Category Archives: Ecomusicology Review

Overlapping Ecomusicological Realms: Teaching Ecomusicology to Graduate Students through Collaborative Exploration

By Donna Lee Kwon

I found my way to ecomusicology by way of an earlier interest in the nexus of music, space, and place. Given its relatively new and interdisciplinary nature, I suspect that many others have come to ecomusicology through a similar inroad. In the spring of 2014, I took the opportunity to explore a few of these interdisciplinary connections to ecomusicology in my open topic graduate seminar titled Approaches to Music, Space, and Place: Theory, Ethnography and Ecomusicology (Appendix I provides a PDF of an abbreviated version of the syllabus). In this brief essay, I will share some of the strategies, activities and approaches that I found effective in teaching ecomusicology to graduate students and offer some critical reflections on issues that emerged from class discussions as well as from the students’ final research projects. Along the way, I will also engage in the important task of introducing the following accompanying articles by graduate students Tanner Jones, Megan Murph, and Ben Norton, explaining how their work arose from this collaborative process.

Although I have been engaged with the literature on music, place, and space for quite some time, ecomusicology was new for me so I tried to take advantage of coordinating its exploration with other programs going on within our department as well as across campus. Within our integrated musicology/ethnomusicology program, we scheduled a range of activities as part of our Friday colloquium series. These included: (1) ecomusicology-related talks by Michelle Kisliuk and Denise Von Glahn; (2) a student-led discussion of an ecocritical musicology article entitled “The Vocal Ecology of Crumb’s Crickets” by Robert C. Cook (2013); and (3) a participatory soundwalk (for more detailed explanation, see Appendix II).

Like many others who have led soundwalks, we added our own tweaks to the process. First, we warmed up our listening ears by performing two of Pauline Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations in our regular colloquium meeting space. Then, we proceeded outdoors on a snow-blanketed day to start the soundwalk. Based on the recollections of my colleague Ron Pen, who once participated in a soundwalk led by Murray Schafer himself, we did ours blindfolded with a partner as a leader. The first group of leaders were instructed to guide their partners to a pre-determined halfway point—the Mathews Garden (a garden featuring native plants that at the time was threatened by construction)—and then we switched partners for the second part of the walk that included a visit to the main library. In this way, all of the participants were able to experience the soundwalk in a dual fashion: led both by the eye and the ear, indoors and outdoors, and as leader and follower. Perhaps it was the snow or the inordinate amount of construction going on that day but this dual technique seemed to make contrasts even starker. It was also an unexpected bonding experience, both collectively and with one’s partner.

The process of attuning oneself to the sonic environment with blindfolds on, entrusting one’s hearing body to others, is actually an apt metaphor for how it felt to teach ecomusicology for the first time. It forced me to be hyper-aware of all things ecomusicological, but I also had to acknowledge my blind spots. In the process, I dove headfirst into areas in which I did not necessarily feel comfortable, and it consequently motivated me search out people with more expertise. For example, when I heard from friends and students about the growing national interest in the University of Kentucky’s own Dimensions of Political Ecology (DoPE) conference, I took a chance and proposed a panel on ecomusicology as I was prepping the seminar a couple of months prior; I thought it would be a great way to make interdisciplinary ties as well as encourage both graduate student and faculty participation in developing their work in this direction. Given Aaron Allen’s relative proximity and background in ecomusicology and larger issues of sustainability, I invited him to be the lead presenter, and he graciously offered to give a “Prolegomenon to a Political Ecology for Ecomusicology” in which he introduced ecomusicology, his current work, and made some initial remarks on what ecomusicology might have to contribute to political ecology. In particular, Dr. Allen discussed how the issue of aesthetics might help provide another humanistic dimension to political ecology and how issues of sustainability intersect with music-making. My colleague, Ron Pen, brought the issue closer to home by incorporating elements of musical performance in a dramatic presentation that personified Appalachia as a “patient” at the emergency room and, by extension, as a community in distress.

I also enlisted three graduate students (Jones, Murph, and Norton), who I knew were going to take the seminar, and I asked them to present on topics in line with their own research. Jones presented his preliminary research on musical modes of protest in response to the construction of a military naval base on the South Korean island of Jeju in a paper entitled “Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Song.” Since then, he has completed a year of dissertation fieldwork in Jeju on a Fulbright IIE fellowship grant and is currently writing his dissertation. Murph presented a paper entitled “The Placing of Max Neuhaus’s Sound Works” and is currently further developing her topic by contrasting how noise pollution ordinances impacted the work of sound artists Max Neuhaus and Murray Schafer. Norton presented a paper entitled “Green Metal: Environmentalism in Metal and Punk Music” and is currently working as a journalist and activist in New York. I am delighted that all three of these presentations have been further developed and edited for inclusion in the Ecomusicology Review with new titles as follows: Tanner Jones, Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual”; Megan Murph, Max Neuhaus’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise”; Ben Norton, “Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music.”

