia. As I have shown in part I of the article (Hachmeyer 2017), a musical and sonorous meshwork integrates different dimensions of cyclic life of the immersion in what is called pacha in Quechua. Besides meaning cosmos and time/space, pacha also refers to weather and climate relating to a particular meteorological succession during the main climatic seasons of the year, called ch’aki pacha (dry season) and paray pacha (wet season). For the Kallawayas music (once reduced to a byproduct of rituals and agrarian practices) is an organizational principle of time and the cosmological centrality for the transformation of climatic seasons with their respective meteorological succession. Archer (1964, 29) argues that “we expect a music to be shaped by climate”; but the Kallawayas would respond that they rather expect climate to be shaped by music.

Local climate as a “physical-symbolic complex” (Rivière 1997, 34) is the direct manifestation of established reciprocity with a pantheon of Kallawaya deities and Andean spirits being responsible for adequate climatic conditions favoring agrarian production. Music establishes an emotional and ethical context for ecological relationships that extend into a visible and knowable past (ñawpa) and orients towards an invisible, but hearable, thus anticipatable future (qhipa), depending on the maintenance of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities (see also Simonett 2016). This is related to what I have called “musical performativity” (Hachmeyer 2017 and 2015), which describes basic conditions required for the success of a “musical speech act.” Musical sound has to be produced by specific instruments relating to a particular time-space condition during the “orchestration of the year” (Stobart 2006), which primarily relates to repercussions on local climate and meteorological events (wind, rain, frost, etc.). Due to the agrocentrism in Kallawaya cosmology, this orchestration of the year plans and integrates different agricultural tasks, during which climate related collective rituals play a major role in securing agrarian production. These rituals literally take place at particular, i.e. sacred, places, in which a specific musical expression (sound, harmony, rhythm, tempo, etc.) can unfold its cosmological potential within a relational and animate world (Rösing 1996).

If music and climate assume such an interdependent relationship, how do Kallawayas perceive changes in these two interdependent realms?

Climate change in an animate world

Descola (2013) defines animism as endowing natural beings with human dispositions and social attributes, where the elementary categories structuring social life organize the relations between humans and natural species, thus defining a social and moral continuity between nature and culture (see also Viveros de Castro 2012). Considering the Andean context, I propose that climate, instead of being a description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant meteorological quantities over a period of time, rather might be seen as a description of relevant human and other-than-human moral qualities, relating to reciprocal relationships with Andean deities and spirits. Climate change would be understood as an unprecedented change in that same moral behaviour between human and other-than-human subjectivities. In Kallawaya cosmology, telluric processes cannot be separated from corporeal processes (Bastien 1985). The body is not considered dualistically as a material vessel of organs apart from mental, emotional or cognitive processes happening in mind. The body, for instance, also comprises the inner self (ibid.). Health, or the “wholeness of body” in Kallawaya terms, is seen as a process in which centripetal and centrifugal forces pull together and disperse fluids that provide emotions, thought, nutrients and lubricants for the “members” of the body (ibid.). Fluids of the body are governed by similar dynamics within the environment, so that they “flow back and forth between the body and the mountain” (Bastien 1985, 598). Hence, ultimately, it “extends beyond dualistic confines of inner and outer” (ibid.). Feeling, thinking, and nurturing are processes happening not just inside one’s own body. It might be more adequate to talk about these relationships in terms of an inseparable person-mountain-body unit, as well as corporeal and mental extensions in an ecological approach to feeling, thought, and nurture (cf. Clark & Charmers 1998; Gibson 1979). The person is attached to mountain, as much as the mountain is attached to person, through their bodies, in which fluids, i.e. materials and energy, flow interchangeably. This interchange is basically sustained through agriculture, rituality, and, especially, musical sound reciprocally mediating between the person and the mountain (in which ancestors and deities are literally embodied).

In the case of Kallawaya physiology, reciprocity might be seen as a mental, spiritual, cognitive, material, and particularly sonic exchange between a person in environment and vice versa, having the ultimate goal to blur boundaries between both. Hence, “we can no longer think of the organism, human or otherwise, as a discrete, bounded entity, set over against an environment. It is rather a locus of growth within a field of relations traced out in flows of materials. As such, it has no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’” (Ingold 2013, 10). According to Descola (2013), in the reciprocal mode of interaction, humans and other-than-humans are substitutes for one another, contributing jointly, by their reciprocal exchanges, to the general, in this case climatic equilibrium of the cosmos. Ultimately, the corporeal is not separated from the cognitive, as much as the natural is not separated from the cultural, behavioural or moral. The very adversity or even “sickness” (Vergara Aguilar 2013) of climate (as an expression of pacha) is related to a) an improper circulation of fluids within the person-mountain-body and b) to the sphere of the moral and behavioural, since the universe is a social and moral order governed by moral and ritual law (Radcliffe-Brown 1952).

Dysfunction of seasonal change

A good climate among the Kallawaya is an adequate climate for agrarian production. Hence, it is worth looking at how local testimonies report about changes in such a typical meteorological succession, usually allowing for particular agricultural tasks. My host in Niñocorin explains that

this is a real problem. In times of sowing it is not raining. Sometimes we repeat qallay [rain ritual practiced in November], because it doesn’t rain. The watapurichiq [collective ritualist of the community] once said that it is as if weather does not correspond to our rituals, and that seasonal changes don’t work. But then, during times of crop growth, a lot of rain impedes the correct preparation of crops, as soil turns into mud. And also after Carnival, where rain normally diminishes, heavy rains and especially hailstorms destroy our agricultural yields right before harvest. (F.P. 2014, personal communication)

After harvest, special and ancestral preservation techniques require strong and continuous frost over several nights (e.g. dehydration of potatoes that convert into ch’uño). This process of dehydration is sometimes interrupted because of mild winters and an absence of strong frosts. It becomes obvious that climate change impacts undermine the reproduction of indigenous technologies and knowledge. This is evident during such processes of food conservation, but also with regard to ritual practices, as my host indicated. The repetition of rain rituals is related to prolonged droughts during sowing and a delayed transformation from dry to rainy season (see also Nordgren 2011).

Against this background of adverse climatic conditions for agrarian production, Rösing (1996, 52) states that Kallawaya ritualists argue that prolonged droughts during times of sowing are caused by a “cultural and moral decomposition.” Furthermore, local people from different Kallawaya communities perceive adverse climatic conditions as “pain and penalty” of deities and spirits, as reciprocal bonds have been interrupted (ibid.). The abandonment of ritual practices as something “backward” after the agrarian reforms of 1952 coincided with one of the heaviest droughts of the twentieth century, which people related directly to abandoning ritual practices, especially rain rituals such as qallay in Niñocorin and Kaata (Spedding & Llanos 1999, 105f). The very adversity of local climate is related to human failure and irreverence with respect to the cosmological tension of reciprocity in such a relational local field (see also Rivière 1997).

Hence, changing climatic conditions are about changing human and other-than-human relationships in an animate world. Such changes tell a story about patterns of moral and behavioral deterioration. Given this local understanding of adversity within this specific physical-symbolic complex of climate, it is worth looking at how this moral and behavioral change manifests itself in the sphere of music as the mediator of cyclic life and seasonal change.

Musical change as indicator of moral and behavioral change

Merriam (1964) proposes a model of musical analysis indicating emic aspects of musical change grounded in an analysis of musical dynamics, which mainly focus on the conceptualization of music, the behavior in relation to it, and musical sound. In relation to Kallawaya music, analyzing these aspects implies discussing changes in musical performativity and social relevance. Although a performative understanding of musical practices in relation to agriculture and spirituality is still vivid to some degree, it is possible to identify certain changes. First and foremost, the time-space condition of music is partially disarticulated, as a musical instrument appears at “wrong times” or “out of its season.” After a patronal feast in a vicinal community, where Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble were contracted to play in middle of November, my host argued that

this is always like this. If there is a contract to be fulfilled, they would do it. They play qantu out of its season, it does not give them a lot of importance. They always play qantu all the time, as Charazani [the regional capital] always plays its pifano, or Cañizaya [a community close to mount Akhamani] its chatre. And then they wonder why it is not raining. (F. P. 2014, personal communication)

This generalization of music during the orchestration of the year would consequentially cause certain repercussions on the local climate and agrarian production. My host, for instance, argues that playing qantu panpipes at the end of dry season in November or during rainy season in general prevents it from raining, which would drastically diminish the agricultural yield (for similar testimonies see also Langevin 1991).

Regarding behaviors in relation to music, this generalization of musical genres and instruments can be related to a transformation of former meanings of music making in relation to agrarian production and rituality. For example, consider, among others, musical re-interpretations within younger generations, relating musical practices to social and civil acts and the creation of new Kallawaya identities, and a regional specialization on musical instruments and genres alongside different communities that would always present their specialization during public festivities. Hence, with regard to this shift in meaning of music making, it is worth looking at the contemporary social relevance of music.

Here, I would like to take Gutiérrez’s (1991) idea of endogenous and exogenous dynamics within Andean music performance as a starting point. Gutiérrez (1991) states that the brass band can be considered a perfect example of the endogenous dynamic of music in Bolivian rural societies. This endogenous dynamic is caused by contact with a “Western” music culture and can be seen as an attempt to maintain rhythm and melody with well-tempered instruments (see also Mújica 2014). Rather than being considered an expression of an acultural entity (cf. Gutiérrez 1991), brass bands are primarily considered more prestigious than autochthonous music ensembles, as they are considered the more expensive and louder option (Stobart 2006). Moreover, brass band musicians are affirmed certain professionalism with regard to playing instruments, which might be related to formal learning processes. One musician from Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble argued during an akhulliku, the collective act of coca leaf chewing (which provided a context for my focus group discussions),

we are often not considered proper musicians. It would help us if we got some recognition for us, like the Kallawaya healers, they got recognition of their practices. Then, nobody would say that only brass bands consist of musicians. (M.R. 2015, personal communication)

This can be interpreted as a sort of discrimination towards rural indigenous music that seems to lack socio-economic status and professionalism. Hence, the endogenous dynamics go far beyond the insertion of well-tempered instruments and the reproduction of certain elements within brass band music. In the context of the Kallawaya, endogenous dynamics are moreover finely nuanced around the perception of precision, professionalism, and participation within autochthonous music groups in relation to such a comparison with brass band music (Hachmeyer 2015).

Integration through musical participation is understood as one of the main purposes of musical practices in indigenous communities (Stobart 2006). Participation does not so much depend on the precision and professionalism of instruments and practitioners (Turino 1989). Turino (2008) divides between two fields of live performance: participatory and representational performance.[2] The former is sometimes related to “hobby” musicians while the latter is sometimes related to “professional” musicians.[3] Based on Turino’s (2008) conceptualization of live performance, an analysis of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble should highlight this fundamental behavioral shift.


Participatory Performance Representational Performance

Frequency of rehearsal

Main participation in dance

Rhythm: ostinato and constant

Short sectional forms

Dense Texture

Minimization of individual virtuosity

Importance of sound

Disappearing of ad hoc integration

Professionalism and precision

Formalized learning

Individual and anthropocentric creativity

Centralized leadership

Social Activity Object, Commodity

Some characteristics of participatory performance have been maintained, basically those corresponding to the song structure, which are a constant ostinato rhythm, short sectional forms, the dense texture and the related minimization of individual virtuosity. The main participatory element is dance, which integrates a majority of people with an active and performative role. Rehearsals are infrequent, although they might increase in the context of representational performances. On the contrary, some aspects changed towards representational performances. First and foremost, musical sound becomes more important, so that an untypical sound quality is introduced (Turino 1989), manifesting itself through the disappearance of ad hoc integration and a precision of instruments, as well as a professionalization of musicians. The latter might correspond to formalized learning processes, which replaces practical and embodied learning in a collective situation (can be interpreted as a means to counter discrimination in comparison with brass band music). Moreover, the social organization and leadership is centralized around the “president,” who assumes most administrative and organizational tasks (which also might relate to the social organization of brass bands).

According to Gutiérrez (1991), the formation of a Bolivian identity of folklore and neo-folklore involves exogenous dynamics that generate competition, change music’s logic towards an artistic ideal of individual and temporary pleasure, and elaborate a music for every audience, moment, and place (see also Mújica 2014). In a heritage context, legitimate cultural expressions and cultural rights are conceptualized in terms of past history and the continuity of present actors with that past history (Llanos & Spedding 2009). In this sense, potential conflicts arise over the proper and “real” musical expression of qantu music, being related to conflicts over the legitimacy of expressing “real” Kallawaya identity through music. This is why some actors (mainly musicians from rural indigenous music ensembles, the elderly, etc.) define musical re-negotiations as “stylization” of or “alienation” from a certain ideal of rural indigenous music corresponding to a particular symbolic meaning and social relevance (in relation to agrarian production and rituality).[4] Talking about the transmission of musical practices during another focus group session, one musician of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble argues that

we play original qantu music, with panpipes, drums and ch’inisku [metal triangle]. Yes, there are some youngsters who play qantu, but rather with modern instruments, like guitar and charango, or even with keyboards, but this is not original, and not proper to our context. (P.A. 2014, personal communication)

Pachakuti as climate reversal or turning

These tendencies in the realm of music reflect certain conceptual and behavioral changes that are perceived by some involved actors as “loss of tradition” and thus have certain adverse repercussions on local climate patterns. Analogically, this means a rupture of a constant cosmological equilibrium, which is firstly noted within climatic conditions, as they are direct manifestations of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities manifested through musical sound. Against this background, the loss of ritual and musical tradition is directly related to adverse climatic conditions.

In the Kallawaya region, there is a distinction between personal and collective rituals. While personal rituals are directed towards healing, collective rituals are directed towards the wellbeing of the whole community, such as adequate climate conditions relating to agrarian production. These collective rituals are divided between cyclic and temporal rituals. Cyclic rituals take place every year and relate to the cycle of agrarian production. Temporal rituals take place, for instance, when a calamity occurs, such as the lack of rain for sowing or crop growth (e.g. the repetition of qallay rain ritual). These temporal rituals need to be invoked by the community council or the collective ritualist, the watapurichiq. Since the watapurichiq is sometimes referred to as machula (meaning grandfather in Quechua), he is considered the ancestors’ representative or the “man of enlacement” (Rösing 1996, 64) who is able to communicate between worlds. The Quechua word watapurichiq literally means “one who makes the year walk” (Rösing 1996, 537). Therefore, he is also called the authority of pacha (especially in the sense of climate/weather) (Vergara Aguilar 2013). Against this background a loss of ritual tradition might be seen as if there is no one making the year walk or proceeding with the cyclic stations of life, thus a situation of being in a vital limbo or of not being able to predict what is going to happen next in life. This feeling of unpredictability is directly associated with climate change. One farmer in Inca Rosa, another Kallawaya community a two-hour hike south of Niñocorin, stated in early March that

we cannot predict weather. This is horrible. We, as farmers, are very vulnerable to these rapid changes in weather. It continues raining without end. Look, the problem is, what shall we do? We need to use all these pesticides and everything against fungus, plagues or diseases that appear as never before. (F.I. 2015, personal communication)

The introduction of new synthetic agricultural technologies is considered necessary to confront climate change impacts, because local, ancestral and appropriate technology apparently reaches its limits. The “unreadability” of meteorological events is also related to the use of local biological indicators. Talking about the whistle of a bird locally known as chiwanku (the glossy-black thrush, Turdus serranus) announcing the proper time of sowing, my host in Niñocorin explains that

the chiwanku is not announcing anymore the correct time of sowing. For us, it is not an indicator anymore, because the chiwanku itself seems to be confused about all these changes. [Laughs.] When, then, should we sow? We do not exactly know this. The only thing we can do is wait for an appropriate time, we have to wait for rain. You know, actually it would be good if the climate once and for all changed, because afterwards we could properly read nature again to make proper decisions. (F.P. 2014, personal communication)

What my host expresses here, i.e. the wish that the climate finally changes once and for all, can be interpreted as a return to stable and predictable climatic conditions in an unknown future. It might symbolize a re-balancing of the world through a tumultuous turn of adverse climatic events, which can be referred to with the Andean concept of pachakuti (world turning). In this context pachakuti could be interpreted as the restoration of the world’s balance by means of a climatic reversal or turning.


How should these empirical findings be interpreted against the background of a climate justice discourse in relation to indigenous peoples? At first glance, these empirical findings obviously might be interpreted as if less privileged people blame themselves for something to which they have contributed very little, as indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable confronting the most direct impacts of climate change (Burman 2015). Within such (ethnomusicological) contributions to climate change, we see some sort of crisis of (ethnomusicological) knowledge (Salmon 2013). All ethnographic data with regard to climate change and local knowledge run the risk of consequentially being downplayed as a system of beliefs or an inferior and illusive cultural (mis-)representation of one universal reality of climate change already sufficiently explained by positivist climate sciences. This is somewhat similar to what Latour (1991) calls “particular universalism,” stating that one specific “Culture” has privileged access to “Nature.” And this is why the critique also goes like this: Local knowledge may well recognize the existence of climate change, but different “cultural perceptions” may even lead to its denial (see e.g. Baer & Reuter 2015; Milton 1996).

Undoubtedly, in a capitalist world-system that diffuses its economic and rationalist logic into every single corner of the world, scientific knowledge as its epistemological backup also circulates within the Kallawaya region, diffused by national and international actors. While the question of whether these people playing “wrong” musical instruments at “wrong” times are responsible for climate change in that specific local context does not make any sense, if you tie local realties (ontologies) to your theoretical and conceptual framework (an attempt to take the people seriously you work with), it would still be an important question to ask with regard to indigenous peoples, climate justice, and colonialism. Beyond the monolithic concept of climate change as a universal reality, various peoples experience, understand, and address climate changes in local contexts and discuss issues of climate justice in local relational fields, turning into spaces of political struggles, not only about the production of legitimate climate-related knowledge but also over “what there is” (Blaser 2013, 561), about the natures or realities of climate change, and about their legitimate explanations (Burman 2015).

In Latin America, there is a body of scholarly literature discussing issues surrounding epistemic dimensions of continuous colonial domination and the existence of epistemic violence (Burman 2016 and 2015; de Sosa Santos 2012; Mignolo 2009 and 2000). Indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable to climate changes, but indigenous knowledge, although regarded as an alternative and viable source of adaptation strategies for climate change, is rarely seen as being equal compared to “Western” scientific knowledge (Burman 2015). Both might coexist in a certain context, but they do not always assume an egalitarian and symmetric relationship as the word “coexistence” suggests (ibid.). Still, it is not only about how to know, but also about what to know. This is why Burman (2016) argues that there is something missing in the debate about the “coloniality of knowledge” – that is, questions of an ontological nature.

Stobart (2006, 52) argues in the context of Northern Potosí that the “use of musical instruments to influence atmospheric phenomena was conceived at a highly practical level.” This is indeed true, but concrete and situated practices are embedded in concrete places in a “dwelt-in-world” (Ingold 2011, 42) and are therefore ontologically informed and materially conditioned (Burman 2016). Knowledge and reality, Burman (2016) argues, are mutually formative, playing major roles in constituting each other. The local and situated musical “knowledge practice” correlates with the constitution of a certain ensounded reality. This raises further ontological questions about the natures of climate change and the particular reality, which is constituted by music as a local and situated knowledge practice. Obviously, “climate change” discussed by indigenous peoples such as the Kallawayas is not the same thing as “climate change” discussed by scientists or environmentalists. Here, “climate change” emerges as a different reality depending on the (knowledge) practice under consideration (Mol 2002).

I prefer to frame these empirical findings in terms of the political dimensions of potential ontological conflicts. Drawing on the ontological turn in social theory (e.g. Escobar 2007) and on the project of political ontology (e.g. Blaser 2013), an ontological conflict is not a conflict between different cultural perceptions about one single, objective, and universal nature; rather, it is about conflicts between different worlds in what Strathern (2004) calls the “pluriverse.” Similar to the coloniality of knowledge, Burman (2016) argues that there also exist ontological dimensions of continuous colonial domination. Drawing on Viveiros de Castro’s (2014, 10) notion of “war of worlds,” Burman (2016, 10) states that a dominant reality “imposes itself on other realities in an ontocidal process of colonial ontological warfare.” In this sense, ontology is not “just another word for culture” (Carrithers et al. 2010), as culture is somehow taking for granted its own ontological status (in terms of Cartesian metaphysics) (Blaser 2013); rather than thinking about ontology in the same manner as culture – i.e. as objective, reified, discrete, and mutually excluding – ontology could instead be conceptualized as a constant and ongoing formation of premises, which “overlap, intersect and connect” (Burman 2016) and which form “complex interplays” and “multiple engagements” (Jensen & Morita 2012, 365). Hence, it might be better to talk about “ways of worlding” (Blaser 2013, 551) in a processional sense. Understood in its epistemological dimension, music making is always knowledge making about a particular world (“acoustemologies”). But understood in relation to its ontological dimension, music making, consequentially, also has to be musical worlding.

Another aspect of the concept of ontology might be of consideration here. Holbraad (cited in Blaser 2013, 551) states that ontology as a concept

gets us out of the absurd position of thinking that what makes ethnographic subjects most interesting is that they get stuff wrong. Rather, on this account, the fact that the people we study may say or do things that to us appear as wrong just indicates that we have reached the limits of our own conceptual repertoire.

As a heuristic device, Salmon (2013) refers to an “ontological delegation,” which forces the scholar to risk the robustness and transportability of one’s own ontological assumptions by letting them be counter-analyzed by indigenous knowledge practices with their own requisites, propositions, and postulates (see also Viveiros de Castro 2014). But why should it be necessary to do so, apart from “betraying otherwise the existing multiplicity of words or realities” (Blaser 2013, 551)?

If the environmental crisis – and its most profound manifestation: climate change –  is first and foremost a “crisis of reason” (Plumwood 2002) of a dominant anthropocentric culture believed to have privileged access over nature (see also Allen 2014 and 2011), then issues of epistemic and ontological violence (including acts of disobedience from the subaltern) should be addressed in order to properly discuss social and climate justice in relation to indigenous peoples. Such peoples’ knowledge may well serve for climate change adaptation, yet too often their reality of climate change is not allowed to exist (Burman 2016). As Burman (2016) argues (drawing on de Sousa Santos 2012), there cannot be global social and climate justice without global cognitive justice (i.e. epistemological and ontological justice). The ontological turn in social theory is surely debatable and controversial. But I think that it is worth asking if  a radical critique of the capitalist world-system necessarily should be articulated form within ontological premises underpinning unsustainable mechanisms (i.e. unequal ecological exchange or environmental waste disposal) and the social organization of production and consumption of that very capitalist world-system (Burman 2016).

While in the confines of this essay I cannot address fully this ongoing anthropological debate, I do think that ecomusicological perspectives do well to overcome the naturalist cradle of its foundation in order to a) actively participate in contemporaneous and interdisciplinary academic debates relating to the environmental crisis and sustainability, and b) to do justice to the discipline’s critical outlines ultimately aiming at transcending the academic sphere in order to be fruitfully informed by other-than-academic, critical, and disobedient musical artists and thinkers from the subaltern. Ontological questions do very much inform ecomusicological research: the “Natures” we talk about are indeed very important.



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[1] PhD Candidate in the Music Department, Royal Holloway University of London. B.A. in Social Sciences and Economics at Erfurt University (Germany), specialization in environmental sociology, M.Sc. in Human Ecology at Lund University (Sweden), specialization in environmental anthropology and political ecology. Contact:

[2] “Briefly defined, participatory performance is a style of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role. Representational performance, in contrast, refers to situation, where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.” (Turino 2008, 26)

[3] Turino (2008, 28) overtly argues against such a distinction, but considers it as somehow existing.

[4] Against the background of a certain musical performativity, it is worth looking at the repercussions of such exogenous dynamics on the sound of qantu music during processes such as folklorization, a theme which I explore in detail elsewhere (Hachmeyer 2015). Because of the framework of this essay, it is not possible to go further into detail. The main repercussions are: Substitution of musical instruments, performance techniques, harmony, rhythm and tempo, as well as change of music’s communication strategy.



In Kallawaya cosmology autochthonous (indigenous) musical practices are closely related to the social, natural, and spiritual environment. This is evident from processes surrounding the construction and tuning of instruments, activities in the cycle of agrarian production, collective ritual and healing practices, and communications with ancestors and deities relating to local weather events and climate. This article examines the interrelation between musical and climate change in the Kallawaya region. The impacts of musical sound on local weather events are of great importance to understand the complexity of climate change in this local context. The Northern Bolivian Kallawayas refer to changes in climate as a complex of alterations in local human and non-human relationships based on a rupture of reciprocal relationships in an animate world, in which music plays an important role for the cosmological equilibrium. This situation demonstrates the relevance of indigenous knowledge and cosmologies in relation to climate change discourses, particularly regarding questions of climate justice.

Music, Climate, and Therapy in Kallawaya Cosmology (Part 1): Sonorous Meshwork, Musical Performativity, and the Transformation of Pacha





By Sebastian Hachmeyer[1]


Sunrise over Niñocorin’s Main Square


I am the same as the mountain, Pachamama. Pachamama has fluids which flow through her, and I have fluids which flow through me. Pachamama takes care of my body, and I must give food and drink to Pachamama.

Marcelino Yanahuaya,
quoted in Bastien (1985, 597)


The Kallawaya is a Quechua and Aymara speaking ethnic group known for its naturopathic medical tradition, ancestral agricultural and ritual practices, and famous musical genre called qantu. Today, the Kallawaya region mostly corresponds with the province of Bautista Saavedra in the Northern Andes of the department of La Paz, Bolivia. In 2003 UNESCO officially declared the “Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya” a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Since then, the Kallawaya have received national and international recognition regarding their knowledge as testament to a cultural process that synthesized the medical-religious knowledge of South America.

In relation to the declaration by UNESCO, some scholars have noted a “shrinking definition” (Rösing 2005, 23) of Kallawaya culture that overemphasizes its medical tradition and lacks an integral picture of Kallawaya cosmology. In fact, the Bolivian Viceministry of Culture (2002) particularly emphasizes traditional medicine as something special to some Kallawaya communities, while acknowledging at the same time an overall integrality of practices, including ancient agricultural techniques, social organization, rituality, pottery, textiles, and music, all of which are shared elements of a more general Andean cosmology. In this use, Kallawaya music, especially qantu, is strictly defined in relation to its medical and therapeutic function, without stating how Kallawaya music therapy actually works.

Aside from the overall academic interest in Kallawaya culture (see Callahan 2011), several musicological studies exist. Most of these studies were descriptive (Sato 1982), partially focused on particular musical genres (Bauman 1985; Langevin 1991; Whitney Templemen 1994) or the study of physical sonorous aspects of particular musical ensembles in the region, especially qantu (Mamani Perez 2007). All these studies lack a conceptualization of what music actually means for those who play and enact it. It is worth noting that music appears in such previous ethnographies as somehow accompanying rituals and agrarian practices (see Rösing 1995; Langevin 1992), hence, reducing it to a by-product, rather than acknowledging it as a central social and cosmological activity in its own right. In relation to Kallawaya cosmology, music plays a major role in maintaining reciprocal relationships with a pantheon of spirits and deities. This is particularly important with regard to local climate patterns being direct manifestations of such reciprocal relationships.

In such an anthropological approach to climate, it is particularly important to depart from emic (sic) perspectives. One example is Rivière’s (1997) study about weather, power and society in Aymara communities of the Bolivian high-plateau (Altiplano). To constantly deal with limiting climatic factors and a hazardous agrarian situation, different techniques have been developed over centuries to make the most of the harsh Andean environment. Rivière argues that these techniques cannot be separated from Andean cosmology and relationships with deities and spirits, which are responsible for prosperity and good climatic conditions and are managed by particular people and divination practices aimed at predicting as well as anticipating meteorological events. As I will show, music and musical instruments are particularly crucial during such divination practices, the anticipation of meteorological events and the initiation of seasonal changes.


Musical and sonorous meshwork

The interrelation between music and climate is related to the Quechua time-space terminology. The Quechua word ñawpa refers to past and to space situated in front of ego, thus relating to visibility, whereas qhipa refers to future and to space situated behind ego, thus relating to invisibility (Gifford, 1986). Based on this understanding, Stobart (2006) makes an interesting interpretation of the aural axis, which is defined as the “point at which the past and future meet” (Stobart 2006, 32). He claims that the present might be seen as being represented by hearing. If this is so, then, we should rather listen to the sounds of the environment in order to understand the present by means of the visual past and the invisible future. In the present hearing is pivotal. Hence, it would be important to follow sound and music, improving “the quality of our attention to the world” (Adams 2009, 103).

In the Kallawaya region, rural indigenous wind instruments are related to Ankari, the deity of the wind and the messenger of the ancestors being embodied in the mountainous landscape (Rösing 1996, 514). There is an inherent relation between breath and wind as life sustaining movements: “Inhalation is wind becoming breath, exhalation is breath becoming wind” (Ingold 2011, 138). The wind and its close relationship to breath and respiration is all-important for establishing a cosmological equilibrium. Hence, it is worth analyzing how the production of sound and music relates to these interrelated phenomena of wind, breath and respiration, as one might think that the very moment of sonic production is an integral part of breathing. Breathing is a corporal process related to the lungs. As such, it is also directly related to the animating life-force (ajayu)[2], as it is a life-sustaining and prolonging process (Burman 2016).

But breathing also extends beyond the boundaries of the body, as much as the medium in which we breathe is situated “outside” of it. Air and wind can be seen as integral to the corporal process of breathing, as much as breathing can be seen as integral to air and wind, thus the medium. Language and thought are mainly related to heart and lungs, because they originate from knowledge and consciousness. Knowledge and consciousness are closely related to the wind, through which knowledge and consciousness, emotions and thoughts enter the body (Burman 2016). Thus, one might think that the very act of communication, the production and emission of sound and its reception, is equally related to wind and lungs as language, which can be understood as the sound which produces the air expelled by the lungs through making vibrate the vocal strings.

The importance of breathing for musical production becomes also evident within Quechua language. There is no generic word for “music.” Musical instruments are referred to as phukuna, which is also a verb used for playing musical instruments, as it means both “the thing which is blown” and “to blow.” (phukunay) The sound of rural indigenous wind instruments is produced by breathing out or blowing into a bamboo tube, thus producing a stream of air, a wind transforming the animate landscape and communicating with Ankari, who transports people’s offerings and sacrifices to the sacred mountains. These sacred mountains bridge past and present in a twofold sense: As a rocky formation of the earth’s surface now changing and transforming with every sun beam, wind, rain or hail, as well as the residence of dead ancestors, called machula in Quechua, the “owner” of these sacred places, which have specific powers over the forces of nature (Rösing 1996).

Sound transports life energy and establishes reciprocal relationships. Reciprocity in the sense of giving and taking is a constant cosmological tension, on which the world’s existence and continuity is founded (Stobart 2006). It is based on an immediate interrelation between both behaviours. While the ancestors give good climate conditions to grow food and hand over authority and responsibility, music and sound may be seen to move in the opposite direction, expressing desire (i.e. for rain) or distress (i.e. during droughts) (Stobart 2006).

In reference to the phenomenological work by the Austrian musicologist Zuckerkandl (1956), Ingold (2011) argues against visions of the earth as being seen as though it was only terrestrial, separated from sky. “Far from facing each other on either side of an impenetrable division between the real and the immaterial, earth and sky are inextricably linked within one indivisible field, integrated along the tangled lifelines of its inhabitants” (Ingold 2011, 74). In the Kallawaya region, this indivisible field can be understood as a complex musical and sonorous “meshwork” (Merton 2010, 2007), which integrates certain dimensions of the immersion in and commingling with what is called pacha in Quechua. Besides the meanings of cosmos and time/space, pacha also refers to weather and climate, in relation to a particular meteorological succession during the main climatic seasons of the year, called ch’aki pacha (dry season) and paray pacha (wet season).

Pacha takes on meanings and appearances according to people, whereas people develop knowledge, skills and identities according to their immersion in pacha (Ingold 2011). The mountains’ animate meaning is related to the embodiment of deities and ancestors, and their appearance is shaped by agricultural labour for maintaining reciprocity and life. The integration between earth and sky through music and sound is in fact a skilled response, because deities and spirits are responsible for local climate and its adequate meteorological succession for agrarian production. Music, formerly reduced to a by-product of rituals and agrarian practices, is an act of cosmic centrality for the transformation of time/space, weather and climate, which is pacha (Oblitas Poblete 1963, 340).[3] Hence, music is primarily understood as an integral mediator of cyclic life, i.e. the climate seasons with their respective meteorological successions, the agrarian cycle with its principal tasks, as well as the cycle of rituals and communitarian feasts.

Musical sound in pacha synthesizes existential conditions with regard to climate and weather in a transversal sense. Climate as a “physical-symbolic complex” (Rivière, 1997, 34) is fundamental to what constitutes human and other-than-human capacities of physical and moral life. In the local climate one can read the social and moral behaviour and the functioning of reciprocity, since the universe is a social and moral order governed by moral and ritual law (Radcliffe-Brown 1952). Regarding the Andean context, climatology is not the study of atmospheric conditions and weather averaged over time, but rather might be seen as the study of human and other-than-human social and moral behaviour averaged over time in relation to Andean deities and spirits.

Weather as the “fluxes of the medium” (Ingold 2011, 138) is fundamental to what constitutes human and other-than-human capacities of sensory perception. Weather contains a moral component, which immediately manifests through music-created reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities. Weather is something you locally live in; something that surrounds and transforms you and the environment (perception, cognitive state, physical being). Therefore, it is equal to sound, also what can be called musical sound. Both are not objects of perception, but mediums in which you perceive (Ingold 2011). Sound and weather are not so much embodied, as the body is ensounded and enweathered (ibid.). Regarding the Andean context, meteorology, then, is not the “study of things in the air,” as proposed by its Greek origin, but rather might be seen as equal to the study of grounded sonic issues that manifest reciprocal and moral relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities.

Dense Morning Fog in Niñocorin’s Valley


Musical performativity and the transformation of pacha

Every climatic season corresponds with expectations of a particular meteorological succession that permits different tasks within the agrarian cycle, i.e. sowing requires different climatic conditions than crop preparation or harvest. These meteorological expectations are culturally and practically embodied, a result of close relationships with the physical environment in a more or less stable climate over centuries. Hence, a “good” climate is defined as an “adequate” climate for agricultural tasks (Vergara Aguilar 2013). In this physical symbolic complex of climate, musical practices assume some sort of performativity in Austin’s (1962) sense. Here, performativity refers to those basic conditions that have to be fulfilled for the success of a communicative and meaningful speech act. Performative utterances do not only delimit themselves to describe a phenomenon; they bring it into being by expressing it. Analogically, musical sound is a performative utterance requiring certain basic conditions that must be fulfilled for the success of the musical (speech) act. Musical sound has to be produced by specific instruments that relate to a particular time-space condition during the “orchestration of the year” (Stobart 2006). Due to the agrocentrism in Andean cosmology, the sequence of the year basically corresponds with different tasks in the cycle of agrarian production and their relation to a conjuncture of individual and collective rituals. These rituals are usually carried out at specific, that is to say sacred places, where music can unfold its cosmological potentiality (Rösing 1996).

Rural indigenous wind instruments in the Kallawaya region are divided according to dry and rainy season. Similar to the cases described in Northern Potosí (see Stobart 2006; Solomon 1997), some in the Kallawaya region – e.g. my host, F.P., who is an elder in Niñocorin, a Kallawaya community famous for its qantu ensemble – refer to different sounds produced by particular musical instruments as calling or sending away rain. In one conversation about the rain ritual qallay, he associated this climate related meaning with the anatomy of rural indigenous wind instruments and their respective sounds:

The embouchure is also called tap, as if it was a tap for the wind. The sound for instance of a pinkillu is very high and can ban the wind which could disperse clouds in paray pacha [rainy season]. The quena, for instance, does not have such a tap, or also the qantu panpipes. They attract the wind, which disperses clouds in ch‘aki pacha (F.P. 2014, personal communication).

As he points out, the embouchure of rainy season duct flutes is also called tap. The sound is much higher and pressed, kind of tapped, which analogically serves as a tap that bans Ankari in rainy season, so that clouds are not dispersed by his breeze, or as Rösing (1996, 215) puts it, to close “the door of the wind.” This sound is illustrated in Niñocorin’s qallay pinkillu ensemble during qallay rain ritual (2014).

The appearance of rainy season duct flutes, especially the pinkillu, coincides with different rituals that should strap/tie up or capture strong winds so that clouds will not be dispersed (Rivière 1997), for instance the rain ritual qallay in Niñocorin and Kaata. Clouds are perceived as bearer of rains, a guarantee for mild temperatures and a protection against frost that would destroy crops early in their season (especially sowing). A particular musical sound anticipates and initiates the (social, spiritual, cognitive, physical, climatic, etc.) transformation of ch’aki pacha.

As my host explains, dry season notched-end flutes (i.e. quena), traverse flutes (i.e. pifano) or qantu panpipes do not have such a tap. Their sound is more direct, streaming and fluent, as Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble illustrates (2014).