It was highly productive to explore the implications of political ecology for ecomusicology, and I remain intrigued by its possibilities. For Jones, engaging with political ecology encouraged him to focus more on the actual ecological damage wrought by the military base on Jeju island, particularly regarding geographical and marine habitat destruction, wildlife impact, and effects on human and community livelihood. From here, he analyzed specific artistic, musical, and ritual responses to this damage as located in particular places and shrines throughout the island. For Murph, the panel pushed her to look at the politicization of noise as it played out in the artistic and ecological concerns of Max Neuhaus and Murray Schafer. Norton’s account of environmentalist punk engages with issues that have come up frequently in political ecology – anthropocentrism, anti-anthropocentrism, and post-humanism – and also assesses the various political strategies espoused in punk lyrics. Uniting these three articles is that they all probe the potential complications, powers, and limitations of music and sound in effecting political change and awareness.

Because of the early placement of the DoPE conference in the semester that the seminar was offered, Jones, Murph, and Norton had already been working or thinking about these projects prior to the start of this seminar. The rest of the students were encouraged to attend the DoPE panel and were later required to dive into their own projects pertaining to ecomusicology or to issues of music, place, and space. My prompts for the final research project were intentionally open in order to accommodate the varied interests of each student, but I did encourage them to think deeply about what research methodologies, theories, and critical analytical tools might best suit their project. For example, the graduate students drew on a number of methodologies spanning the use of ethnography, ecocritical lyric and text analysis, video analysis, and more traditional modes of primary and secondary source research. Perhaps it is a testament to the growing popularity of these topics but I am happy to report that three additional students – Rebecca O’Brien, Justin Cornelison, and Saesha Senger – were successful in submitting abstracts to three separate conferences (see Appendix II), and Senger later published her paper in the M/C Journal (Senger 2016).

In terms of class content and readings, we explored several overlapping areas in our seminar discussions, including acoustic ecology, performance ethnography, sound installation art, and sound studies. Given how behind musicology and ethnomusicology are in terms of reckoning with recent developments in sound art, I turned to one of my fellow faculty and resident multimedia artists, Dmitry Strakovsky. He invited us to visit his studio and he introduced us to some of his site-specific works and talked more specifically about how notions of place, space, religion, and travel informed his piece “Traveler’s Prayer” that was performed in the NEOBAROK festival in Varazdin, Croatia. Essentially, he recorded a local cantor reciting the Jewish “traveler’s prayer,” later processed the recording in myriad ways on his computer, and then played and manipulated the tracks live in a church ruin in Varazdin. Like much of his other work, Strakovsky likes to explore uneasy juxtapositions between the local/global in approaching the site-specific shaping of space through sound (Strakovsky 2017). He also talked specifically about the influence of sound artist Maryanne Amacher in inspiring him to structure space and place through sound, which helped us contextualize what we were seeing and hearing, in his studio, which itself was located in a historic tobacco factory.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of ecomusicology, approaching the field through its related subjects is not unique. Nevertheless, having gone through this process I do have some further reflections to share. For one, based on the literature we reviewed in the seminar in 2014, I noticed a few critical gaps that would benefit from further theorization. Just as Titon and Allen have both problematized “nature” in ecomusicology, I think the same could be done for place and space. I argue that the notion of place is implicitly central for ecomusicology, and indeed has been the focus of earlier work by Denise Von Glahn for example, and therefore deserves a similar theoretical review. For example, several cultural theorists, anthropologists and geographers, such as Doreen Massey, David Harvey, Yi-fu Tuan, and John Urry, have questioned nostalgic and “regressive” constructions of place that emphasize stability and geographical/physical/cultural boundedness. However, I have not yet seen this addressed in as much depth in the emerging ecomusicological literature with the exception of Daniel Grimley who has interrogated the romanticized and otherwise problematic ideological underpinning of landscape representations in European music. While the notion of landscape is more specific, Grimley’s approach could certainly be applied to developing a more critical stance on place as well (Grimley 2011, 395-396).

In another direction, Titon has turned towards “relational epistemology” as a “promising alternative to economic rationality and scientific reductionism regarding nature” (Titon 2013, 15). The work of geographers and others suggest that this may have potential for place as well. For example, geographer Doreen Massey sees both place and space as relational and integral with time. She further theorizes place as a node in an interlocking web of social relations that is subject to both the heterogeneous effects of globalization as well as to its unequal power geometries (Massey 1994). I look forward to seeing how ecomusicology might contribute to these interconnected debates and help engender progressive and diverse conceptions of nature and place.

Another overlapping area that opens up some critical questions and fascinating commonalities and tensions with ecomusicology is the emerging field of sound studies (also known as sonic studies, soundscape studies, or auditory/aural culture). I first noticed this while thinking about Megan Murph’s paper articulating the differences between Murray Schafer’s and Max Neuhaus’s contrasting approaches to listening to soundscapes. Since then, further reading and attendance at conference panels have brought to my attention many examples of scholars identifying with areas who have been critical of the ways various actors have shaped the discursive and material realities of soundscapes, be they wild, rural, or urban. To articulate another area of common ground, both ecomusicology and sound studies support a philosophical shift from “eye” to “ear” and demand an expanded consideration of sound beyond “Music,” even if the motivations may sometimes seem to come from different places. In any case, I have no doubt that the tensions and overlaps between ecomusicology, sound studies, and other disciplines will continue to foster productive dialogue and debate, as is already evident in the work of Ana María Ochoa Gautier (2016). To conclude, I hope this piece gives some context to the articles presented in this issue by Jones, Murph and Norton and provides some good food for thought to those who are considering teaching ecomusicology for the first time.