Thus, it attracts Ankari in order to blow away clouds, so that frost can arrive in appropriate times (i.e. preparation of dehydrated potatoes called ch’uño). Around Carnival heavy wooden duct flutes called tarqas appear, which are said to invoke the calming of rains with their rich vibrant sound (Stobart 2006). This manifests the beginning of the transformation of paray pacha. Although the land turns yellowed, dried up and bare, it is a time of abundance because of harvest (ibid.). From April onwards, dry season instruments appear during the first harvest of the new agricultural year. Hence, those dry season instruments anticipate and initiate the (social, spiritual, cognitive, physical, climatic, etc.) transformation of paray pacha.


Qantu music in Kallawaya cosmology

Panpipes are strictly related to harvest, a relationship also observed in other regions in the Bolivian highlands (see e.g. Mújica 2014). My host says that

with much precision qantu panpipes are played around harvest time, during irwi, the festivity and first harvest of the year. Qantu panpipes store vital energy, which is liberated during paray pacha and the growing of agricultural crops (F.P. 2014, personal communication).[4]

Qantu music, as with the ensemble from Charazani (see Baumann 1985), is typically played by an ensemble of around 25 musicians playing panpipes called qantuphukuna, drums called wankara and a heavy metal triangle called ch’inisku. The typical quint harmony is based on parallel fifths, fourths and octaves giving the qantu ensemble its “special brilliance and character proper to the musical themes of this region” (Cavour 2010, 39). The ensemble consists of six registers played in pair and complementarity of panpipes with 6 and 7 tubes.

Thus, the whole quint harmony is produced by a six-voice polyphony. These two panpipes played in complementarity have a range of 13 notes, so that every register, if interlocked, produces heptatonic scales. The hocket technique, in which two or more voices share the production of a scale or a melody, is a dominant performance pattern within qantu music. In the Kallawaya region it is called “answering” from the Spanish word contestar. Although sometimes played in hexa- or heptatonic scales, in most of the qantu melodies the structural principles of the pentatonic pattern dominates (Baumann 1985).

The qantu panpipes are divided into three parts so that basic and corresponding registers overlap. The structure of qantu songs is also divided into three parts including slight interpretations and variations (Whitney Templeman 1994). This division into three parts has a symbolic and pragmatic reason and is related to the spiritual and natural environment. Bastien (1978) explains that the Kallawaya ayllus, an ancestral political and social organization of several interrelated communities, are organized like a human body with lakes being eyes and communities being other parts of the body. This exchange relation between different parts of the mountain provides for a complementarity of goods and a balanced diet. Analogically, the division of qantu panpipes is necessary for the musicians to answer each other during the course of performance and to produce the typical melodic line of the qantu song through hocketing (Whitney Templeman 1994). The typical cadential motive of the qantu song is referred to as “resting,” and musicians and instruments do indeed rest.

During the musical participation in a community setting, young people socialize and promote those social conditions that favor an egalitarian development in order to finally convert into proper members of the human and ancestral community, establishing reciprocity through music (Stobart 2006). In this sense, social integration through musical participation is seen as one of the principle purposes of these local and situated musical practices (Turino 1989), implying a lived experience with the environment relating to an ancestral presence. These situated and local musical practices do not depend so much on the precision of instruments or the musician’s experience, but on the fact of equilibrating instruments and sounds by the guidance of older members.

As these social and musicological aspects of qantu music are important to understand the functioning of such a qantu ensemble, some acoustic aspects should be highlighted in order to understand the particular auditory experience. Harmony in “Western” music theory is the use of simultaneous pitches, tones or notes based on certain rules during the composition and performance, which requires a well-tempered tuning in one of the standardized frequencies (nowadays mainly 440 Hz). As a matter of fact, qantu panpipes were traditionally made with wooden measure sticks, which ultimately results in making musical instruments whose pitches are not standardized.

Thus, notes produce acoustic beats that give the sonorous perception of a “detuned” ensemble. The work of the physician and musicologist Arnaud Gérard (2002) suggests intentionality in the construction of such qantu panpipes that reproduce sonorous and multi-harmonic patterns. From an ecological point of view, the sonorous and microtonal diversity of such autochthonous music form reciprocal relationships impacting both local climate patterns and humans’ bodies and well-being. In other words, qantu is both climatological and music therapeutic.


Music therapy, the person-mountain-body and participatory music

The topic of qantu music as music therapy requires some profound understanding of how diverse sonorous aspects (frequencies, harmony, micro-tonalities, rhythms, etc.) can have certain effects on the human body in an acoustic or biochemical sense. Surely, the therapeutic function also has to respond to some sort of musical performativity as depicted above. Yet, subsequent research within the fields of study such as bioacoustics or acoustic ecology is indispensable here. In the oral tradition it is said that qantu music casts away depression and melancholy, although the sound of a qantu ensemble is sometimes referred to as melancholic itself (especially by a “Western” hearer). This is related to a tuning ritual of new qantu panpipes, which have to be bathed in rosemary water, since rosemary is considered by Kallawaya healers as an herb containing qualities of casting away depression and melancholy. During the ritual bath, these qualities are said to be incorporated into qantu panpipes, which posteriorly assume the same qualities as the herb.

It is worth asking if the therapeutic functions are only the result of a sonorous particularity of qantu music, that is a result of the very notion of “attunement” (see Grimley 2011, 398). Healing also relates to the Kallawaya body concept, which is related to how Kallawaya see the mountains on which they live in constant correspondence. Bastien (1985) explains that Kallawayas understand the physiology of their own bodies based on how they see and perceive the physiology of the mountain (recall the epigraph). Fluids in the body are governed by similar dynamics within the environment. They flow back and forth between the body and the mountain, uniting both within an ecological web. The wholeness of the body (health in Kallawaya terms) is a process in which centripetal and centrifugal forces pull together and disperse fluids that provide emotions, thought, nutrients, and lubricants for the members of the body (ibid).

Bastien (1985) argues that centripetal and centrifugal forces of circulation are expressed by the dance of flute players, especially during the rain ritual khallay chajmay in Kaata, similar to the one in Niñocorin mentioned above (see also Bastien 1979). The flute players would dance in a row with a spiral, inward-directed counterclockwise movement, followed by an outward-directed clockwise movement, which should symbolize a spring that winds tightly inward and then releases itself outward (ibid.). This would be a symbolic metaphor of centripetal movements with a centralized focus in one direction, and of centrifugal movements with dispersal to the peripheries in the other direction, representing body fluids that distill in the center and disperse to the parts. Almost similarly, my host in Niñocorin explains the meaning of pinkillu flutes and dance during qallay in Niñocorin. While verbally explaining the particular dance performance, he picks up a tiny stone and draws four figures on Niñocorin’s main square that represent his explanation:

Quallay Dance

The very common pair dance is a rather recent change. In former times, we mostly danced in a row. But this is going to be lost, also because of how the main square is built in other communities, with a park in the middle and benches. We maintain this type of dance here in Niñocorin, especially during qallay. The dancers [D], musicians [M] and the flag bearer [F] form a pageant and dance in a row like a meander of a river striping up and down the whole main square two times until the musicians finally form a circle in the middle of the square and the dancers and flag bearers dance around them, in this direction [draws a circle counterclockwise] and then in this direction [draws a circle clockwise]” (F.P. 2014, personal communication).

The similarity between these two explanations is striking. The only difference may lay in the fact that the musicians in Niñocorin do not particularly participate in the centripetal and centrifugal movements as indicated by Bastien (1985). With such an understanding of body, diseases are related to some sort of improper circulation or mixing of fluids so that music and dance might be seen as making them properly fluent and circulating again. As a matter of fact, the same inward- and outward-directed movements are also constantly repeated by qantu panpipe players during their musical performance (see Langevin 1991).

This is why I argue for an understanding of qantu music’s therapeutic functions in relation to playing and engaging in music with a particular participatory format (Turino 2008). Turino (2008, 26) defines participatory performance as a “style of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles […].” As a musician of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble puts it succinctly, making reference to an act of participatory performance:

I don’t think that it is only qantu that heals. I believe that everybody has its own particular kind of music, which he or she responds to in a particular positive manner and likes to play or dance” (M.R. 2014, personal communication).

Hence, not only rosemary incorporated in qantu panpipes determines a person’s healing process. Moreover, such healing results from practicing and enacting participatory music as a social activity, which implies that certain lived experiences and “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 1996) are similarly important for physical and spiritual healing, especially in relation to Kallawaya cosmology and body concepts.


After reviewing Quechua time-space terminology and Kallawaya cosmology, I have considered the specific relationship between music, climate and weather in relation to healing and divination practices, in which music plays a major role. This music is a meshwork integrating different dimensions of cyclic life in pacha; this meshwork is related to how Kallawayas perceive music and sound as gathering particular symbolic meanings in relation to the environment. If music and local climate assume such an intimacy and coexisting relationship, it is worth considering how Kallawayas perceive changes in music and local climate. As Bastien (1985) argues, the body metaphor provides a structural basis for why Kallawayas prepare mesas (ritual tables) with offerings to feed the earth and the mountains when they are sick. Telluric processes are in constant interchange with corporeal processes.

When fluids flow back and forth within and between the person and the mountain, then, diseases of the person-mountain-body are results from the relationships between person and mountain. This becomes important when talking about adverse local climatic conditions: If they are not adequate for agrarian production, then the blame rests on human fallacies in relation to spirits and deities in pacha. This is why Kallawayas sometimes claim that the mountain, or in this case the climate as an expression of pacha, is somehow considered as being “sick” (Vergara Aguilar 2013).

When considering current manifestations of anthropogenic climate change (see Vidaurre et al. 2013), there are possibilities for further research, which I explore in part two.



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[1] PhD Candidate in the Music Department, Royal Holloway University of London. B.A. in Social Sciences and Economics at Erfurt University (Germany), specialization in environmental sociology, M.Sc. in Human Ecology at Lund University (Sweden), specialization in environmental anthropology and political ecology.

[2] Ajayu is an Aymara word, which was also used by my interlocutors in the Kallawaya region, where in some highland communities Aymara is spoken, too. Some interlocutors also used the Quechua word qamas. According to Burman (2016), qamasa is the part of ajayu indicating courage and strength. Langevin (1991) shows how Quechua and Aymara nomenclature of musical instruments and registers intermix in the Kallawaya region. So, I might add, does ritual terminology.

[3] Oblitas Poblete (1963) also describes a dance called “Para Wajaj” or “Pacha Cutichej,” which can be interpreted as “the one who turns the weather/time [in the cosmological understanding pacha]” (see also Sigl & Salazar 2012). Sigl & Salazar (2012, 437) argue that this dance was once played in order to “convert dry season into wet season.” As van den Berg (1989) argues in his monumental book about ritual and agrarian practices: Playing music in the context of agrarian activities and rituals is not simply an act of amusement; it is not about just giving more importance to these activities or rituals. It is rather another effort to guaranty a good harvest and the continuation of life. Mújica (2014, 174) states that “musical instruments are the coordinators of weather/time.”

[4] Elsewhere (Hachmeyer, 2016) I intend to explain the process of “conditioned incorporation” (Burman 2016) of qantu music into the cosmology of the Kallawaya. It is evident from other sources (Baumann 1985; Langevin 1992) that qantu music appeared in Bautista Saavedra province around 1930 in times of large-land holdings and colonial domination.



In Kallawaya cosmology autochthonous (indigenous rural) musical practices are closely related to the social, natural and spiritual environment. This is evident from processes surrounding the construction and tuning of musical instruments, activities in the cycle of agrarian production, collective ritual and healing practices, and communications with ancestors and deities relating to local weather events and climate. This first part of the article examines how a particular musical performativity organizes the orchestration of the year as an integral part of the Kallawaya musical and sonorous meshwork. Musical sound is crucial for the transformation of pacha and is primarily understood as an integral mediator of cyclic life, i.e. the climate seasons with their respective meteorological successions, the agrarian cycle with its principal tasks, as well as the cycle of rituals and communitarian feasts. In relation to Kallawaya body concepts, music with a particular participatory format plays an important role in healing as music therapy.

Music and Ecology International Multidisciplinary Symposium 2015: A Summary

by Andreja Vrekalić (Croatia)

Music and Ecology International Multidisciplinary Symposium 2015

28 – 29 August 2015, Ljubljana, Slovenia

City Museum Ljubljana


A considerable effort of five associations – (1) the Secretariat of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), located in Ljubljana since 2011; (2) the Imago Sloveniae, one of the national agencies organizing music and performing arts events around Slovenia; (3) the Department of Musicology of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana; (4) the Cultural and Ethnomusicological Society Folk Slovenia; and (5) the Institute of Ethnomusicology of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts – made the old city center of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, a hub of ethnomusicological encounters. Initiated in August 2011, these events have been a part of the festival Nights in Old Ljubljana Town and consist of scientific symposia enriching the festivals through their thematic focus. The symposia reflect the themes of concerts and workshops presented during festivals as well as contribute to ethnomusicological topics of global significance. Since the beginning of collaboration of the above-mentioned institutions, the symposium themes were as follows: Whither Accordion? in 2012, Music and Protest in 2013, and Music and Otherness in 2014. The 2015 symposium theme of Music and Ecology, while continuing this thematic tradition, initiated a discussion about the potential of intertwined/ecological perspectives in (ethno)musicology in this part of Europe (or continued a systematic and scientific consideration of music’s relationship with ecology since its inception and surpassed Merriam’s tripartite unit) (cf. Merriam 1964). Its ecological and holistic attributes reflected beyond symposium presentations, for instance in the City Museum Ljubljana or boat trip along the Ljubljanica River after the first day of symposium.

During a two-day symposium held in the City Museum of Ljubljana, a group of 17 scholars offered a plethora of perspectives, reflections, and ideas on music and ecology and on the role of the (applied) (ethno)musicologist as a scholar and social activist (depending on the understanding of the concepts and contexts of ecology). The first day started with an introductory lecture by Svanibor Pettan (Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, secretary general of the ICTM) entitled Singing Fish and Other Sound Phenomena of Batticaloa: What Soundscapes Tell Us about Culture? Pettan provokingly used Steven Feld’s thesis on acoustemologies as an idea of experiencing culture being exposed to sonic phenomena. He presented his personal experience of soundscapes of Batticaloa, a city in Sri Lanka where he conducted fieldwork in August 2015. Reflecting on the coherence of the terms of music and ecology and seeking a direct link to their more concrete use, the keynote speaker Huib Schippers (Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia) discussed Applied Ethnomusicology and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Developing the Concept of “Ecosystem of Music” to Focus Sustainability Initiatives. He presented core ideas of an international research project Sustainable Futures and emphasized the significant role of researchers in raising global awareness needed to preserve and safeguard music cultures and to find the interconnections between music ecosystems and biological entities. Speaking from the perspective of historical musicologist, Ljubica Ilić (Academy of Arts, University of Novi Sad, Serbia) in her paper The Soundscapes of (Dis)Order questioned contemporary musicological approach to the understanding of nature and culture. She listened to, analyzed, and studied the ambivalence (ordered and/or disordered) of soundscapes of Munich and Istanbul. In Fields of Green: Addressing Sustainability and Climate Change Through Music Festival Communities, Matt Brennan (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom) introduced a new research project to reveal (im)possible environmental/sustainable/cultural actions among artists, audiences, and organizers of Scottish music festivals (doers, knowers, and makers, according to the typology by Lundberg, Malm, and Ronström 2003). Investigating the attributes of “environmental” and “ecological” in the works of several composers and sound artists, Jono Gilmurray (University of the Arts London, London, United Kingdom) presented an audiovisual report, Ecoacoustics: Ecology and Environmentalism in Contemporary Music and Sound Art. He critically reviewed the purposefulness of ecoacoustic music and sound art as a mediating tool for expressing global environmental changes.

In contrast to these presentations, Nataša Jazbinšek Seršen (the Head of the Department for Environmental Protection of Municipality of Ljubljana and Head of the European Green Capital 2016), talked about raising environmental awareness in Ljubljana. She discussed changes which have occurred within the city infrastructure and resulted in Ljubljana winning the European Green Capital Award for 2016. She also focused on projects which should be undertaken to make Ljubljana even greener. The only panel session at the symposium was presented by six scholars currently engaged in a research project City Sonic Ecology: Urban Soundscapes of Bern, Ljubljana, and Belgrade. Mojca Kovačić (Institute of Ethnomusciology of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia) focused on Conflicting Religioscapes in Ljubljana. She researched the Islamic community and its religious and cultural independence as well as its attempts to build a mosque in Ljubljana. Srđan Atanasovski (Institute of Musicology of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Serbia) discussed Belgrade Sonic Policescape and the Act of Listening: Between Entrainment and Resilience. His presentation focused on three levels of dichotomies – private and public, activity and passivity, and democracy and obedience – to highlight issues of using external stimulus to control internal and personal soundscapes. Further, Starogradska muzika in Skadarlija as Nostalgic Sound Environment by Marija Dumnić (Institute of Musicology of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Serbia) and Reculturization Projects in Savamala by Ivana Medić (Institute of Musicology of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Serbia) presented two types of nostalgia. Dumnić’s nostalgia, focused on Skadarska Street in Belgrade, has its continuum; exists at the certain point; and is interwoven with performances of “old urban music” which present unspoiled, old and authentic Belgrade as a powerful tool to attract tourists. Medić’s paper connected nostalgia to religious/ethnic identity, by presenting the case of tourists and Saudi Arabian investors attracted to Savamala quarter of Belgrade. This type of nostalgia arises from the fear of loss – i.e., losing one’s culture, music, and traditions. The topics of urban development and identity representation emerged also in a paper by Britta Sweers (Center for Cultural Studies, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland) entitled The Sonic Representation of Traditional and Modern Identity in the Public Urban Context of Bern, Switzerland. She interpreted soundscapes of Bern as representing identity shifts between traditional and modern. Ana Hofman (Institute of Culture and Memory Studies of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia) introduced the concept of Music Activism in a Neoliberal City and the use of soundscapes appropriated by a political identity seeking to become socially and culturally visible. The second keynote speaker Kjell Skyllstad (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) concluded the first day of the symposium with Music and Ecology: A Question of Survival. He traced the beginnings of ethnomusicological thoughts on music and ecology to a symposium held in 2010 in Hanoi, Vietnam, a collaboration between two ICTM study groups (music and minorities and applied ethnomusicology); this symposium served as a great example whereby scientific and artistic agencies have brought sociocultural improvements to community ecosystems of Southeast Asia.

Amra Toska (Academy of Music, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina) opened the second day of the symposium with Traditional Music and Its Environment: Examples from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her paper explored relationship between traditional music genres of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the influence of space (natural, architectural, rural, and urban) on the act of performance and the structure of music performed within a particular space. The question of sustainability and viability of musical culture of the indigenous Tao from Taiwan in the context of policies of penetration was the main concern of the paper Social Inclusion Through Music Making: Theories in Practice in the Case of the Tao, an Indigenous Ethnic Group in Taiwan by Wei-Ya Lin (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria). By accentuating relationships (similarities and differences) between human and non-human environments, Bernd Brabec de Mori (Institute of Ethnomusicology, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria) sought to identify the sources of the origin of music through researching indigenous ontologies. His paper was entitled Indigenous Animic and Analogic Conceptions of Sonic Human-Environment Interaction. The final keynote address, Linnaeus, Zoomusicology, Ecomusicology, and the Quest for Meaningful Categories, was given by Marcello Sorce Keller (independent scholar from Lugano, Switzerland). Keller was as thought-provoking as Pettan in problematizing ethnomusicological perspectives and definitions on music. He pointed out that abandoning anthropocentric perspectives results in introducing the new field of zoomusicology, bringing a new twist to Blacking’s idea of “how musical is man.”

The collaborative efforts of the program and organizational committee – consisting of Svanibor Pettan (chair), Jerneja Jamnikar, Janoš Kern, Teja Klobčar, Mojca Kovačić, and Carlos Yoder – successfully attracted eminent scientists and scholars whose open-mindedness, multidisciplinarity and eagerness will certainly contribute to the growth of research in ecomusicology and the expansion of the field of (ethno)musicology.





Lundberg, Dan, Krister Malm, and Owe Ronström. 2003. Music, Media, and Multiculture. Stockholm: The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research.


Merriam, Alan Parkhurst. 1964. The Anthropology of Music. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Experiencing Environmental Crises Through Music

by Sini Mononen (University of Turku, Finland)

Finnish musicologist Juha Torvinen is working on a personal research project entitled Music, Nature, and Environmental Crises: A Northern Perspective on Ecocritical Trends in Contemporary Music. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland. His project is the first in Finland to have significant funding for a study in the field of ecomusicology. Being a five-year (2014–2019) full-time research project, it is unique in the whole ecomusicological world, too. We discussed the main themes of the project with Torvinen.


SM: In your current research project you have studied environmental and ecocritical themes in contemporary classical and popular music. How do you think music engages ecocritical issues today?

JT: Well, music can deal with ecocritical themes in many ways, and these ways have already been studied in depth by the pioneering figures of contemporary ecomusicology such as Aaron S. Allen, Mark Pedelty, Denise von Glahn, Kevin Dawe and many others. The most obvious way is that a piece of music has a more or less clear “message” that it aims at changing our views through specific title, lyrics, motto, program or other explicit link to ecocritical subject matters. And there are obviously lots of artists whose whole oeuvre is based on an ecocritical ethos. Think about, for example, works of John Luther Adams, the dark ambient of New Risen Throne, or the black metal of Wolves in a Throne Room. The recording No Holier Temple of the Finnish progressive folk band Hexvessel could even be considered an ecocritical Gesamtkunstwerk.

However, I think that consciously and intentionally ecocritical forms of music and music making are, perhaps surprisingly, only a minor and not necessarily the most important part of contemporary eco-sensitive musical repertoire. We have witnessed a wide and heightened musical interest in nature and environment in recent decades. In Nordic contemporary music, for example, one can discern various approaches to the topic of environment ranging from Romantic nature mysticism and topophilic musical treatises of local environments to themes of urban environment, celestial bodies, and musical depictions of the elements of water, snow, and ice.

We are living in the age of environmental crises. This means that environmental concerns are fundamental for the experiences of our time. This is why environmental concerns also change our ways of hearing, listening, and sensing the world around us. And this is why we are able and entitled to hear ecocritical “messages” even in music where such messages are not obviously evident. Indeed, one of the main tasks of ecomusicology is, in my opinion, to open our ears to ecocritical listening, to show that it is not only music making itself but it is also our ears that are molded by environmental concerns whether we are aware of this or not. This emphasis on context is where ecomusicology mates with the main principles of cultural musicology.


SM: One of the defining themes in your project is the North. How do you understand the North in this ecomusicological context? Is it aesthetics, such as the dark sound and northern mythology in the music of one of your case studies Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, or is it apocalyptic scenes such as oil drilling in Arctic?

JT: Focusing on northerly music in my project has at least two main reasons. The one is quite practical: one cannot study everything, one has to delimit one’s objectives, and I will concentrate on northerly music because it is closest to me both musically and nature-wise (I’m a Finn born near the Polar Circle).

The other reason for focusing on northerly music is that northern music has a special potential for providing inspiration for global environmental thinking. This is because northern cultural forms are often closely connected to the still relatively unpolluted and uninhabited northern nature. Think about, for example, Icelandic artists Sigur Rós and Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Sámi rappers, or various nature myths in Nordic metal that you mentioned.

Norwegian architect Christian Norberg-Schulz (1996) wrote on Nordic architecture and how it reflects northern lighting and our experience on the northerly environment. Life in north is characterized with extreme light conditions, pitch-dark winter and midnight sun. Depictions of light are a very typical theme also in northern ecocritical music. For example Finnish composer Kalevi Aho’s Eight Seasons (2011) is a concerto for theremin & chamber orchestra dealing with delicate characters of eight seasons of Sámi tradition. Climate change is threatening the seasons, diminishing them into fewer and leaving the habitants of the Lapland in the mercy of darkness and light. For instance, snow has an important role in starting the sixth season, the threshold of winter. Snow softens the hard darkness as it reflects the faintest light in the landscape. The theremin has a significant and interesting role in the concerto, as the instrument has a cultural history distinct from the conventional chamber music tradition. It is standing alone before the chamber orchestra, trying to defend its history, subjectivity and tradition.

Typical for the overall sound of the northern music is avoidance of (musical) subjects in favor of ambient fields of sound, blurring of musical foreground and background, and depictions of desolate landscape. But these are only typical, not essential traits of northerly music. Similar traits can be found in any music and, conversely, not all northerly music includes these features. For example, Alaskan John Luther Adams composed a dystopian dream in Become Ocean. The whole theme of the piece is an apocalyptical future, where humanity is sliding back towards the ocean. We came from the ocean, and now the ocean is pulling us back. John Luther Adams is a good example of a composer composing subjectless voids. The similar feel is present in the oeuvre of New Risen Throne and Wolves in a Throne Room. The north and environment give a slow-paced feel to their music. There aren’t many musical subjects or events. North appears as a huge space, movement of a light, and togetherness with the environment as the borders of the subjects disappear and everything dissolves into same big whole.

But I’d like to repeat myself: not all northerly music includes these features. Still I think that above-mentioned features are more common in northerly music than in music in general. Our immediate natural and cultural surroundings mould and affect our ways of thinking, acting and experiencing things. Northern nature affects the nature of music of northern countries. How could it even avoid of doing this?


SM: It seems to me that discussing North in particular is an attempt to turn from global to local: is this a conscious ecocritical choice?

JT: I agree. How can you really, and I mean really deeply, care about anything with which you haven’t had any physical immediate contact? The extreme nationalist movements of the 20th century have somewhat poisoned the idea of locality and topophilia. Gradually we are getting rid of such labels – and, ironically, much because of environmental crises, because they are often disturbances in local physical contacts with the world. However, you must not make the mistake of thinking that your locality is the best (not to mention only) way to think, act and experience. For example highlighting the particularities of northern environment may help others to see the uniqueness of their different environments.

Furthermore, there is a more philosophical reason for my northern focus. Peter Davidson (2005), a specialist in the culture of the northern regions, has pointed out that in Western literary history the north has long acted as a metaphor for something that is, for better or worse, beyond the knowable world. Also music is often seen as something beyond knowable or, at least, controllable. Can the homologous use of music and north as metaphors for something beyond the here-and-now find a new topicality in current socio-cultural negotiation environmental problems? Global warming is moving the climatic North more and more to the North. Is this a symptom for our inability to face the fundamental questions?


SM: A significant part of your previous work is studying this side of music through Heideggerian phenomenology. Heidegger is still very up-to-date, although also widely criticized especially in post-phenomenology such as object-oriented-ontology. Do you find Heideggerian philosophy still relevant in ecocritisism and ecomusicology?

JT: My doctoral thesis back in 2007 discussed the forms of affectivity in musical experience as temporary and transitory “attunements” of the primordial and pre-subjective existential-ontological anxiety (Angst).

Indeed, Heideggerian thought has much to offer also for environmentally oriented music research, just like it has had much to offer for ecocritical and ecophilosophical thought in general. Heidegger’s analysis of human existence as being-in-the-world (that we are what we are only in and through our interaction with the world), his anti-humanist critique of Western metaphysics of subjectivity, as well as his thoughts on technology can be considered important precursors for today’s critiques of anthropocentrism in all forms of environmental research.

Heidegger’s critique of technology (for example in the essay The Question Concerning Technology) is aimed at technological understanding of Being that manifests not only as tools, machines etc. but primarily as our general need to control and organize the world and nature according to our standards, as seeing everything (including humans themselves) as standing reserve for fulfilling contingent human needs. In this context even science is always technological because its raison d’être is to make our ability to disclose the world (tekhne) as a rational system (logos). Heidegger’s main concern was that technological understanding of Being can become the governing and only view to reality. It seems that this is exactly and unfortunately what has happened. Various environmental crises tell us that our needs do not meet the benefit of the rest of the reality. It is interesting for a musicologist that in order to avoid the negative aspects of technological understanding of Being, Heidegger informs us to listen to Being. By its essence the ear is less discriminating (i.e. less technological?) than the eye.

Heideggerian philosophy is also among the main backdrops for Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature and, consequently, today’s ecophenomenology including the writings of Ted Toadvine (2009), Gernot Böhme (2001), Edward S. Casey (1997) and many others. Ecophenomenology – Heideggerian or not – is an important methodology for my research, because I am first and foremost interested in experiences of nature and environment (especially ones that are devoid of subject-object divide) as conveyed and negotiated through music and musical practices in our age of environmental crises.


SM: You have told me that you prefer term nature to ecology or environment. I can remember opposite choice in ecocritical discourse that emphasizes the loss of nature and thus turn to discussing environment. Why did you choose to turn the other way?

JT: I am relying on Heideggerian tradition here, too. Heidegger analyzed the pre-Socratic philosophical tradition where our surrounding world was seen not as a collection of static beings but as a dynamic process of appearing. This appearing, the way in which things manifested themselves, was called in Ancient Greece physis. Through a Latin translation we are nowadays accustomed to call this same phenomenon nature (natura, engl. nature, birth, character). It seems to me, however, that when we use terms such as ‘ecology’ or ‘environment’ we are unconsciously referring to things and wholes that are more static and, thus, easier to be divided in opposing realms. For example, for something to be an environment some kind of center is, quite logically, required. And this center is often a human being or a human form of being. In Greek tradition, on the other hand, the term ecology originates from oikos, which stands for household, house or family. Thus both environment and oikos, or environment and ecology, are, historically and experientially, determined through human needs and human perception. Of course, in practice things and the different meanings of terms are not this straightforward. But by choosing the concept of nature I wish to stress the post-humanist and anti-Cartesian point of view. Ecophenomenological critiques of the terms of ecology and environment are found in Dillon’s (2007) and Toadvine’s (2009) texts. Philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, on the other hand, have analyzed the phenomenon of physis in depth in their book All Things Shining (2011).

All this doesn’t have to mean that the human experience isn’t essential.

For example, I believe that while we humans are part of the bigger picture, we are tied to nature through a meaningful bond, which is ranging from intellectual to affective and bodily experiences. In Merleau-Ponty’s account (see e.g. Toadvine 2009), we humans become attached to the world through our bodies. For Merleau-Ponty being in the world is foremost a bodily experience. However, body does not separate us from the world. While it defines limits for the individual being and thus separates us from the world, this separation is at the same time artificial. We are attached to the world through our bodies; in fact, we are one with the world, and ‘flesh’ was Merleau-Ponty’s term for the fundamental uniting factor of all being. We are not separated from the world, because everything is the same flesh.


SM: To be listening to music is also fundamentally a bodily experience, and not only as it resonates and vibrates in our bodies. Jane Bennett (2001) refers to an exceptional kind of bodily experience, enchantment, in relation to ethics. She defines enchantment as a state of wonder where one is spellbound, which is entirely affective. She is also discussing music in this context: music is both metaphor and an example of enchanting force, which evokes our need to act for a common good. This brings us back to ecocriticism. Do you understand music as an enchanting and affective force?

JT: I’m not familiar with Bennet’s book and I thank you for introducing it to me. In any case, the affective nature of music is very important, almost essential. When observing the development of ecological crises and the knowledge we have about them, it becomes evident that in order to change our ways of acting we cannot separate affective states from ethics. Like I mentioned before, in order to take care of the world, one needs to have affective relationship to it. Music is dealing directly with the affective side of being. When affect meets knowledge, the change is more likely to start.

I somewhat disagree with environmental philosopher Timothy Morton (2007), who states in his Ecology without Nature that nature writing (and also nature composing) are deceiving, because they have aimed to depict and evoke immersive experiences that rely on the illusion of our original unity with nature. I think that we need immersive experiences simply because they are a major part of our experiential faculty. But it’s like with topophilia: you cannot rely on immersive experiences only. They move you but they do not tell why and where to move. On the other hand, purely symbolic meanings can tell you this “why” and “where” but they do not necessarily (make you) move. If you get the affective power and dynamism from immersion, you also need symbolic meanings and experiences to figure out why and how this dynamism should make you think and act differently, in a more, say, eco-sensitive way. In other words, enchantment is important but one also has to be able to step back from it.


SM: Back to (northern) ecocritical music: When you first mentioned some of your case studies, like Opeth and Wolves in a Throne Room, I had this idea of almost dystopian of apocalyptic musical spheres. But this is not surprising. Environmental music is almost overwhelming in its essence; it is at the same time both conceptual and affective. Conceptual, as it speaks of transcendental and sublime experience. Affective, as it forces us to face the current crises. Thus the essence of ecocritical music is hard to grasp and verbalize.

JT: It seems, generally speaking, that recent environmental music touches the whole of our experiential capacities. What I mean by this is – and this is partly an answer to your previous question, too – that many contemporary forms of music making seem to resemble a broadly naturalistic outlook on human experience (on which I rely) where evolutionarily later and more structured areas of human experience are seen as arising from (and, therefore, explanatorily dependent on) less structured and more archaic areas of experience. Music evokes highly structured, reified and subjective experiences but it also evokes pre-individual, pre-conceptual and asubjective experiences. To have an ecocritical potential in an experiential sense, music has to hover between these two extremes, I think.

Ecocritically interesting music has attained a good balance between these experiential extremes. At the moment I am studying these layers of experience in the context of at least three musical examples. In Kaija Saariahos’s music one finds fascinating combinations of celestial themes with highly suggestive sound-world that can be considered a contemporary “environmental” form of sublimity (or Morton’s hyperobjectivity (Morton 2013)). The bodily environment is the focus in my work on how the curved shapes of Fender Stratocaster have influenced the temporality of guitar improvisation. Moreover, my study on Nordic metal, especially the Swedish band Opeth you mentioned previously, ponders the relationship of nature-related texts to strong affectivity of the sound of music.

For more information, contact Juha Torvinen directly or visit  See also .



Bennett, Jane. 2001. The Enchantment of Modern Life. Attachements, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Böhme, Gernot. 2001. Aisthetik. Vorlesungen über Ästhetik als allgemeine Wahrnehmungslehre. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.

Casey, Edward S. 1997. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Davidson, Peter. 2005. The Idea of North. London: Reaktion.

Dillon, Martin C. 2007. Merleau-Ponty and the Ontology of Ecology or Apocalypse Later. Teoksessa Cataldi, Suzanne L. & Hamrick, William S. (toim.) Merleau-Ponty and Environmental Philosophy. Dwelling on the Landscapes of Thought. New York: State University of New York Press, 259–272.

Dreyfus, Hubert & Sean Dorrance Kelly. 2011. All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. New York: Free Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977 [1954]. The Question Concerning Technology. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. New York & London: Garland, 3–35.

Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis London: University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, Timothy. 2007. Ecology Without Nature. Re-Thinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge London: Harvard University Press.

Norberg-Schulz, Christian. 1996. Nightlands: Nordic Building. Cambridge, Mass. & London: The MIT Press.

Toadvine, Ted. 2009. Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Nature. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Torvinen, Juha. 2007. Musiikki ahdistuksen taitona. Filosofinen tutkimus musiikin eksistentiaalis-ontologisesta merkityksestä. Helsinki: Suomen Musiikkitieteellinen Seura.

Torvinen, Juha. (forthcoming). Northern tone and the changing climate. Study on psychedelic folk of Hexvessel and theremin concerto of Kalevi Aho. In Sweers, Britta (ed) Climate Change, Music and the North. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Vadén, Tere & Juha Torvinen. 2014. Musical Meaning in Between. Ineffability, Atmosphere and Asubjectivity in Musical Experience. Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 1:2, 209–230.


Music, Nature and Environmental Crises: A Northern Perspective on Ecocritical Trends in Contemporary Music

by Juha Torvinen (University of the Arts, Helsinki)

Description of the Research Project “Music, Nature and Environmental Crises”

Environmental concerns have become an inescapable part of the everyday life in the Western world. At the same time, it has been widely acknowledged that scientific research, technological know-how, and legislative regulation are not sufficient to gain a full understanding of these concerns. We also need cultural discussion, imagination, art and vision, that is, we need humanistic understanding.

The main task of the present project is to study the significance of contemporary music to our socio-cultural understanding of ecological problems. The project offers a musicological contribution to the humanist study of environmental crises, which examines the values, meanings, experiences, historical roots and future prospects of these crises. The main research question of the project reads: What is the significance of contemporary music to our general ecological awareness? And furthermore: How might music scholars respond to environmental concerns, and what is the significance of musicological knowledge to ecological awareness?

The main objective of the project is defined further in two ways. First, the music studied consists mainly, but not exclusively, of northerly contemporary classical music. This denotes an artistically ambitious genre and an exceptionally significant site of cultural negotiation about ecological values. Second, the project combines interdisciplinary cultural and philosophical methods with music analytic and music phenomenological methods in order to examine in detail the workings of music as sonic form of cultural imagery that outlines and shapes in a significant way the human being’s relation to the environment.