Papers from this panel:

1. Donna Lee Kwon, “Overlapping Ecomusicological Realms: Teaching Ecomusicology to Graduate Students through Collaborative Exploration”

2. Tanner Jones, “Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual”

3. Megan Murph, “Max Neuhas’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise

4. Ben Norton, “Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music”


Appendix I: Abbreviated Syllabus

Appendix II: List of Ecomusicology and Music and Place-related talks and programs

January 24, 2014: Student-led discussion of an ecomusicology article by Robert C. Cook entitled “The Vocal Ecology of Crumb’s Crickets,” published in the Journal of the Society for American Music (Cook 2013).

February 14, 2014: Soundwalk Colloquium featuring selections from Sonic Meditations by Pauline Oliveros and a soundwalk followed by a discussion. Readings by Murray Schafer and others were distributed beforehand to aid in discussion.

February 28, 2014: Rey M. Longyear colloquium with guest, Michelle Kisliuk (University of Virginia), who gave a participatory talk entitled “Interacting Bodies, Spaces and Voices: BaAka Music and Dance and the Central African Rainforest.” Based on our conversations about orienting her talk towards the concerns of our seminar, Dr. Kisliuk addressed how the BaAka interact musically and otherwise with the rainforest environment. Dr. Kisliuk addressed the impact of violence and conflict in Central Africa and other pressures that are forcing BaAka to re-locate from the rainforests such as
international logging, slash-and- burn farming, and deforestation.

March 28, 2014. Denise Von Glahn (Florida State University) was invited to come and speak to us for the Longyear colloquium series on the topic of “Music and Place: Experienced and Imagined” as realized in the work of American women composers.

October 4, 2014: Graduate student Becky O’Brien presented a paper entitled “The Ecomusicology of ‘A Beautiful Lie’: Spurring Environmental Activism in the Music of Thirty Seconds to Mars” at the 2014 Ecomusicologies 2014 conference.

April 24, 2015: Graduate student Justin Cornelison presented a paper entitled “Nature, Place, and Culture: An Eco-Critical Look at Georgian Popular Musical Texts” at the “Georgia at the Crossroads” conference at Baylor University.

July 3, 2015: Graduate student Saesha Senger presented a paper entitled “Place/Time in MC Solaar’s American Francophone” at the 18th Biennial meeting of IASPM in Campinas, Brazil. She later published a version of this article in the M/C Journal (A Journal of Media and Culture) under the slightly edited title, “Place, Space, and Time in MC Solaar’s American Francophone” (Senger 2016).



Allen, Aaron S. 2011. “Prospects and Problems for Ecomusicology in Confronting a Crisis of Culture.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64/2: 414-424.

Cook, Robert C. 2013 “The Vocal Ecology of Crumb’s Crickets.” Journal of the Society for American Music 7(2): 123-145.

Gautier, Ana María Ochoa. 2016. “Acoustic Multinaturalism, the Value of Nature, and the Nature of Music in Ecomusicology.“ Boundary 2 43(1): 107-141.

Grimley, Daniel. 2011. “Music, Landscape, Attunement: Listening to Sibelius’s Tapiola.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64/2: 394-398.

Titon, Jeff Todd. 2013. “The Nature of Ecomusicology.” Música e Cultura: revista da ABET 8(1): 8-18.

Massey, Doreen. 1994. Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Senger, Saesha. 2016. “Place, Space, and Time in MC Solaar’s American Francophone.” M/C Journal 19(3).

Strakovsky, Dmitry. 2017. “Work.” Accessed June 8. .


Donna Lee Kwon is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Kentucky. She holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley (Ethnomusicology), a MA in World Music/Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and a BA/BM (Women’s Studies/Piano Performance) from Oberlin College. She is the author of Music in Korea: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, published as part of the Global Music Series on Oxford University Press (2011). Her research interests include North and South Korean music, East Asian and Asian American popular and creative music, gender and the body, issues of space and place, and ecomusicology. Many of these interests are addressed in her second book in progress that stems from her dissertation research that examines the embodiment of space and place in Korean drumming and dance.

Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual

By Tanner Jones

Figure 1. Silk and cloth tied onto barbed wire surrounding the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong, Jeju. Photo by author.

Jeju Island is located at the southernmost tip of South Korea, about 60 miles from the mainland coast. With a beautiful volcanic topography dominated by South Korea’s highest peak, the island was recently labeled one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and holds numerous other similar designations that attest to its natural beauty (New7Wonders, 2014).[1] Jeju is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve, and, of UNESCO’s 111 Global Geopark sites, Jeju is home to nine (Global Geo Park, 2014). In a few short decades, Jeju has undergone a rapid transformation; what was once an impoverished rural region is now one of East Asia’s most popular tourist and honeymoon destinations. While much of Jeju’s economy is driven by tourism, most of the island’s population depends on agriculture and fishing industries. Gangjeong Village, centrally located on the southern coast of Jeju, is an archetypical example of the small fishing and farming villages that dot Jeju’s coastline. In the morning, one can see haenyeo free diving into the ocean collecting various seafood. Haenyeo, or “sea women” (also known locally as chamnyeo), are arguably Jeju’s most symbolic figures of Jeju’s traditional culture and were recently inscribed as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO 2016).

Despite a concerted effort by the local government to portray Jeju as an ecological marvel by touting its beautiful natural resources, there is contradictory evidence to the official rhetoric of Jeju as a natural paradise: unchecked urban expansion and rapid development, including an ecologically damaging naval base in Gangjeong Village. To give a potent example, the haenyeo used to depend on a unique 1.2 kilometer stretch of basalt rock in Gangjeong village known as Gureombi, which is known to host an array of unique sea life including red footed crab, species of soft coral, and bottlenose dolphins. The construction of the naval base, however, has irreparably damaged Gureombi. This paper explores the protest movement in Gangjeong Village that emerged in opposition to the construction of a naval base by the South Korean Defense Ministry. I focus particularly on how activists used performance informed by local shamanic practices to draw attention to sacred and culturally significant sites endangered by the construction process. Jeju shamanic practice is intrinsically musical, with sung epics and prayers and syncopated percussive accompaniment. I approach these performances through an ecomusicological framework to explore how local villagers develop relationships to these sacred sites, comparing this with how activists later draw upon those relationships in their protest performances to expand their argument to stop the naval base.

Sounding Protest

Activists have vigorously protested the naval base since the plans were brought forth in 2007, and it continues to be embroiled in controversy due to the subversive behavior the government has exhibited in order to compel their ambitions onto Gangjeong. The National Defense Ministry claims that the base is necessary to counteract any threat from North Korea. The South Korean economy is largely export driven, and the government claims that the base is necessary to protect the busy shipping lanes that traverse the Korea Straight. Also, the Defense Ministry claims that the base will be a joint military and civilian port that will allow cruise ships to dock and inject the local economy with new tourism revenue.

Figure 2: South Korea with detail of Jeju Island. Map data @2017 SK Telecom via Google Maps.

Local residents and activists opposing the construction of a base in Gangjeong express numerous doubts over the proposed benefits of the base. The base’s efficacy to combat an immediate threat from North Korea is questionable due its location on the southernmost tip of South Korea’s territory. (See Figure 2.) With Shanghai lying just 500 kilometers west of Jeju, residents fear that the construction of the base is more likely being urged forward by the U.S. military as a part of an effort to counteract a growing Chinese military threat. Although the South Korean government insists that no U.S. forces will occupy the base, U.S. forces assume control of all military installations in times of conflict, according to the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two governments. (Activists point out that the submarine port was built large enough to dock a Trident class submarine, the largest in the world, and only used by U.S. military forces.) Despite local opposition, the South Korean government has pushed through measures to ensure the base’s construction, albeit via underhanded methods that indicate the illegitimate nature of the project. Whereas the haenyeo were key figures in blocking measures to locate the naval base in two other villages in Jeju, authorities bribed haenyeo and other community members in Gangjeong to ensure their support (Ahn, 2011).[2] Without sufficient notice, officials held an unpublicized town hall meeting for the base’s approval during which eighty-seven of over a thousand community members, many of whom allegedly received bribes, voted in favor of the naval base construction (Chomsky-Hoey 2011).

Since 2011, activists have organized and maintained continuous protests at the naval base construction site, despite laws that have been passed that make it illegal to do so. Activists in Gangjeong have committed to maintaining a peaceful presence at the site, using nonviolent civil disobedience to hinder the construction of the base. Everyday, the Catholic Church holds mass outside the gates of the construction site in a makeshift tent covered in quilts made by participants and adorned with prayers etched in wood. After the mass, church figures and participants sing hymns and say prayers whilst sitting in the middle of the base’s main entrance point in order to stop traffic. Police repeatedly remove the obstructers from the entrance in order to allow construction vehicles to pass through. (See Figure 3.)

One of the most striking features of these protests is the overwhelming presence of music and dance. After the mass, activists boisterously direct a variety of protest songs via loudspeaker at the entrance gate, to which activists dance choreographed movements in unison, all the while blocking traffic and preventing construction crews and cement trucks from exiting and entering the construction site. Activists play diverse music as well, such as folk, trot, popular Minjung movement tunes, and rock songs all with new lyrics to voice their message of peace in Gangjeong and their defiant stance against the naval base. Throughout the demonstration police wait within the walls and allow the dancing and sit-ins to develop, and then, like clockwork, they step in after a few minutes to move those hindering traffic off to the side and let construction vehicles pass through the gates. The police then return to their place, and the protestors theirs, and the process repeats itself before the demonstrations finish. All the while buses and tourists pass by as they travel along this small seaside road adjacent to the naval base.

Figure 3. Protesters dancing at the entrance to the naval base, blocking traffic. Photo by author.