The project will produce new knowledge in various areas of music and cultural research. It will chart in detail ecocritical aesthetics and environmental strategies in contemporary music. It will reveal in how many and what particular ways music and musical practices influence public views on environmental issues and how the age-old relationship between music and nature has gained new significance in the present-day world dominated by environmental crises. The project will open up and develop new methods of ecocritical music research (ecomusicology). The results are expected to have wide-ranging significance both in the academia and society at large. The project will show how music helps us to live and deal with ecological concerns and by that contributes to our cultural understanding of environmental crises.

For more information, contact Juha Torvinen directly or visit  See also .

Reconnecting the Music-Making Experience: Supporting Small-Scale Local Craftsmanship in the Academic Percussion Community

by Alex Smith


In this essay, I propose a framework for musical instrument manufacturing that draws upon ideas of disconnection and reconnection as they relate to sustainability in order to show how composers, performers, and instrument makers might work together more effectively. As effects of globalization arguably “disconnect” (or obscure linkages between) producers, consumers, and natural resources (Harvey 2009, Robbins 2011), there is a general lack of awareness by consumers in terms of the processes required to craft musical instruments. Fostering reconnections between these actors through more active consumer participation in resource-to-product production processes is one way that disconnection between them can be alleviated (Moran 2006, Renting 2012), allowing for a more ethical, environmentally considerate, and overall more sustainable music-making experience. In this paper I will employ this framework to discuss small-scale, local marimba craftsmanship in the academic percussion instrument market in order to show how reconnecting human and non-human actors might lead toward more sustainable cultures as understanding and appreciation is developed between them.

The environmental impacts of the musical instrument industry have recently become a topic for discussion mainly in terms of the rare and endangered natural resources used for their production. Authors have discussed the scarcity of Brazilian pernambuco for violin bows (Rymer 2004) and guitar woods used by American luthiers (Curtis 1993), for example. The case of the guitar has received mainstream attention as well after the two federal seizures of Malagasy ebony and rosewood from Gibson Guitars in 2009 and 2011 due to their alleged violation of law in international trade (McKinley 2011). In each case, the consumption of such natural resources have wide-ranging impacts on musicians, instrument makers, indigenous populations, and the environment.

Beyond environmental impacts, sustainability more broadly has often been defined as a tripartite concept that deals with negotiations not only in relation to the environment, but also with ethics, and economics (Collin and Collin 2010). Ethics deal with where, how, and by whom products are made and considers embedded inequalities or power dynamics that might exist between the human and non-human actors of production-consumption chains. Economics considers the pricing of goods or natural resources in relation to the extent to which they are environmentally and ethically considerate. The relationship between these three components is hotly contested and can often be the product of self-interest. This is particularly visible in the market for food. At the grocery store, for example, consumers are confronted with a variety of labels such as “organic,” “all-natural,” “local,” “cage free,” and “fair trade.” While some labels carry more weight than others, this overwhelming multitude of sustainability rhetoric might of course be recognized as a form of greenwashing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that growing consumer awareness and demand for transparency is spurring such changes, reflecting positive shifts and “cracks in the neoliberal façade” (Watts, Ilbery & Maye 2005).

Thus, despite the fact that sustainability has a variety of meanings and is often highly politicized, co-opted, and/or contradictory, the tripartite conceptualization can help to reveal sensitive environmental, ethical, and economic concerns within the market for musical instruments. In this study it is applied to the musical instruments used by the academic music community, specifically for percussion. In this community, musical ensembles contain large inventories of percussion instruments, yet musicians rarely know much about their origins, specifically in relation to the natural resources and production processes necessary for their construction. Additionally, the production processes of our globalized political economy often involve the outsourcing of labor and the allocation of international, and often rare, natural resources. Thus, the actors of this music-making experience (makers, players, and natural resources used in musical instruments) are disconnected from one another, resulting in a lack of awareness, understanding, and appreciation. While a fundamental assertion of ecological systems theory is that everything is connected, and while processes of globalization in some senses “connect” us more than ever, this study uses the term “disconnection” in reference to consumer distancing from the various actors involved with production processes and from the environmental and ethical impacts their consumption may have.

In considering these disconnects, the marimba is particularly intriguing due to its extensive use by middle and high school band programs, higher education conservatories and music schools, soloists, professional ensembles, drum corps, and community bands. Most marimbas used by these communities are constructed by large-scale percussion instrument corporations that are often purchased with the click of a button on one of the many percussion instrument distribution company websites. After making a purchase, marimbas usually arrive at one’s doorstep in boxes with no effort required from the consumer to construct the instrument other than basic assembly. As a musical object so integral to the identities, livelihoods, and expressions of musicians—and one with its own meaning, agency (Dawe 2001, Bates 2012), and intrinsic value—I argue that the marimba-musician relationship should be characterized by a much deeper connection.

Fostering reconnection between these actors, then, can lead to more sustainable music cultures, as musicians are able to develop stronger understandings for their musical instruments, and the people, labor, and natural resources required to make them. Additionally, the more direct participation of musicians in the making of their instruments can lead to embodied experiences, positive emotional investment, and relational learning, further intensifying the potential of reconnection (Anderson and Guyas 2012). Like “disconnection,” “reconnection” is a term that is used largely in relation to agro-food systems. Alternative agriculture is increasingly allowing consumers to engage in more local and sustainable food systems as opposed to more global systems of food production (Sage 2011). In other words, reconnection can be contextualized through a more active consumer participation in resource-to-product production processes.

Yet making such reconnections within the academic percussion community is not simple. Far from being confined to agricultural or music communities, disconnection is a systemic and large-scale issue inherent in the broader global political economy. Actors within the marimba production-consumption chain are making economically rational and indeed necessary choices in order to make it in life as performers, makers, distributors, educators, etc. Jeff Todd Titon describes a similar setting of “economic rationality” when coal miners support environmentally destructive practices of mountain top removal due to their economic dependence (Allen, Von Glahn, and Titon 2014). While acknowledging these complexities, however, there are still important entry points and new avenues for reconnection that the academic percussion community might take to begin working toward more sustainable music cultures.

This paper explores one such avenue for reconnection in the academic percussion community: a more active consumer participation in marimba production processes via the support of small-scale local marimba craftsmanship. In the sections that follow, I will discuss small-scale local marimba craftsmanship as a consumer option that fosters reconnections between percussionists, percussion instrument manufacturers, and the instruments they build. In order to better understand the potential of these connections, I conducted interviews with consumers who purchased instruments from small-scale local marimba craftspeople. Consumers were asked about their motivations for selecting the specific maker of their instrument, as well as their experiences and interactions working with them.

Additionally, I employ the ecomusicological conceptualization of sustainability in order to expand upon the tripartite model through the incorporation of a fourth component: “aesthetics.” Known as the “four-legged stool,” this model suggests that not only does sustainability require consideration of the environment, ethics, and economics, but it also requires sustainable efforts and products that are aesthetically pleasing (Allen, Von Glahn, and Titon 2014). More connected musical settings lead to environmental, ethical, and economic benefits, but they also result in unique conceptions of musical artistry. This paper, then, also examines the musical artistry of such settings in relation to the ways small-scale local marimba craftsmanship both require and result in creativity and innovation by drawing from ethnographic research with one small-scale local marimba craftsperson—Matt Kazmierski and his Michigan-based marimba company Planet Marimba. Though I admit my own biases as a student and friend of this marimba craftsperson, I believe that the artistic contributions offered by small-scale, local marimba craftspeople such as Kazmierski can offer valuable insight in relation to our conceptualizations of sustainability.



Connections and Relationships

Overall, interview respondents expressed appreciation for closer connections to the maker of their instrument. For example, Michigan-based percussionist Kelly Krayer (pseudonyms are used for all consumer participants) was asked about her motivations for selecting Planet Marimba over other options in the market today:

Most of it [was] just to be able to talk to someone that is taking the time to hear every bar, to hear everything about the bar, to construct something for me… [it] was more intriguing than anything, and to me better than calling up a factory and going, “Hey, I need a marimba,” and then they’re like, “Cool, we have 70 over here!” … And just seeing Matt and his family; going up there to see the workshop, going up there to hang out with them. Those are pretty much all the reasons. I feel like I’ve kind of gained another family with Matt and Penny too. (Krayer 2014)

Kelly articulates an appreciation for the connection and understanding between herself, Kazmierski, and Kazmierski’s family. This also demonstrates an appreciation for Kazmierski’s understanding of and skills working with the natural resources that are repurposed into her future instrument. Kelly values these connections and understandings in relation to alternative consumer options that might not allow them to exist in the same ways.

Consumers of other small-scale local craftspeople have articulated similar connections. Maryland-based percussionist Brocke Nelson was asked about his experience purchasing an instrument from Matt Coe and his company Coe Percussion in Tallahassee, FL. Brocke and Coe exchanged emails and phone calls over the course of several months discussing the nature of Coe’s craftsmanship, specifics related to Brocke’s instrument, and payment and deadline details. Upon picking up his instrument, Brocke was actually able to visit Coe’s shop:

That was actually a really cool part of the process. You know, he invited us over. He runs everything out of his garage. Like the bottom floor of his house is just a garage woodshop place. And it’s just him, it might be more now, because he’s kind of gaining some clamor and all in the last few years… But when I went down there it was just him doing everything on his own. And yea, it was really cool just to see one dude in his house making these pretty cool instruments. I felt like I’m getting a very personal kind of instrument. Because, like I said, one dude does it all… You can tell the amount of detail and care that this guy puts into everything he does. You can see that in the instrument, and I could see that meeting him and stuff as well. (Nelson 2014)

Brian Peters, another Maryland-based percussionist, was also able to visit the maker of his instrument when he picked up the finished product from Doug DeMorrow and his company DeMorrow Instruments in Arkadelphia, Arkansas:

… So we went down there to pick it up, … and [we] asked if we could visit the shop and kind of see what he does… And, another thing that I really like is that all of his family kind of helps with his marimba making. Like I think his daughter does the bars… and his son does the resonators, and then him and a lot of his friends do the frame. So they kind of all work together as a family… I thought it was really unique that I had the opportunity to do that. Just to see like who makes the instrument, and what they are all about. You know, in terms of their craft. (Peters 2014)

Brocke and Brian express sentiments of connection between both the maker of their instrument and their instrument itself. However, here they also express an appreciation for understandings related to the production processes and labor required for their instrument’s construction.

The support of small-scale local craftsmanship, then, might be considered a transformational experience. This idea is drawn from the discussion of transformational tourism, a concept described as human experience that then leads to a significant change in perspective and action (Reisinger 2013 and Zimmerman 1988). By purchasing marimbas from small-scale local makers, consumers are able to reconnect in terms of knowing their instrument’s maker, developing understandings for instrument production processes, and interacting with the natural resources that comprise musical instruments. For Kelly, Brocke, and Brian, these experiences served as a source of value that could only be obtained by consuming specifically in these ways. If consumers continue to desire the benefits associated with an initial experience of small-scale local craftsmanship patronage, then a consumer transformation has occurred. Transformed consumers in this sense might be considered sensitive to both the sound of the instrument they intend to buy as well as what it takes to make it.

Initial connections between musicians and instrument makers can also lay the groundwork for longer-term, enduring ones. These connections can ultimately lead to the sustained lives of musical instruments since musicians have more accessibility to repair and upgrade work because of their direct relationship with instrument makers. According to Kelly Krayer:

… You know, if you break a bar… maybe Matt can repair it, maybe Matt has another bar, that, you know, probably won’t cost that much. Or if a resonator breaks or gets scratched… he was telling me that its just brushed aluminum or polished… so if it gets scratched then just polish it back and its fine. So there’s the ability to not be afraid that life is going to happen. Which, you know, is nice reassurance to know that that’s there. (Krayer 2014)

Additionally, Brocke Nelson decided to purchase a low-cost practice instrument from Matt Coe because it could be upgraded at any time rather than having to wastefully purchase a completely new instrument later.

… It was $3000 for what I purchased. But the only thing that separates it from a full fledge instrument is the lack of resonators. I think at the time I purchased, which was around four years ago, it was like $5,000 for him to build the resonators. But he said he could do it … at any time. I heard a lot of people actually do that. (Nelson 2014)

Instrument upgrading and repair are some of many benefits of these enduring social connections between consumers and small-scale local craftspeople that end up allowing for sustained lives of musical instruments.

These same social connections allow musicians and institutions to purchase marimbas in economically sustainable ways that would ordinarily not be able to afford them. Buying a marimba is often considered a substantial financial endeavor and a lifetime commitment. Because of the direct relationship between musicians and small-scale local marimba craftspeople, there is an increased understanding of and willingness to negotiate for a product that is appropriate for a given consumer’s finances, yielding an instrument that uniquely conforms to budgetary guidelines. For example, all of my informants mentioned that a major determining factor for choosing the maker of their instrument was related to the affordable options they were offered; some of these options include payment plans, cost-effective designs, starter instruments that could later be upgraded, and remodeling older preexisting instruments. Regardless of budget, musicians that support small-scale local marimba craftsmanship still often contribute in the process of designing their instrument. Michigan-based percussionist Astrid Lam had this to say about her motivations behind choosing Matt Kazmierski as the maker of her instrument:

I wanted a marimba, but the large-company marimbas are really expensive, and Matt has offered me a really good deal. And also I can choose whatever height or what kind of wood I want [for the frame]. (Lam 2014)

In Astrid’s experience, not only has she and Kazmierski successfully negotiated an instrument that can match her budget, but she is still able to take part in personalized elements of its design.


Critical Considerations

The positive aspects of reconnection aside, it is also necessary to acknowledge the ways that small-scale local craftsmanship might fall short in terms of sustainability. From an environmental perspective the production of marimbas often requires the consumption of the increasingly rare and endangered rosewood for the production of its “bars” (Carmenates 2009). Additionally, rosewood’s incorporation in the production of any American marimba requires that the resource be acquired internationally, which globalizes the production chain and greatly enlarges the carbon footprint of the production process. In other words, small-scale local craftspeople incorporate these materials on their products just like large companies, meaning that they too are confronting issues of sustainability associated with the woods they use.

Select individuals and organizations within the academic percussion community have begun to address these issues through experimentation with alternative bar materials. The most common of these materials are the synthetic options offered by large-scale percussion instrument companies. Though synthetic options reduce the amount of instruments that are produced with rare woods, the same disconnected production processes are at play in that consumers of these instruments are removed from their production. Additionally, and due to lower material costs, financial considerations seem to be motivating producers to make and consumers to purchase these synthetic options rather than environmental ones.

A second setting of bar material substitution is seen in my own work as an instrument craftsperson. My short film entitled The Michigandered Marimba [external link] documents the making of a marimba comprised of all-Michigan woods and recycled resources. I tested six domestic wood options and selected Michigan sassafras as the wood for the bars on this instrument. Also, my most recent work with the Michigan-based sextet Los Banditos experiments with glass as a bar material substitute. These two examples are by no means the first or only attempts at using alternative woods and materials for bars. For example, Minnesota-based percussionist Jeremy Johnston has made experimentation with bar material substitutions to rosewood a large component of his DMA research in an attempt to present comparable alternatives to the percussion community. The Brazilian percussion group Uakti is well known for not only making glass marimbas, but also many other instruments from unconventional materials. Not to mention that a simple search on YouTube will reveal a small number of people from around the world who have done their own experiments with these materials and beyond. Despite these efforts, alternative materials are often not valued or integrated by our larger percussion community in the same ways as the more traditional and environmentally problematic bar materials.

A second aspect of small-scale local craftsmanship that could be considered less-than sustainable is the power tools these craftspeople use. In competing with the production speeds and slick designs of large-scale companies, small-scale local craftspeople of the marimba, too, must incorporate certain power tools that might have similar disconnected histories as the percussion instruments being discussed in this paper. The reliance of the marimba craft community as a whole on such tools inevitably adds to these ideas of disconnection between the actors of the music-making experience. It also complicates the carbon footprint of marimba production in relation to the types and amounts of power required to run them. The incorporation of rosewood for marimba bars and the use of power tools for instrument production both present similar structural and systematic issues of sustainability within the larger marimba craft community.



Despite these sustainability issues facing the larger marimba craft community, the elements of reconnection associated with small-scale local craftsmanship remain significant. However, though reconnection is a consequence of supporting small-scale local craftsmanship, and for some consumers an actual motivation for buying from a particular maker, the artistry and innovation of such craftsmanship might provide an additional source of value (Allen 2012). This aspect suggests that supporting small-scale local marimba craftsmanship not only leads to a more sustainable music-making experience in terms of ethics and economics, but it also results in products that are aesthetically pleasing.