Activists tell me that these daily demonstrations are meant to slow down or hinder the construction of the naval base, even if it’s only for an hour. The music and sounds of these particular events serve many important purposes. Reed argues that music can act as a force that can present a crowd not as a mob but as a peaceful assembly (Reed 2005, 29). In an interview with me, one American activist visiting Gangjeong said that music and dance empowers and lifts one’s spirits. This effect is often visible on the beleaguered faces of the activists who have been fighting the base for nearly 4 years. He also believes that music and dance are by no means a one-way activity; they engage and connect those on both sides of the fence in a figurative dance they perform each day with each other, calmed or uplifted by the atmosphere promoted by the music.

In a subtle way, the music affirms the activists’ presence to outsiders and villagers alike. I recently took a walk heading away from the daily demonstration up a riverbed and through nearby farmland; there I became cognizant of how easily the rest of Jeju Island could ignore the plight of these villagers. Jeju’s central government is located two hours away in Jeju City, which lies over Halla Mountain; Gangjeong village is situated some distance removed from a main highway that connects the popular Jungmun tourist resort area to nearby Seogwipo City. Most travelers pass by this farming village with little awareness. One local informed me that the villagers have no strength left to keep fighting, nor can they afford to. Local villagers have resigned to return to their farms and businesses and do not regularly participate with the protests. As I stood amongst the farms and listened to the amplified protest songs in the distance, I realized that this music was an equally important reminder to those villagers that some are still committed to fighting the base’s construction.


Ritual and Protest

In The Art of Protest, Reed argues that one of the key functions of culture in movements is its ability to link movements with “traditional” genres and create a feeling of continuity over a long span of time. Both Reed and Turino note the use of “traditional” gospel songs in the American civil rights movement, arguing that they gave a gentle reminder of the struggles of their ancestors (Reed 2005, 15; Turino 2008, 215). Similarly, Katherine Lee has shown how traditional Korean percussion was politicized in South Korea’s minjung democracy movement in the 1980s and represented the music of the common people (Lee 2012, 179-205). There is a sense that many people throughout the island consider the naval base only in terms of its political and economic advantages or disadvantages. I have rarely heard opinions that consider the consequences of the base in terms of how it may affect the local environment, people, their way of life, and their cultural values.

In Gangjeong, protesters have highlighted ecological damage done to the area caused by construction by connecting with and highlighting the traditional shamanic beliefs and practices of the area. Haenyeo and villagers have relied on their connection to the spirits of the surrounding waters and land to help navigate their dangerous profession. The village’s haenyeo association annually sponsors a large shamanic ritual called the Jamsu-Kut or Yeongdeung-Kut, in which the women pray for their fortune and safety and shamans propitiate the spirits and divine where and when to fish, what to seek, and what to avoid (perhaps aiding in their environmentally responsible fishing practices) (Reckinger 2014, 83). Villagers also frequent their local shindang (spirit shrines) and haeshindang (seaside shrines used by fishermen and haenyeo) to make personal offerings and prayers to the local deities.

The performance of shamanic rituals and artistic performances inspired by local shamanic practices in Gangjeong throughout this movement can be seen as a dynamic display of the village’s spiritual and physical connection to this area. The village’s economic dependence on the coast through fishing and diving is immediately discernible and is a recognized concern by outsiders. However, this economic acknowledgement seems to neglect the complex spiritual relationship the local people have with this area, including the multiple natural sites associated with local mythology and traditional religious practices. These natural holy sites (shindang) hold significant historical, cultural, and political value. Two places in particular, a seaside shrine (haeshindang) and a natural spring that once emanated from Gureombi Rock, have been directly affected by the construction of the naval base. As a result, they have since become symbols of the naval base’s destructive impact on local cultural and religious practices.

Jeju’s shamans are custodians of their area’s shrines and deities, of which Gangjeong is home to a quite a few. The local shaman (shimbang), Jeong Gong-Jeol, was well known throughout the island for his prowess in rituals, as well as his activism against the base. The earliest evidence I have found of shamanic ritual employed in conjunction with the protests was a particular rite called Sallim Kut in 2011. Reportedly, it had been many years since this rite was performed. One observer, Mr. Han, noted that the main purpose of this ritual was to pray to the sea gods for help in the struggle against the naval base and to pray for peace. Unfortunately, this shaman passed away last year, and I was unable to find the exact content of this particular ritual.

Those who attended the ritual were mostly activists who actively voiced disapproval of the naval base, including the mayor of Gangjeong village (Sallim Kut, 2011). It is important to note that, historically, the practice and adherence to shamanic belief in Korea has often been stigmatized. Shamanism was seen as a charlatan practice by the ruling Confucian aristocracy throughout the Joseon period, and was forbidden under the rule of the Japanese colonial powers and subsequent South Korean dictators. Even currently, shamanism is not listed as a religion on the national census. However, this ritual was performed directly beside the walls of the naval base in a public space at the village’s ancestral shrine, attended by significant figures of the movement and community. Many of Jeju’s shamanic rituals are public events that are generally attended by women who pray for their family, farm, and business. Nonetheless, whatever the beliefs of the mayor and those in attendance may have been, I argue that the ritual participation of the activists was significant beyond a spiritual plea. The ritual expressed the acknowledgement of this area’s deeper cultural value, linking it to spiritual practices of the local people that have continued to be ignored by external forces. Shamanic rituals in Jeju use a small hourglass drum (janggwi), large barrel drums (ulbuk), large gongs (taeyang), and a piercingly loud suspended bell (seolssoe). This shrine is located just meters beyond the rocky coastline, next to a river that pours into the ocean towards the nearby Tiger Island (Beom seom). The highly percussive and syncopated ritual music resonated throughout the space, extending to the naval base area to send a powerful message to those involved in its construction, as well as to foreign tourists residing in nearby hotels.

According to Byerly, successful protest movements need to strive for an “expanding spectrum of players drawn into the movement,” which include a wide array of musical genres to draw in activists (Byerly 2013, 240). The Save Jeju Movement has done this remarkably well both locally and internationally. Catholic and protestant protestors are one of the most dominant forces in the movement. The Catholic Church officially supports peace activism, thus making Catholics the most organized entity (Pae 2014, 61). The presence of the Sallim Kut shamanic ritual is a good example of the acceptance of various actors into the larger protest movement in Gangjeong.

Another area of contention is a nearby seaside shrine that is under threat of being destroyed by the naval base’s ever expanding boundary. I was recently given a tour of Gangjeong’s many shamanic spirit shines (shindang), and this shrine in particular struck me as indicative of the village’s current situation. Called “Saebyeol GoJi Dang,” this shrine is located just above the sea and hosts the sea gods. Typically, fishermen and diving women (haenyeo) use this shrine to pray for a bountiful catch, as well as for fertility or for healing illnesses afflicting children. The physical and natural attributes of this shrine are important to the local people. Mr. Han explained to me that this shrine stands on a piece of rock that extended into the sea floor, acting as a connection between earth and sea, where the Yowang dragon deity resides. He pointed out that some newly erected 20-foot tall fence posts extending from either side of the shrine’s entrance threaten to enclose it. As he posited to me in a 2014 interview, “This area is facing a crisis of disappearing. If this shrine disappears, then it is representative of the sea disappearing from Gangjeong.” (See Figure 4.)

He went on to explain that the navy offered to put the fence around the shrine, leaving it untouched. However, the villagers argued that this would disrupt the unique physical and spiritual connection between the land and the sea, and the energy (ki) would be destroyed. Villagers that have used this shrine to pray for family, fortune, and health, would be prevented from practicing rituals because of the physical barrier. Thus, traditional practices would be forcibly discontinued, and a prominent part of this area’s traditional culture would be further suppressed. Unfortunately, the shrine was partially damaged when the construction company drove a crane into it in order to remove palm trees that they wished to sell. This caused an uproar in the community, and was further evidence of the perceived lack of care or consideration for the local people, as outsiders took no notice of this significant landmark as they worked to their own capital gain. Activists in Gangjeong initially cited economic and environmental concerns as their main argument to disrupt the construction of the naval base, and their pivot to elucidate the spiritual and cultural value of the land was perhaps too late to stop further destruction of the area. Authorities imposing the base upon Gangjeong have downplayed the area’s cultural significance, systematically removing evidence of any cultural relationships with these spiritual sites.

Figure 4. A gazebo (above) that once overlooked Gangjeong’s unique coastal area, now enveloped by a fence surrounding the naval base construction site. A few meters down the road, the seaside shrine (below) that was almost destroyed by construction crews, and later almost fenced in like the gazebo. Photos by author.


On March 7, 2015, roughly around the third anniversary of the destruction of Gureombi rock, Tera, a local artist and dancer created a performance called “Let’s Go Meet Halmang Mul” (Grandmother’s Spring).[3] Located on the currently destroyed Gureombi rock, “Grandmother’s Spring” was performed at a particularly spiritual site for the local people. Any time one went to a ritual, they would need to bring water from Halmang Mul; if someone had a baby or was pregnant, they would travel to Halmang Mul to pray and drink the spring water. In a performance that paraded throughout Gangjeong village, Tera played the role of the Grandmother (halmang), followed by other performers and activists that held on to a long silk string (used as an offering to pray for longevity), upon which paper money for the spirits were attached. (See Figures 1 and 5.) For the performance, Tera took a jar of water from Netgiriso (a lake that supplies Halmang Mul) and went to the seaside to bury it beside the walls of the naval base. Much to the performer’s surprise, older village women came outside and placed money on the strings, clasped their hands and bowed, just as one would at a ritual. One activist explained to me this was somewhat unexpected, as last year during a parade for the same anniversary, the older village people would have no part of it. The performance ended with participants and observers placing paper money on the barbed wire fence surrounding the naval base to pray for peace, and the grandmother disappearing into the distance.

Tera has been a resident of Gangjeong since the early stages of the movement. An artist, dancer, farmer, and peace activist, she has become an active figure in the protests, particularly in creating performances that aim to reinvigorate interest in Gangjeong’s endangered sacred sites and their mythology. As she explained to me in a 2015 interview, “I am fighting through creating my dance, and making [other] people dance… My dream is creating and performing real Gangjeong stories, and traditional story art in Gangjeong’s nature.” These performances are meant to not only emphasize the importance of these revered natural sites, but also highlight the local people’s spiritual connection to them. The fact that this performance stirred an emotional or spiritual connection with the local residents is further evidence of the spiritual significance of these sites afforded by the local people.