Small-scale local craftspeople offer products that transcend instrument standardizations associated with large-scale craftsmanship, even though they are also often the result of idiosyncratic restrictions. For example, Kazmierski’s dedication to self-sufficient production processes allows him to transcend personal limitations—such as tool availability and a lack of metalworking skill sets—with an innovative, artistic voice. Because of these limitations, Kazmierski relies fully on his trade as a wood craftsperson and thus does not incorporate any metals on the instruments he makes. Kazmierski’s notable innovations include all-wooden frames, all-wooden posts, and extended range. Emphasizing the innovative and artistic aspects of small-scale local marimba craftspeople such as Kazmierski may serve as an incentive for consumers to choose such makers, allowing reconnections to happen more broadly.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Kazmierski’s artistic voice is most noticeably and publicly known for his mission-style and shaker-furniture frame designs. Constructed from local Michigan wood, this aspect of Kazmierski’s trade makes his product distinct and easily recognized (Figure 1). Even more interesting is that each of these designs is the result of negotiations between the consumer’s aesthetic preferences and Kazmierski’s offerings as a wood craftsperson. For example, Kelly Krayer had this to say about her participation in designing her instruments’ frame:

… He just asked me what I wanted it to look like: What color? What was I looking for in the frame? And I honestly had no idea because we are so used to the generic looking marimbas… I wanted a light color wood so that the bars would come out, and I gave him that information and I told him, “You know more about wood than I do, so do what you think looks best…” So he made it out of oak and the texture of the oak is just so cool. And it smells good. (Krayer 2014)

Beyond his frames’ apparent aesthetic value, they are also functional and practical. The only metal hardware on Kazmierski’s marimbas is minimal, eliminating common rattle sounds that often result from marimba frames with metal-on-metal contact.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Another area of artistry and innovation in Kazmierski’s craftsmanship are his all-wooden posts. Posts are small pieces that usually reside between marimba bars; they support a cord that threads the bars and allows them to resonate. Kazmierski’s all-wooden posts support the marimba bars from the underside, rather than in between, reducing the total size of his marimbas by over a foot (Figure 2). Kazmierski has received mixed opinions with regard to his all-wooden posts. Some of his customers and colleagues have expressed concern that reducing the size by an entire foot makes it difficult to translate repertoire to other marimbas (Kazmierski 2012). Kelly Krayer, on the other hand, has had a much different experience with Kazmierski’s all-wooden posts:

… Just how he puts the bars on the posts instead of in between posts so that makes them closer… it’s a slight difference, but its enough to make it much easier to play the extended ranges of things. Just the ability to play octaves comfortably in my left hand, because when you get to [wide-bar instruments], there’s no way I can play an octave. I have always played in pain trying to over extend myself in difficult repertoire. Now, I can play all this rep without pain. I’m more centered. I don’t have to over extend my arms and jump around like a maniac. Who knew all those years of pain could have been fixed by playing an instrument that actually was made for me. I could probably play Merlin now, and other pieces like it. (Krayer 2014)

For Kelly, reducing instrument size is a significant innovation, as wider intervals are often difficult to play. Kazmierski’s consolidation of space facilitates the performance of such intervals, opening the door for new performance techniques, note combinations, and repertoire.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Extended range is a final way that Kazmierski’s trade is not only innovative and artistic, but also environmentally considerate. In today’s market for marimbas the most common instrument size is five octaves (C2-C7). In addition to a marimba, academic percussion organizations most often own an entirely separate mallet percussion instrument called a xylophone (a higher pitched version of the marimba often with a range of three and a half octaves [F4-C8]). Kazmierski’s instruments might eliminate the need for many organizations to own both of these instruments since he often extends the range of his marimbas by twelve notes in the upper register, producing a six-octave marimba/xylophone hybrid (C2-C8) (Figure 3). Not only does this potentially eliminate the need for two separate instruments (marimba and xylophone), but, according to Astrid Lam, Kazmierski’s innovation also allows for new conceptions of artistry in relation to composition and performance:

Matt’s marimba combines a regular marimba with a xylophone, so that will be an interesting point for composers to think about. For example, if you’re going to switch from a marimba to a xylophone, you have to give the performers time, but if we use Matt’s marimba we can easily play both. (Lam 2014)

Kazmierski is one example of an artistic and innovative small-scale local craftsperson, but these aspects are certainly not limited to his trade alone. Both Brocke and Brian articulated sentiments of uniqueness and aesthetic value associated with the instruments they bought from Matt Coe and Doug DeMorrow. These sentiments have and will continue to influence the decisions of consumers to consider small-scale local alternatives. Making the artistic and innovative aspects of small-scale local craftspeople better known to the percussion community might boost their consumer base, leading to more reconnections between the actors of the music-making experience.



As globalized markets increasingly delink production from consumption (Harvey 2009; Robbins 2011), the academic percussion community should be aware of social, economic, and environmental consequences in the making of percussion instruments. Specifically, strides toward more sustainable music cultures (Allen 2014) can be made in the production of marimbas by first fostering reconnections between the actors of this music-making experience. In this paper I have explored a few types of reconnections being made by supporting small-scale local marimba craftsmanship.

Though this form of production is not free from sustainability issues surrounding the incorporated natural resources (Carmenates 2009) and tool usage, the elements of reconnection associated with small-scale local craftsmanship remain significant. Supporting such craftsmanship permits more direct producer-consumer relationships, allowing for more interaction and collaboration between producers and consumers in the instrument design process. These reconnections help to create a strong cultural foundation for sustainability.

As seen in the work of Matt Kazmierski and Planet Marimba, small-scale local craftsmanship can be an artistic and innovative form of marimba production, transcending instrument craft standardizations associated with large-scale production. Such artistry and innovation can serve as a promotional tool for small-scale local craftsmanship. A larger consumer base may result if these aspects are emphasized to the percussion community, allowing reconnections to occur more frequently.

Moving forward, this discussion of reconnection and small-scale local marimba craftsmanship poses ongoing questions about other forms of reconnection that might exist in the academic percussion community: How might stronger relationships between human and non-human actors, by way of incorporating more environmentally considerate natural resources and more sustainable production processes, produce alternative conceptions of sustainability for academic percussionists? How might a direct consumer participation in instrument production processes also be influential? Small-scale local craftsmanship presents one avenue for reconnection in the academic percussion community, but other avenues should be investigated as we strive for holistic sustainability.



I would like to thank Dr. Michael Largey, Dr. Jon Weber, Professor Gwen Dease, Dr. Ken Prouty, and Dr. Laura Johnson for their ongoing support of my work. I would also like to thank Dr. Aaron Allen and Andrew Mark for their assistance in preparing this paper.



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Allen, Aaron, Denise Von Glahn, and Jeff Todd Titon. “Sustainability and Sound: Ecomusicology Inside and Outside the Academy.” Music and Politics 8, no. 2 (2014).

Allen, Aaron. “Ecomusicology.” In The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., edited by Charles Hiroshi Garrett. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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Dawe, Kevin. “People, Objects, Meaning: Recent Work on the Study and Collection of Musical Instruments.” The Galpin Society Journal 54 (2001): 219-232.

French, Mark, Rod Handy, & Mark Jackson. “Manufacturing Sustainability and Life Cycle Management in the Production of Acoustic Guitars.” International Journal of Computational Materials Science and Surface Engineering 2, no. 1-2 (2009): 41-53.

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

McKinley, James. “Famed Guitar Maker Raided by Federal Agents.” ArtsBeat, August 31, 2011.

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Reisinger, Yvette. Transformational Tourism: Tourist Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: CABI, 2013.

Renting, Hank and Markus Schermer. “Building Food Democracy: Exploring Civic Food Networks and Newly Emerging Forms of Food Citizenship.” International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food 19 (2012): 289—307.

Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004.

Rymer, Russ. “Saving the Music Tree.” Smithsonian Magazine 35, no. 1 (2004): 52-63.

Sage, Colin. Environment and Food. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Watts, D., B. Ilbery, and D. Maye. “Making Reconnections In Agro-food Geography: Alternative Systems of Food Providsion.” Progress in Human Geography 29, no. 1 (2005): 22-40.

Zimmerman, Michael E. “Quantum Theory, Intrinsic Value, and Panentheism.” Environment Ethics 10, no. 1 (1988): 3-30.

Music and Coal Activism: Perspectives from the Field

By Travis D. Stimeling (West Virginia University), Saro Lynch-Thomason (Blair Pathways, Asheville, NC), Nate May (College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati), and Andrew Munn (Bard College)


Driving through Central Appalachia, it is nearly impossible to avoid the impact of more than a century of coal extraction in the region. Cars with West Virginia and Kentucky license plates are emblazoned with the logo of the “Friends of Coal,” a coal industry lobbying organization that has garnered extensive grassroots support in the region. Enormous gashes in the sides and through the middles of mountains—sometimes several hundred feet deep—permit the easy transportation of minerals removed through invasive mountaintop removal coal mining practices throughout southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia.

Less visible, but no less potent, is the remarkable legacy of musicians who have stood strong in the face of the coal industry and the economic and environmental devastation that it often leaves in its wake. The scarred hills of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky recall the powerful voices of Elaine Purkey and Florence Reece, who encouraged miners and their families to stand in solidarity for fair pay and safe working conditions, while Jean Ritchie’s “Black Water” imagines the forceful eviction of the coal industry from the region. In a region celebrated for its role in the development of early country music, music has played a significant role in documenting the complexities of living in a region that has been marked as backwards and out-of-touch with modernity but that still bears the wounds of more than a century of industrial colonization (Green 1972, Whisnant 1984). Musicologists have only recently begun to consider the ecocritical aspects of music in the region, revealing the powerful role that place plays in contemporary political song (Stimeling 2012) and the old-time music community (Knickerbocker 2014).

During the Ecomusics/Ecomusicologies 2014 meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, a panel of musician-activists comprising ballad singer Saro Lynch-Thomason, composer Nate May, singer Andrew Munn, and composer-playwright Molly Sturges discussed their efforts to use music to draw attention to the ongoing challenges that coal extraction poses for the residents of central Appalachia and the fight against global climate change. Utilizing the conventions of traditional Appalachian balladry, art song, and musical theater, these musical activists are using music to raise local, regional, national, and even global awareness of the impacts of coal extraction and consumption among diverse communities of environmental activists, scholars, and consumers of coal-generated electrical power. In this brief report, three of the panelists explore their individual approaches to musical environmental activism, discuss the challenges and opportunities that have arisen from their work, and offer some strategies that we might use to deploy music as a tool to engage communities in public and private discourse about significant environmental issues in our own communities. Rather than presenting academic approaches to this problem, these activists offer their first-person perspectives on the challenges and opportunities posed by contemporary musical activism against mountaintop removal. Taken together, they demonstrate the potential that politically- and environmentally-engaged musicians have to cultivate conversations around the ongoing climate crisis, as well as the cultural, economic, and environmental impacts of our continued involvement with fossil fuels.


Saro Lynch-Thomason:

My work in musical activism has its roots way back in my childhood. Growing up Unitarian Universalist in Nashville, TN taught me that social justice work was an inherent part of one’s spiritual values and that music was a powerful tool to express these values. The Civil Rights anthems, Protestant hymns, and choral compositions I was raised with gave me an understanding of how people—Southerners in particular—had used music to express their struggles and victories. However, I didn’t begin to make musical activism a purposeful part of my life until I left the South for school in New York.

In college in the Hudson River Valley, I learned for the first time about mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. In addition, I became exposed to Appalachian traditional songs and began to see the relationship between the economic struggles in Appalachia and the music produced there. I turned my gaze back to the region I was raised in and decided to move to North Carolina, where I began to engage in environmental activism. Since then my role as an activist has largely been as a media producer, essentially using art to teach others about Appalachia’s history and needs.

In 2011, I became concerned about the fate of Blair Mountain, a site in West Virginia that had been the location of a massive coal miner’s uprising in 1921. Beginning in 2010, several coal companies had declared their plans to strip-mine Blair. Blair’s natural and historic significance led several regional groups to reenact the miner’s march in the summer of 2011. Attending the march made me realize the vital impact that singing could have on the morale of a movement. From the very beginning of the event, unfriendly portions of the local community made march participants feel threatened and unsafe. We responded to this by singing with a volume and power that I had never heard before nor witnessed since. Songs like the traditional “Under My Feet” helped us declare our intentions with relish: “I went down to the coal operator and I took back what he stole from me. / I took back my dignity and I took back my humanity, / and ain’t no system gonna walk all over me.” We sang when we were tired, nervous, bored, and joyful, and those rhythms and melodies carried us through multiple counties, through 90-degree heat, all the way to the summit of Blair Mountain.

After the march, I decided that I wanted to do a project that helped the general public understand the 1921 miner’s uprising and to discuss why that history is worth preserving. I had seen music’s impact in moments of struggle, and decided that I wanted to convey the history of the West Virginia coal wars through the songs that mining communities used during strikes and protest. I eventually compiled Blair Pathways, a CD featuring more than twenty musicians that used Appalachian musical traditions including hymnody, ballad singing, barbershop quartet styles and black spirituals to tell the story of the West Virginia mine wars. The CD was accompanied by a map and essay series that explained the origin and historical significance of each song. After publishing Blair Pathways, I toured with a multi-media presentation called The Mine Wars Show that used material and music researched for the CD.

Through these experiences, I’ve debated the impact that music can have in social and environmental movements. Music has an important place in the fight to end MTR. However, the way that the music is practiced determines its level of impact. The Blair Pathways project, for example, is designed for passive listening, whereas singing songs on a protest or a march begs emotional engagement from the participants. Though Blair Pathways is an important informative tool, it does not necessarily demand the emotional presence that makes a movement successful. Understanding the tenacity, sorrow, anger, and hope of coalfield communities comes from participation with those communities. It comes from seeing a strip mine site for the first time, hearing a person with black lung struggle to breathe, or sitting in a lush, diverse forest and knowing how easy it is for a dragline to take it all away. When a person comes to feel something deeply about such things, they begin to understand what that music from a century ago was about. Then when those songs are led in meetings, at protests, or in jail they carry the singer and affirm the singer’s experience. A musical production like Blair Pathways lets the listener hear the feelings of a generation of people, but it can’t replace that vital sense of confirmation that comes when someone uses their own body, their own voice to sing through their own struggles.


Andrew Munn:

I am reluctant to call my activism musical or my music activism, though both are expressions of passion, born of conviction and echoes of hope for an egalitarian and ecologically sensible society. In 2007, while a music student at the University of Michigan, where Nate [May] and I met, I became involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus and linked with like-minded students across the state to leverage our claim to the future as advocates for sustainable state and federal climate and energy policies. As I learned of the present material economic processes that drove climate change, and their historic and ideological roots, I came to question the value of music and the western art tradition. It seemed to me that it was an obfuscating ornate veneer on history that painted over the legacy of violence and imperialism that European-Americans inherit. We spend more time learning of eighteenth-century European philosophy as the catalyst for the foundation of the American republic and the French Revolution than we do grappling with the concurrent genocide of indigenous people across this continent. Bring up the injustices of history, and art is pointed to as history’s redeemer. With an axe to grind with history and a hope for the future, I abandoned music and threw myself into resisting fossil fuel extraction, finding camaraderie and in communities of locals and uprooted activists (like me) fighting MTR in West Virginia.

From 2009 to 2014, I worked with communities impacted by MTR to oppose the practice on the local to national level. The effort in which music had the most visible role was the 2011 March on Blair Mountain. We organized 500 activists to march 50 miles through the coalfields of Boone and Logan Counties, retracing the route of the rebelling miners in 1921. Campsite after campsite was pulled out from under us, and since we were not in all-out rebellion, we respected property law and ran a headache-inducing, patched-together shuttle system of volunteered cars and buses to move the march from its daily route back to a rented warehouse in the Kanawha Valley near Charleston. Heat, threats of violence, and exhaustion threatened the viability of the march, and as the central organizing team stitched together one logistical contingency plan after another, Saro stepped in at crucial points and used group singing to bolster march morale, and connect it to the history of Appalachian movements that our march continued and the music came from. Here, where marchers were making the choice to face real danger, I saw music’s, and a musician’s, power to forge and direct collective will through adversity.

Though the fight to save Blair Mountain and end MTR is winnable within our current economic and political framework, the larger struggle for an equitable and ecological society is ultimately incompatible with the material and ideological foundations of our culture. As I rediscovered my love for the physical act of singing—the vibration of these little membranes in my neck—I came to think on the question of cultural change, a long or swift unpredictable process by which the boundary of what is and is not possible shifts: this is what animates my musical life.

I reached out to Nate in 2012 about writing a song cycle that dealt with some of these questions, initially imagining a more abstract work, not necessarily narrative or grounded in Appalachia. I err on the side of the long view in looking back at history and the generations ahead—instability and new unrecognizable equilibriums—the liquidity of capital in the present where a mine shuttered in West Virginia is transmuted into an expanded mine in Columbia’s coalfields. But through that, I hold an unparalleled love for place in Appalachia that was, is, and will be, so I am thankful to Nate for having the insight and courage to tether this work to the present moment in Appalachia.

In these times of swift change, as the nature of our ecological and social relationships are transformed in the global economy—most often without our consent or clear intention—and we hurtle into a new climate, depleted biosphere, an increasingly digitally navigated and manifested world, a robust cultural apparatus is needed to make sense of the world and our experiences, and if I am to be optimistic, guide desirable changes. I absolutely believe in music and narrative’s ability to do this, and music that deals with the complexity of 21st century life, whether from the vantage point of a hollow in West Virginia or making climate data into an aural experience, fills a void in a culture dominated by escapism and a stunted lexicon.


Nate May:

I remember flying in a small plane toward Charleston, West Virginia in the summer of 2009, twenty-one years old and profoundly changed by the year I had just spent studying music in South Africa. I had left the country feeling untethered, having grown up a misfit in West Virginia and having left it gladly for college in Michigan. But living in South Africa had revealed the sense of home that lived in me, and when the plane dipped below the clouds and I could see the waves of mesophytic green veined by blue-black waterways, I felt deeply thankful for the blessing of return. The couple next to me were vacationers from California, and I was happy to give them an insider’s perspective on the state. I also felt it was my responsibility, when we flew over vast scabs of Martian terrain, to explain mountaintop removal mining. Every time I explain the practice to those who haven’t heard of it, I’m met with disbelief that such ecological violence could happen on American soil. Yet, safely ensconced in an economically desperate state with a tradition of sacrifice, the practice continues.

The son of an ecologist, I had heard about mountaintop removal mining, and the scientific consensus against it, for most of my life. The first time I saw it from the ground was in 2008, with my friend Andrew Munn, on the property of one of the great local resisters, Larry Gibson. Andrew and I had just spent several days backpacking in the Cranberry backcountry, and the freshness of the experience of diverse and thriving wilderness, along with Larry’s passionate accounts of the mine’s impact on his family, made the sight of a stripped mountaintop that much more heart wrenching. When I learned a few years later that Andrew had moved to this very region to work against this very practice, I was happy and somewhat jealous. Meanwhile, I had been toying with the idea of writing a piece of music that would honor my connection with my home and bring to light the dramatic effects of life in proximity to mountaintop removal mining. When Andrew wrote in 2012 to share his vision for a piece that came from similar feelings of rage and love, I immediately felt the magical potential for collaboration. That same year, while clearing brush on what was left of his beloved mountain, Larry Gibson died of a heart attack. During an emotional memorial service held for him, the audience was given wristbands and told to wear them as a reminder of Larry, and to work in his honor. I left mine on my wrist for months while researching and writing Dust in the Bottomland.

Despite Andrew’s experience with coordinated and focused community action, we determined early on that we were not setting out to write protest songs. Appalachia has a powerful tradition of protest songs, such as those sung by Andrew and Saro during the Blair Mountain march, but this project had a different goal—to engage on a psychological level with experiences common to residents of coal country. Some of these experiences—displacement by mining and prescription drug abuse in particular—are tragedies, and some, such as the deep connection to land and community, are to be envied by many outside the region. Out of these experiences we developed a narrative—a man who has grown up in southern West Virginia leaves it behind for professional opportunities and never looks back until his sister falls into a coma induced by an opiate overdose. The narrative functions only as a framework—no real events unfold during the course of the songs or spoken text. Instead, we begin to get a glimpse into the psychological underpinnings of these events. We learn that the overdose was precipitated by their family’s displacement by a mountaintop removal mine. We learn that the ambitions of the protagonist and his sister have led them to different lives—his to college in Iowa and a white-collar job in Detroit, and hers to self-employment as the owner of a flower shop in their hometown. We learn of his relative apathy toward his homeplace, and we watch it break down and turn to rage when he sees the scars that the mining has left.