Figure 5. Tera, an activist, performance artist, and Gangjeong resident, pays her respects to the Saebyeolgoji Dang, a seaside shrine next to the naval base construction. Photo by author.


On the rocks of Metburi, located by the sea just beyond the base construction, another performance was held on May 24, 2015, that combined local shamanic mythology, ritual music, dance, and protest. (See Figure 6.) In this performance, local scholar, writer, and musician Mr. Han wrote and sang Gureombi Halmang Prayer in the style of Jeju’s shamanic epic songs. After this prayer, a drummer played a slow rhythm unique to Jeju shamanism, which typically accompanies the shaman bowing to and greeting the spirits. Multiple dancers appeared, who represented spirits of the Gangjeong and the Gureombi Halmang, who began the performance by attempting to go to her seat at Halmang Mul, only to be stopped by the 20-foot tall fence. In addition to the local protesters, this performance was primarily attended by non-local residents who had come for a market place event to highlight the area’s agriculture.

Allan Moore observes that music can alienate and inhibit chance for dialogue, and this is substantiated by Samson’s case study of Tiananmen Square, where music defined insiders and outsiders (Samson 2012, 518). Before I began my fieldwork, I had believed that performances related to shamanism, which has long carried a negative stigma, might potentially create friction between different factions of the movement. Contrary to my earlier presumptions, I have witnessed a positive response from observers, who appreciated the performance’s ability to educate outsiders on the history, cosmology, and mythology of the area. Movements that are able to adapt to existing cultural structures can more effectively use those structures to support new goals, ideas, and strategies (Reed 2005, 300). Various actors within the “Save Jeju” movement have been able to imbue local cultural identity into their struggle and provide a human face that is integrally bound to this environment. Tilly argues that this creates a historically and culturally engrained identity that is necessary for coherence (Tilly 2008, 14-17).

Figure 6. Performance of Gureombi Halmang Prayer at Metburi. Photo courtesy of Jungil Park.


Based on the evidence of officials bribing the haenyeo, one might argue that the navy sought to undercut resistance by silencing or destroying the area’s cultural symbols or figures before beginning the project. One activist suggested to me that he believes the destruction of Gureombi rock was seen as a symbolic act by the navy, meant to dishearten the opposition and an attempt to remove any cultural significance associated with the local environment. While the Korean government has ignored economic and environmental damage to this area, these performances by activists can be seen as an attempt to illuminate the cultural loss being wrought by the destruction of these natural worship sites. Despite the stigmatization of shamanism in Korea, the Halmang Mul performance was successful in igniting community solidarity in protesting the damage to the seaside shrine. In doing so, it relied on a traditional shamanic narrative to do the cultural work of restoring value to that area. Such an approach is not unique; for example, native Hawaiians fought to regain control over Kaho’olawe Island by asserting the island’s cultural and historical importance as a sacred site after decades of use by U.S. military forces as a site for target practice (Blackford 2004, 571). Similarly, activists in Gangjeong have sought to appeal to native cultural values and religious practices to broaden their protest narrative beyond the exclusively environmental. Considering the ecologically complex whole involving cultural identity, place, and politics, I argue that these performances illuminated deeper relationships between the people and this locale to the opposition, thereby demonstrating the far-reaching consequences of this construction project.


Papers from this panel:

1. Donna Lee Kwon, “Overlapping Ecomusicological Realms: Teaching Ecomusicology to Graduate Students through Collaborative Exploration”

2. Tanner Jones, “Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual”

3. Megan Murph, “Max Neuhas’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise

4. Ben Norton, “Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music”




Ahn, Christine. 2011. “Naval Base Tears Apart Korean Village.” Foreign Policy in Focus. August 19. Accessed September 14, 2014.

Blackford, Mansel G. 2004. “Environmental Justice, Native Rights, Tourism, and Opposition to Military Control: The Case of Kaho’olawe.” The Journal of American History 91(2): 544-571.

Byerly, Ingrid Bianca. 2013. “What Every Revolutionary Should Know: A Musical Model of Global Protest.” In Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, edited by Jonathan C. Friedman, 229-247. New York: Routledge.

Choe, Sang Hun. 2011. “Island’s Naval Base Stirs Opposition in Korea.” New York Times, August 18.

Chomsky, Noam and Matthew Hoey. 2011. “Preserving the Island of World Peace.” Hankyoreh, September 30. Accessed October 15, 2014.

Global Geo Park. 2014. “Distribution of GGN Members.” Accessed September 30, 2014. 

Hollings, Fritz. 2011. “Wasting Lives and Money.” Huffington Post, June 15. Accessed January 2, 2017. 

Huh, Ho-joon. 2012. “Supreme Court Overturns Ruling on Jeju Naval Base.” Hankyoreh, July 7. Accessed September 30, 2017. 

Interview, October 21, 2014. Full identity withheld.

Jeju Island Geopark. 2014. “Jeju Island Geopark.” Accessed September 30, 2014. 

Kim, Jeanne. 2014. “The Chinese Are Buying up South Korea’s Jeju Island, and the Islanders are Not Too Pleased.” Quartz Media. Last modified September 11, 2014. Accessed June 1, 2017. 