In touring this piece, we’ve found the spaces of our performances to be ecotones—meetings of those who came to support a cause and those who came to for an evening of music. A significant portion of our New York City audience had never heard of mountaintop removal mining, while many at our Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia performances had never seen live art song. While our piece can’t claim responsibility for revoking permits or changing legislation, I feel that we have set the stage for more empathetic awareness of the life in the coalfields, and we have given people fodder for socially relevant thought and conversation in a place where it’s not often sought: Appalachian art song.



The fight against MTR in central Appalachia is a remarkably musical one. Songwriters express the region’s complicated relationship with coal and try to bring attention to the voices of the people who live in these rural industrial landscapes. Marchers are taking up banjos, guitars, fiddles, and voices and bringing new life to perennial protest songs. Composers are writing scores for documentary films and concert performances, carrying news of coal’s regional and global impacts to audiences that may have difficulty picturing an Appalachia that is not filled with caricatured hillbillies and poverty. And still other creative people—such as composer-playright Molly Sturges, whose Coal: The Musical creates opportunities for community theater groups to curate conversations about the impacts of coal usage—are finding new ways to use music to engage public discourse. Although music’s power in social and political movements is limited, the reflections presented here indicate that music can be an extremely effective tool to build solidarity, raise consciousness, and release one’s personal anxieties. As the debate around MTR—and fossil fuel consumption, more generally—continues to unfold, musical activism can serve a very important purpose: to remind us of the human costs of fossil fuel extraction and consumption and rural industrial colonization.


Selected Bibliography:

Appalachian Voices. 2013. “Mountaintop Removal 101.” <>.

Barry, Joyce M. 2012. Standing Our Ground: Women, Environmental Justice, and the Fight to End Mountaintop Removal. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Bridle, James. 2011. “Waving at the Machines.” Keynote address at Web Directions South, Sydney, Australia, October 11-14, 2011. Video and transcript. <>.

Burns, Shirley Stewart. 2007. Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Butler, Tom, ed. 2009. Plundering Appalachia: The Tragedy of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. San Rafael, CA: Earth Aware Books.

Green, Archie. 1972. Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hirsch, Susan F., and E. Franklin Dukes. 2014. Mountaintop Mining in Appalachia: Understanding Stakeholders and Change in Environmental Conflict. Athens: Ohio University Press.

“Hobet Mine Complex Overlayed [sic] on 38 US Cities.” 2014. <>.

House, Silas, and Jason Howard. 2009. Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 2015. “Learn More about Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.” <>.

Kingsnorth, Paul. 2013. “Dark Ecology.” Orion, January/February. <>.

Knickerbocker, Scott. 2014. “Green Banjo: The Ecoformalism of Old-Time Music.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ecocrticism. Ed. Greg Garrard. New York: Oxford University Press. 475-486.

Lynch-Thomason, Saro, prod. 2011. Blair Pathways: A Musical Exploration of America’s Largest Labor Uprising. <>.

May, Nate. 2013. Dust in the Bottomland. n.p.

McNeil, Bryan T. 2012. Combating Mountaintop Removal: New Directions in the Fight against Big Coal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

McQuaid, John. 2009. “Mining the Mountains.” Smithsonian (January). <>.

Scott, Rebecca R. 2010. Removing Mountains: Extracting Nature and Identity in the Appalachian Coalfields. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Shapiro, Henry D. 1978. Appalachia On Our Mind. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Shapiro, Tricia. 2010. Mountain Justice: Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal, for the Future of Us All. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Stimeling, Travis D. 2012. “Music, Place, and Identity in the Central Appalachian Mountaintop Removal Mining Debate.” American Music 30, no. 1 (Spring): 1-29.

Titon, Jeff Todd. 2013. “Music and the US War on Poverty: Some Reflections.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 45: 74–82.

_____. 2014. “So Help Me Kentucky: Music, Culture, and Poverty According to the New York Times.” Sustainable Music: A Research Blog on the Subject of Sustainability and Music. 31 August. <>.

Whisnant, David E. 1984. All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 1. An Introduction

by Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)


The evolving field of ecomusicology engages a particularly complex and contested topic through the cultural study of music and sound; that is, the physical environment. There is no shortage of categories of environment to consider, each with their own criteria: natural, built, rural, urban, abandoned, reclaimed, pastoral, polluted, etc. Who defines, influences, and preserves categories pertaining to the environment? How do these categories inform music and sound research? What role(s) might ecomusicology play in thinking about and applying categories in a time of environmental crisis? This collection of articles seeks to provoke discussion of these and other questions concerning ecomusicology and categorization. Each article explores an environment that transcends seemingly straightforward classification. The authors go beyond music to draw from other humanities disciplines as well as the social and natural sciences in order to illuminate these spaces.

Alexandra Hui, in “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies,” examines new forms of listening put forth by the Edison Re-Creation records of the 1910s and 1920s and environmental sound records of the 1950s and 1960s. She brings musical aesthetics, listening culture, and in the case of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program psychological experimentation into conversation. Hui demonstrates the powerful role of research, marketing, and the recorded medium in creating new categories of music, environment, and listener/consumer. Daniel Grimley crosses temporal, spatial, and disciplinary boundaries in “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” Ecomusicological in approach, he uses four discursive modes to investigate Finland as a border zone: 1) monumentalization of landscape, 2) topographic representation, 3) landscape as text, and 4) landscape as cartography. Together, these tools create a network of relations under the categories of landscape and identity that are not necessarily accessible through conventional research methods. In “There’s No Place,” James Currie asserts that artifice has an important role to play in times of environmental crisis. He begins with an interrogation of what he calls the “aura of relevance” in much ecocritical scholarship, where research maintains a moral investment in the wellbeing of the environment. Currie turns to a place of artifice—The Land of Oz (from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz)—where common notions of place and belonging are destabilized. In line with recent scholarship that calls for alternative approaches to ecomusicology (Rehding 2011; Titon 2013), Currie prompts us to avoid over-determining the “reality” of the physical environment and to instead consider the alternative realities of music.

With a call for greater engagement with environmental crises in music scholarship (Allen 2014), we should consider whether the ways in which we categorize help us to better understand ecological issues or if they in some way hinder productive engagement with these challenges. When thinking about what ecomusicology could—and should—do to help address real-world issues, it may also be beneficial to reflect on how ecomusicology is categorized as a discipline, and how it relates to other disciplinary and sub-disciplinary categories. One of the dangers of categorization is that ecomusicology itself is categorized within the academy. To conduct music research in a time of environmental crisis, and to carry a sense of urgency with it (Rehding 2011), are scholars not projecting a stereotype onto those who employ it in the process? Given the current climate, now may be an opportune time to ask which disciplinary and aesthetic categories should be maintained, modified, eliminated, and created (if even momentarily). Whichever approach is taken, we remain face-to-face with categorical decisions.


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)


Citations and Bibliography:

Ake, David, Garrett, Charles H., and Daniel Goldmark, eds. Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Allen, Aaron S. Introduction to “Sustainability and Sound: Ecomusicology Inside and Outside the Academy.” Music & Politics 8, no. 2 (Summer 2014). DOI:

Born, Georgina. “For a Relational Musicology: Music and Interdisciplinarity, Beyond the Practice Turn.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 135 (2010): 205–43.

Hanninen, Dora A. “Associative Sets, Categories, and Music Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory 48, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 147­–218.

Levitz, Tamara, ed. “Musicology Beyond Borders?” Special issue, Journal of the American Musicological Society 65, no. 3 (Fall 2012).

Mundy, Rachel. “Evolutionary Categories and Musical Style from Adler to America.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 67, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 735–­­68.

Rehding, Alexander. “Ecomusicology between Apocalypse and Nostalgia.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 409–14.

Titon, Jeff Todd. “Labels: Identifying Categories of Blues and Gospel.” In The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel edited by Allan Moore, 13–19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

­­­­———. “The Nature of Ecomusicology.” Música e Cultura: revista da ABET 8, no. 1 (2013): 8–18.

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 2. The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies

by Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)


Historians have, in the last decade or so, expanded their approach to the past to include sensory experiences. Sounds and ways of listening to them—what people heard, what sounds had meaning to them—have been established as an important way to understand the past (Johnson 1995; Picker 2003; Smith 2000; Sterne 2003; Thompson 2002). The senses are at, indeed form the very foundation of, the unstable intersection of nature and culture (Jay 2011). Specific ways of listening were and are in service of specific understandings of nature.

Through a brief discussion of two case studies, I examine how individuals’ conception of their environment related to their aural perception of it. The first case study was an early effort by the Edison Company to train consumers’ aural perceptions. The second is an exploration of post-war sound recordings of both the natural environment and the built environment. Through these case studies, I explore the consequences of introducing new sound objects and new forms of listening for understandings of nature in built environments.


Case 1: The Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program

In 1914, the Edison Company, seeing value in large-scale marketing schemes aimed at cultivating new forms of listening in the public, launched a program of what they alternately termed demonstration recitals, tone tests, and Re-Creation recitals. These performances took place in Edison shops, private homes, and community gathering spaces. Demonstrators (overseen by the Edison Company), sometimes assisted by Edison recording artists, would instruct the audience on the proper operation of the device. They also instructed the audience on what to listen for, emphasizing the quality and fidelity of sound generated by the Edison machine. These demonstration recitals were a means of training listeners to receive the phonograph’s sound in a very specific way. The audiences were taught to be experts on sound fidelity (Thompson 1995). Further, they were trained to be experts at a new kind of listening. They could separate music from noise and to ignore, possibly not even hear, the latter.

Building on the success of the demonstration recitals, the Edison Company approached Walter Van Dyke Bingham, director of the Division of Applied Psychology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Bingham’s functionalist approach to psychology is evident in his researches on the motor effects of music and eventual belief that they could be measured and universalized. The Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program was given $10,000 and a set of Edison Re-Creation records to study “the psychological reactions which definite forms of music produce in the human mind” (November 3, 1919 letter, Walter Van Dyke Bingham Collection). Among other activities the Research Program performed a series of lab experiments in which individuals practiced in “introspection” (a self-witnessing technique in experimental psychology at the time) gave their emotional responses to various Re-Creation records. The results of these experiments were then used to develop the Mood Change Chart.

The Mood Change Chart was a form to be filled out during a Mood Change Test in an Edison shop, the privacy of one’s own living room, or at the Mood Change Parties the Edison Company encouraged (William Maxwell Files). The listener indicated the time of day, the weather, and their location. They then could choose from a set of options to answer “What kind of music did you feel like hearing?” and “What was your mood immediately preceding test?” The listener was then asked to indicate the “Re-Creation [record] causing such change” along with blanks to write in their mood change from “______ to ______.” The Mood Change Test could be performed three times per form. Listeners were asked to include additional comments on the back, sign the chart, and either turn it in at an Edison shop or mail to the Edison Laboratories.

The public was encouraged to take the Mood Change Test as part of a grand and innovative experiment by Mr. Edison. This reinforced the established marketing program that promoted Edison phonographs as the product of the inventor’s scientific incubator. The Mood Change Test was indeed a grand experiment. 27,000 filled-out Mood Change Charts were returned to Bingham for analysis. Not only was the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program able to gather massive amounts of data on the public’s listening practices, but the Mood Change Test also primed participants to think about music in terms of its effects. Filling out the Mood Change Chart reinforced Bingham’s mechanical understanding of music, that it caused motor and mood effects.

An analysis of the returned Mood Change Charts culminated in the publication of Mood Music: A compilation of 112 Edison Re-Creations according to what they will do for you, a short promotional booklet distributed at Edison shops. The booklet included an introduction summarizing Edison’s innovations in sound recording as well as a discussion of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program’s work by Bingham. Mood Music was organized around the twelve mood-effects of music. A brief description of each mood was given and then a list of ten to twelve Edison Re-Creation records, complete with their catalog number and price, to elicit this mood was offered. Sometimes a before-and-after image illustrated the motor and mood effects of a properly selected Re-Creation.[1] Readers/listeners were encouraged to “see what music can be made to do for you” (Mood Music, 10).

We can read the efforts of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program to be one of defining and standardizing private listening. Further, these efforts fostered in listeners—through the process of filling out the Mood Change Chart, purchasing music with the aim of “making it work for [them]”—a new understanding of the role of music as a functional one. Music could affect body and mood. A related consequence was the establishment of private, individual space as a place for self-improvement through deliberate listening to the sounds of the built environment.


Case 2: Environmental Sound Records

We might think of the sound records that proliferated — in work spaces in the 1940s and public spaces by the 1950s — in the following decades as a further reflection of the functional role of sound—in this case improvement of the mind. There was, of course, since the beginning of the consumer music industry, a significant market for educational records. I would argue, however, that the environmental sound records of the 1950s and 1960s, the bulk of which were generated by Folkways Records, were direct descendants of the early bird song records of the 1930s explicitly developed for ear-training and to further specific scientific goals.

In 1931, Arthur Allen’s ornithological laboratory at Cornell University developed a technique for recording bird vocalizations onto Movietone film. The film recordings were translated into plots of vibrational frequency over time (sonograms) as well as transferred onto phonograph records for replay. The records were used both to archive disappearing sounds of declining species and for ear training in preparation for fieldwork. As a consequence, they reinforced existing taxonomic systems (Mundy 2009) and a laboratory aesthetic of sterile sound (Bruyninckx 2011). These sound recordings were also soon distributed as accompaniments to field guides and through radio shows. They introduced listeners to never before heard sounds, a soundscape beyond their backyards, albeit one in which birds were reduced to their sound, separated from it in both time and space.

The post-war years witnessed a massive increase in environmental sound recordings. Though we might seek to divide these sounds into “natural” and “human made,” a quick perusal of the language on record jackets reveals a common language of curiosity about new sounds and desire to preserve vanishing sounds (both natural and human made). These records were not for use as sound effects for radio, theater, or television productions; they were marketed to the interested private listener. The 1952 Sounds of the Sea, Vol.1, presented never-before-heard sounds of the ocean and the animals in it recorded by the Naval Research Laboratory. The jacket breathlessly noted: “To think of fishes making noises, holding conversations, so to speak, warning each other or courting each other, as we think of birds singing to each other, is an idea which seems as strange as it well can be.” (Coates 1952, 2) There was an anthropocentrism present, both in the characterization of animal behavior and the lack of awareness of the human-made media necessary to experience these sounds at all, to transform fish sounds into human sounds. The record was also clearly the product of curiosity about this new sonic world and likely motored further interest. Subsequent records of desert animals, insects, the jungle, and more fulfilled similar roles.

Another example: The 1956 Sounds of Steam Locomotives, No.1 record was the first of several made by train enthusiast Vinton Wight in an effort to preserve the disappearing steam locomotive. Wight found that each steam engine had a specific, individual sound, what he considered to be a personality. He described the “stack music” of the locomotive as a symphony of sorts, changing tone and timbre with the weight of its load (Wight 1956, 3). The jacket included descriptions and photographs for each track, each a different locomotive. Not unlike the records produced by the Cornell ornithological laboratory, Sounds of Steam Locomotives advanced a specific taxonomy and sought to preserve disappearing sounds.

The 1964 Sounds of the Office record is a bit of a mystery. The jacket itself includes little text other than a description of the sound-generating device on each track. All but the last tracks were devoted to the isolated sound of a single office machine. The last track documented the office soundscape, with all machines running together in full cacophony. Again like the bird sound recordings, we can hear the sterile laboratory aesthetic of, say, the electric typewriter isolated from its office soundscape. Sounds of the Office likely also fulfilled a curiosity among listeners, granting them access to the sonic world of white-collar work, and perhaps also archiving such sounds for posterity.


Some Conclusions

I highlighted in the first case study the (attempted) cultivation of a listening practice by the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program in which a listener would seek out specific sounds in the hopes of affecting his or her own body and mood. One consequence of this effort was a growing understanding of music among the public as functional, a technology that could be put to “work for you.” In the second case study, I showed through a quick gloss over a variety of environmental sound recordings a common curiosity among listeners about sonic worlds beyond their direct lived experiences and a desire to preserve the sounds of vanishing and potentially extinct sources or species.

The normalization of listening to sounds of nature in built spaces was achieved through an intersection of practices and products highlighted in these two case studies. To approach a listening experience as a means of altering ones’ current state (mind or body) allowed for openness to new sonic worlds, perhaps even a responsibility or ethical obligation to listen. The normalization of nature sounds in built spaces was aided by the simultaneous interest in human-made sounds. Novel sounds were interchangeable. Because all sounds were abstracted from their sources (times, places, organisms, machines), all were equivalent sonic curiosities, all worthy of preservation.

Additionally tucked in here—perhaps only possible because of this equivalence—was the development of another new form of listening, one that was sensitive to a vanishing sonic world. Listening to vanishing sounds somehow preserved them. Further, this new form of listening took fledgling form in the 1930s, a full three decades before the environmental movement. The ecomusicological approach to these historical developments illuminates the reciprocal and reinforcing relationship between listening and the environment. Not only did new sounds — or new recordings of old sounds — prompt new ways of listening. But shifting listening practices also informed new understandings of the environment. Tugging at these analytical threads a bit more, perhaps we can invert this normalization of nature through sound in built environments. Instead we should understand the post-war proliferation of nature sounds as the naturalization of built environments and the culmination of several decades of new listening practices and products that fueled a growing awareness of the fleetingness of sounds in nature, of nature’s increasing silence.


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)




Walter Van Dyke Bingham Collection, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University.

Bruyninckx, Joeri. “Sound Sterile: Making Scientific Field Recordings in Ornithology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies, edited by Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld, 127–150. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Coates, C. W. “Introduction and Notes.” Sounds of the Sea, Vol. 1: Underwater Sounds of Biological Origin. Folkways Records, 1952.

Hui, Alexandra. “Lost: Thomas Edison’s Mood Music Found: New Ways of Listening.” Endeavor 38 (2014): 139–142.

Jay, Martin. “In the Realm of the Senses: An Introduction.” The American Historical Review 116 (2011): 207–215.

Johnson, James. Listening in Paris: A Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

William Maxwell Files, Thomas Edison National Historic Park.

Mood Music: A compilation of 112 Edison Re-Creations according to what they will do for you. Thomas Edison Inc., 1921.

Mundy, Rachel. “Birdsong and the Image of Evolution.” Society and Animals 17 (2009): 206-223.

Picker, John. Victorian Soundscapes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Smith, Mark. Listening to Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Thompson, Emily. “Machines, Music, and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877-1925.” The Musical Quarterly 71 (1995): 131-171.

———. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.

Wight, Vinton. Liner notes to Sounds of Steam Locomotives, No.1: Stack Music Sampler; or Steam, Steel and Action. Folkways Records, 1956.



[1] Under the mood effect of “Peace of Mind,” for example, was an image of a woman collapsed on a sofa surrounded by various purchases, exhausted by a day of shopping. An inset image shows her then alert, sitting on a chair by her phonograph, “soothed and refreshed by music” (Mood Music, 12). I discuss Mood Music much more extensively in my 2014 article, “Lost: Thomas Edison’s Mood Music Found: New Ways of Listening.”

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 3. Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits

by Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)


Figure 1: Into Konrad Inha, Lake Päijänne, Finland.

Figure 1: Into Konrad Inha, Lake Päijänne, Finland.


Categories and Borders

Addressing the issue of how one could—or should—listen beyond categorical limits presupposes the more preliminary question of where (and how) such limits are drawn and what kinds of categories they serve to demarcate, police, or enclose. As Michel Foucault’s work has shown, categories and limits themselves constitute boundaries of knowledge that shape and determine our disciplinary epistemologies, and do much more than merely organize or distribute received patterns of understanding. Foucault’s work argues for an archaeological approach to critical historical enquiry (Foucault, 2002: 151-6): an excavatory model of analysis that recalibrates our sense of agency, temporal progression, and spatial awareness. Under such a Foucauldian regime, the borderlands that separate seemingly diverse fields of enquiry, as I’ve argued elsewhere (Grimley, 2010: 394), can appear porous or impenetrable: they may be accessible to easy passage or resistant to any swift change of state or place. One of the principal challenges for a historically attuned ecomusicology in navigating such complex scholarly terrain is the ability to maintain a clear feeling for disciplinary identity that simultaneously respects the tensions and obstacles involved in such cross-disciplinary encounters. If ecomusicology emerges as a thornier, less comfortably amenable discourse as a result, the net result can only be a positive scholarly gain.

Contemplating the distance traversed in such conversations, however, prompts us to think again about the status of borderlands, whether acoustic, academic or geopolitical. As W J T Mitchell and others have argued (Selwyn, 1995; Paasi, 1996; Mitchell, 2002 [1994]), borders assume a wide variety of scales and forms: marches or buffer zones, borders serve as points of transition, transfer, migration and exile, resistance, exclusion, surveillance, violence, remembrance and erasure. Borders can similarly be geophysical, climatological, biological, political, linguistic, and auditory. Borderlands are frequently forgotten, mislaid, and neglected: they become defined as edgelands, margins, wastelands or wilderness. But if such sites are overlooked in the conventional sense, they can also be overheard in another, as sites of acute attentiveness and surveillance. Borders may be sites of deafness, blindness, amnesia and myopia. Alternatively, they can serve as thresholds or gateways, means of access that permit productive cultural and economic exchange or guarded by “peace walls” that are heavily politically freighted: one need only to pause and think about the sound either side of the razor-wire tipped fences that thread the landscape in Israel/Palestine, South Africa, or Northern Ireland to realize the significance of sound’s irresistible fluidity, its ability to seep through, slip over, and echo back in ways that challenge, channel and reshape more concrete physical topographies (Labelle, 2010).


Hearing Finland Critically: Four Modalities

Border zones operate at multiple temporal-spatial levels. Thinking about Finland ecomusicologically provides a useful case-study: as a nation-state, it has conventionally been conceived as a barrier or frontier between east and west (frequently under conditions of extreme geopolitical tension or stress). Furthermore, Finland emerged and defined itself at a crucial historical moment of transition (the early twentieth century) when ideas of landscape, place and space were radically rethought and redrawn (Häyrynen, 2008). Contemplating sound and music in Finland, especially from beyond its borders, demands a re-centered notion of periphery and edge. Far from being a marginal space, in other words, Finland more properly constitutes a political, cultural, aesthetic, and disciplinary front line: one that transcends the categorical limits of the nation and embraces a wider, more multi-tiered sense of regionality.

The remainder of this essay briefly outlines four discursive modalities of landscape as a creative, historical and discursive border zone, in order to sketch some of the categories and limits that have shaped our understanding of the relationship between music, space and place. The first modality, the monumentalization of landscape, is symbolized by Eila Hiltunen’s well-known sculpture “Credo” (1962-7), better known as the Sibelius memorial [figure 2]. Located on the edge of downtown Helsinki in carefully landscaped grounds leading from the city to the open-air museum on Seurasaari, Hiltunen’s monument was the prize-winning entry in a 1960 competition to commemorate the composer after his death in 1957. Hiltunen’s design was controversial because of its apparently abstract quality: a small bust was later added to the corner of the monument to appease popular concerns. But Hiltunen’s sculpture is striking for the way that it grounds metaphors of landscape, place, and time in Sibelius reception: the stainless steel tubes which comprise the main body of the design appear like organ pipes close up, or like a shifting wave or curtain of light (the aurora borealis) from a distance. Despite its imposing size, Hiltunen’s sculpture resists easy containment or framing; the play of light across the metallic front of the monument and sound of the wind down the hollow steel tubes animating the design even as it appears still and frozen from across the park (Grimley, 2011: 338-347).

Figure 2: Eila Hiltunen, “Credo” (1962-7), Helsinki, Finland.

Figure 2: Eila Hiltunen, “Credo” (1962-7), Helsinki, Finland.


Hiltunen’s design draws not only on the rich legacy of landscape imagery in Sibelius reception, but also from a second modality: the tradition of topographic representation in Finnish art and literature. This body of work, whose foremost exemplars include Zachris Topelius’s seminal volumes Finland framställdt i teckninger (1845-52) and Boken om Vårt Land/Maamme-Kirja (1875) and Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s travelogue, En resa i Finland (1873), was instrumental in shaping Finnish perceptions of a national topography, over and above issues of language, governance and ethnicity, at a time when debates about the status and nature of Finnish national identity came under particular pressure (Fewster, 2006). For a younger generation of topographers, working under the conditions of extreme Russian political censorship, the work of Topelius and Runeberg became a canonic source-text for symbolic representations of Finland that would otherwise have seemed dangerously inflammatory in the political regime of the Russian Grand Duchy (Häyrynen, 2008: 488-92). The haunting images recorded by Into Konrad Inha (1865-1930), a landscape photographer and conservationist who was a close friend and contemporary of Sibelius and whose colleagues included a generation of writers and artists such as Juhani Aho, Pekka Halonen, Eero Järnefelt, and Akseli Gallen-Kallela, are powerful examples of the way in which a rich lexicon of the Finnish landscape was assembled and curated. Inha’s work includes volumes entitled Suomi kuvissa (“Finland in Pictures,” 1892-6) and, with an especially delicate sense of political diplomacy, Vienan Karjalan kuvausmatka (“A Journey for Taking Pictures in Russian Karelia,” 1894); Inha’s images of agricultural workers and their routines were commissioned for the Finnish pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, celebrating (it was supposed) Finland’s emergence from an essentially agrarian backwater into a modern industrialized nation state. Yet Inha’s work is also remarkable for its concern with liminality and states of transference: his carefully staged picture of runic singers holding hands, especially the old bardic seer Miihkali Arhippainen [figure 3], alongside evocative panoramic views of privileged sites such as Lake Päijänne [figure 1] points to an underlying tension in his photographs, between the intensively detailed attention to geographic/ethnographic specificity versus the commodification of landscape for recreation, academic enquiry, and territorial domination. Similar tensions of scale, register and authority continued to strain and fracture Finnish notions of landscape, not least during the 1918 civil war and during Finland’s emergence as a key geopolitical frontier between east and western blocs post-World War II: the apparent permanence of landscape as a physical environment is in sharp opposition to its fragility as a cultural, political, and material presence in the Finnish imagination.

Figure 3: Into Konrad Inha, runic singers holding hands.

Figure 3: Into Konrad Inha, runic singers holding hands.


A third modality of landscape draws equally on Inha’s work and the shifting notions of territory and scale that emerge from his pictures: landscape as text. Hiltunen’s monument has already pointed to the ways in which the reception of Sibelius’s work has often been grounded in images of landscape and nature. Though the landscape associations of many of Sibelius’s major works have been extensively assessed, a more neglected example of this pattern of reception is one of his very last compositions, the Fünf Skizzen/Viisi Luonnosta, op. 114. The complex genesis and publication history of the work, composed after the Seventh Symphony and Tapiola, and hence contemporary with Sibelius’s work on the ultimately abortive Eighth Symphony, has been elegantly summarized by Anna Pulkkis in her critical edition of Sibelius’s piano music. First published only posthumously by Fazer in 1973, the composition may originally have been prompted by Sibelius’s American publisher Carl Fischer, who sought to capitalize on the domestic market for easy piano music: Sibelius offered the pieces to Fischer in a letter dated 15 February 1929 (National Library Collection 206.44), with the following titles: “Landscape,” “Winter-Scenery,” “The Wood Wind,” “Song in the Wood,” and “Spring Vision.” The manuscript was delivered by 23 May, but returned to Sibelius on 7 September, because of changes in copyright provision and the expected returns on new works. Sibelius subsequently offered the compositions to his German publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, and then took the scores back again to make further revisions. At this point, Sibelius added new German titles, which differ in subtle but important respects from their English equivalents: “Landschaft,” “Winterbild,” “Der Deich” [sic—“Teich” is the correct translation], “Lied im Walde,” and “Im Frühling.” The materials were later offered to the Finnish publisher R. E. Westerlund, at the end of the Second World War in 1945, who prepared copies in advance of publication (which were overseen and corrected by Sibelius), and which included newly added Finnish titles (“Maisema,” “Talvikuva,” “Metsälampi” [to which Sibelius added the Swedish “Skogstjärn”], “Metsälaulu,” and “Kevätnäky”). Sibelius, however, evidently continued to harbor doubts about the opus, and he wrote to his son-in-law Jussi Jalas on 24 February 1945 that such small pieces “are not exactly my province. It is not until I have large forms in front of me that I feel I am on my own ground” (Sibelius, 2011: xiii).

At one level, the two central numbers, “Forest Lake” (“Metsälampi”) and “Forest Song” (“Metsälaulu”), clearly belong to the generic category of Nordic nature miniature popularized by earlier works such as Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. At another level, however, they present a very different kind of landscape representation, one that is less indebted to pictorial modes of perception and which need not be heard as exclusively Finnish. Landscape here serves as a creative resource, an acoustic signal or process of abstraction. Both pieces play productively with the listener’s sense of proximity and distance, and problematize familiar notions of agency and subject position. The first number, “The Forest Lake,” for example, can be understood as the intensive acoustic study of a single modal sonority: a Dorian sound sheet assembled from stacked thirds (Murtomäki, 2004: 150-1), but with complex harmonic undertones corresponding to the dissonant upper frequencies of certain kinds of nature sounds or other unpitched noise (example 1 [score pdf]). The modal mixture in m. 14, for example, introduces a darker coloring into the music’s modal field, destabilizing the texture’s prevailing melodic contour and intervallic symmetry. The work’s double immersive waves (at mm. 19 and 37) threaten to overwhelm its registral and dynamic boundaries, puncturing the music’s otherwise repetitive ostinato figuration: the lake’s Aeolian sounds hence become a feedback “loop,” generating a series of chromatic shadows whose presence initially seems baleful but ultimately proves, in the final measures, more ambivalent or equivocal in mood and affect.

Example 1a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 1-22.

Example 1a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 1-22.

Example 1b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 23-46.

Example 1b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 23-46.


In the second number, “Forest Song,” the idea of singing is en/invoiced texturally within the middle (tenor) tessitura of the instrument. But the question of precisely whose song is performed within the work remains unclear. Harmonically, the music’s tension is generated between the predominantly octatonic content of the right hand (collection II), the Lydian-Dorian modal inflection of the inner parts, and the incursion of complementary octatonic materials (collection III, mm. 18-25ff). Though a brief moment of clearer melodic articulation at the mezza voce (m. 33) suggests a heightened sense of agency the music deflects any sustained attempt at linguistic meaning or signification (example 2 [score pdf]). “Forest Song” offers no straightforward formal or expressive synthesis but rather a rupture or aporia in the “nature scene:” the enharmonic e#/f♮ in m. 42 that acts as a formal pivot, heralding a return of the opening octatonic ostinato. “Forest Song” thus threatens or dismantles the stable boundaries between nature, culture, listening subject, and creative agency, even as it folds its idea of landscape back within the echoing fragments of its ostinato figure within its closing bars.

Example 2a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 1-37.

Example 2a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 1-37.

Example 2b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 38-72.

Example 2b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 38-72.


This close reading of Sibelius’s op. 114 invites comparison with a fourth modality of landscape, landscape as cartography, represented by Johannes Gabriel Granö’s ground-breaking Pure Geography (Puhdas Maantiede/Reine Geographie, 1929). First published in German, and then in Finnish 2 years later, Granö’s work proposes a systematic haptic geography of landscape perception. The volume’s aim, Granö explains in the preface, “is to demonstrate that the topic of geographical research is the human environment, understood as the whole complex of phenomena and objects that can be perceived by the senses.” [p. 1, my emphasis] From this threshold, the volume proposes a threefold hierarchical model of geographical perception, comprising:

  1. the observable space or field of vision/hearing: landscape as prospect or spectacle;
  1. aspects of heat, humidity, pressure, sound, smell: the haptic medium of landscape; and
  1. the base, substrate or fundamental tone of landscape.

Granö draws his preoccupation with the “field of hearing” from a further contemporary source: Jussi Seppä’s Luonnon löytöjä. Lintunäkymiä ja –kuulumia (“Findings in Nature: Ornithological Sights and Sounds” [Porvoo: WSOY, 1928]), the first book in Finland to employ the term and one that was especially concerned with the sonic and spatial qualities of particular landscapes construed less on a national but rather at a (micro)regional level.

This close attention to the intricate sonic detail of landscape provides the basis for Granö’s auditory analysis of Valosaari, an island in the south-eastern Finnish lake district: one of the earliest published soundscape studies in the field. As Granö explains, “the common auditory phenomena characterising natural proximities include the roar of the waves, cascades, or rapids, the sough of the wind in the forest and the singing of birds, while the ‘field of hearing’ of artificial proximities is characterized by human voices and the noise of traffic and industry” (Granö, 1997: 126). Beyond the familiar distinction between natural and artificial noise, however, lies a more fine-grained concern with questions of proximity and distance: the way in which sound leaks, is transformed, or refracted by physical objects within the landscape; the intensity or duration of particular sounds heard from precise locations within the auditory field; and the seasonal shifts in tone and register: “sounds produced by people always in summer; produced by people sometimes in summer; produced by people frequently at all times of the year (boating route, ice road)” (Ibid: 127).

Granö’s analysis might be read superficially as an attempt to capture the acoustic quality of a particular place in scientific, rational fashion. But his work more properly belongs to a complex tradition of landscape representation in which sound plays a more destabilizing role. The legacy of Granö’s model, and the four modalities of landscape as border zone outlined in this essay, can be traced in more contemporary research, for example the work of the Finnish sound artist Simo Alitalo, based in Turku in south-western Finland, who has been involved with the ongoing Finnish sound-mapping project ( Like Granö, Alitalo substitutes the conventional Finnish term for soundscape “äänimaisema” (literally meaning a “landscape of sound”) with a cognate term “kuuluma,” stressing the act of audition or hearing: a critical turn consistent with Tim Ingold’s recent polemic against the idea of soundscape (Ingold, 2006) and one adopted by other Finnish acoustic ecologists such as Heikki Uimonen.


In attending more closely to the media through which sound and landscape are shaped and formed, in light of writing on sound and landscape from Granö to the present day, and cogniscent of the cultural and political work performed by landscape as it is embedded within the historiographies of Finnish music, we are encouraged to reflect critically upon the ontological nature and status of the borders, liminalities, and thresholds of sound. Through this process, we can gain a clearer sense of the epistemological status of landscape, sound, immersion, and the politics of representation: categories that provoke more difficult questions about subjectivity and agency within a (post)affective critical regime. This renewed attention to landscape within ecomusicology might serve as a sign of musicology’s seemingly perennial lateness—its delayed concern with pressing aesthetic, historic and scholarly issues with which other disciplines appear to have engaged many years earlier. But, in asking us to listen beyond our categorical limits, as with the case of Sibelius’s landscapes, musicology can cautiously clear fresh critical ground. Contemplating these questions at such a politically uncertain time feels like a good place to start


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)




Alitalo, Simo. Kuulumia. (accessed 3 February 2014).

Fewster, Derek. Visions of Past Glory: Nationalism and the Construction of Early Finnish History. Studia Fennica Historica 11. (Helsinki: SKS, 2006).

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. (London: Routledge, 2002). Originally published as L’Archéologie du Savoir (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1969) 151-6.

Granö, Johannes Gabriel. Pure Geography, trans Malcolm Hicks, ed. Olavi Granö and Anssi Paasi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Originally published as Reine Geographie (Helsinki: Geographical Society of Finland, 1929).

Grimley, Daniel M. ‘Music, Landscape, Attunement: Listening to Sibelius’s Tapiola’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 64/2 (Fall, 2010), 394-8.

———. Jean Sibelius and his World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

Hirsch, Eric. ‘Landscape: Between Space and Place’, in The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space, ed. Eric Hirsch and Michael O’Hanlon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 1-30.

Häyrynen, Maunu. ‘A Kaleidoscopic Nation: the Finnish National Landscape Imagery’, in Michael Jones and Kenneth Olwig (eds.) Nordic Landscapes: Region and Belonging on the Northern Edge of Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 483-510.

Ingold, Timothy. ‘Against Soundscape’, in Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice, ed. Angus Carlyle (Paris: Double Entendre, 2007), 10-13.

Labelle, Brandon. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life (London: Continuum, 2010).

Mitchell, W. J. T. ‘Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness’ in Landscape and Power, ed. W J T Mitchell, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 261-290.

Murtomäki, Veijo. ‘Sibelius and the Miniature’ in Daniel M. Grimley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 137-153.

Mäkelä, Tomi. Jean Sibelius, trans. Stephen Lindberg (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011) 84-88.

Paasi, Anssi. Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness: the Changing Geographies of the Finnish Russian Border (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1996).

———. ‘Finnish Landscape as Social Practice: Mapping Identity and Scale’, in Jones and Olwig (eds.) Nordic Landscapes, 511-539.

Selwyn, Tom. ‘Landscapes of Liberation and Imprisonment: Towards an Anthropology of the Israeli Landscape’, in Hirsch and O’Hanlon (eds.) The Anthropology of Landscape, 114-134.

Seppä, Jussi. Luonnon löytöjä. Lintunäkymiä ja –kuulumia (‘Findings in Nature: Ornithological Sights and Sounds’) (Porvoo: WSOY, 1928)

Sibelius, Jean. Works for Piano, Opp. 85, 94, 96a, 96c, 97, 99, 101, 103, 114. Jean Sibelius Works V/3, ed. Anna Pulkkis (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 2011)