Kim Tae Jong. 2011. “Police Disperse Protestors At Gangjeong.” Korea Times, September 2. Accessed June 5, 2017.

Lee, Katherine In-Young. 2012. “The Drumming of Dissent during South Korea’s Democratization Movement.” Ethnomusicology 56(2): 179-205.

New7Wonders. 2014. “Jeju Island: South Korea.” Accessed September 14, 2014.

Pae, Keun-Joo Christine. 2014. “Feminist Activism as Interfaith Dialogue: A Lesson from Gangjeong Village of Jeju Island, Korea.” Journal of Korean Religions 5(1): 55-69.

Peddie, Ian, ed. 2006. Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..

Personal conversation, October 22, 2014, Identity withheld.

Reed, Thomas Vernon. 2005. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement To The Streets Of Seattle. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Sacred Natural Sites. 2014. “Gureombi coastal sacred site and Gangjeon village, Jeju Island, South Korea.” Accessed October 1, 2014.

Samson, Valerie. 2012. “Music as Protest Strategy: The Example of Tiananmen Square, 1989.” In Music and Protest, edited by Ian Peddie, 518-527. Ashgate: New York.

Save Jeju Now. 2014. “Endangered Species.” Accessed September 14, 2014.

Save Jeju Now. 2015. “Police Crackdown on Sit-in Tents, Part 1.” Accessed August 18, 2015.

Steinem, Gloria. 2011. “The Arms Race Intrudes on Paradise.” New York Times, August 6.

Tilly, Charles. 2008. Contentious Performances. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Titon, Jeff Todd. 2013. “The Nature of Ecomusicology.” In Música e Cultura: revista da ABET 8(1): 8-18.

Turino, Thomas. 2008. Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

UNESCO. 2007. “UNESCO Confirms That It Is Not Involved in the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’ Campaign.” Last modified July 9.

UNESCO. 2016. “Culture of Jeju Haenyeo (Women Divers).” Accessed January 10, 2017.

Yamamoto, Eric K., Sara Lee, and Yae Jin Lee. 2012. “The United States’ Role in the Korea Jeju April 3rd Tragedy and its Responsibility for ‘Social Healing Through Justice.’” World Environment and Island Studies 1: 49-57.

Yonhap. 2016. “No. of Visitors Tops 5 Mln.” Last modified May 5.



[1] Admittedly, being recognized as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” may be a rather dubious distinction. It was earned through a popular vote, and rumors abound that local government employees were required to make hundreds of votes a day to secure Jeju’s selection. UNESCO also publicly announced their disassociation with the initiative (UNESCO, 2007).

[2] Jeju’s haenyeo are typically joined in associations (Haenyeo Chon) that manage that village’s fiercely guarded fishing territory. Thus, the haenyeo are respected authority figures in their area.

[3] Halmang means grandmother in the Jeju language, however, it is also a ubiquitous term for a female spirit. Often villagers will not know the name of the spirit, but will just refer to the deity as “Grandmother.”


Tanner Jones is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Kentucky. Tanner has recently returned from a year in Jeju-do, South Korea, where he completed his field research funded by a Fulbright IIE research grant. He is currently writing his dissertation, entitled Performing Agency and Change Through Jeju Shaman Ritual, funded by the Fellowship for Graduate Studies from the Korea Foundation. 

Max Neuhaus’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise

By Megan Murph


On December 6, 1974, the American experimental percussionist and sound artist, Max Neuhaus (1939-2009), published a New York Times editorial titled, “BANG, BOOooom, ThumP, EEEK, tinkle.” This editorial protested the “silly bureaucrats” of New York City’s Department of Air Resources’ “dangerously misleading” noise ordinances by stating the city’s “noise propaganda” only made “more noise.” Neuhaus considered this editorial the largest work from his Listen series, which spanned from 1966 to 1979 and included his listening walks. The editorial printed two years after the United States Federal Government passed the Noise Control Act (1972) in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency’s studies pertaining to the growth of noise across the nation. These studies investigated the psychological and physiological impact of noise on humans, animals, and their landscape. Scholarship pertaining to the shifting meaning and perception of noise has largely neglected Neuhaus’s contributions. I respond to this lacuna by considering how Neuhaus’s editorial rests within his Listen series and call attention to the way he protested the subjection of all urban sounds as “noise.” I argue that these ideas ultimately led towards the creation of his most famous installation, Times Square (1977). I consider works by Neuhaus in conjunction with contributions by R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project in order to better understand the changing and often conflicted discourses about how the public should listen and about the larger eco-political implications of noise abatement.

Within the context of the seminar we took with Dr. Kwon, my ecomusicological approach was unique for its consideration of sound art, especially since Neuhaus paid early attention to soundscapes and soundwalks that later became critical components of the acoustic ecology movement. I soon became aware, however, that Neuhaus’s ideas and actions did not cohere with ecomusicology as neatly as those of Schafer and others that followed from the acoustic ecology movement. Intrigued by this, I began to explore an approach that combined interdisciplinary ecocriticism (how the selected work illustrates environmental concerns and/or deals with nature) with sound studies (how the sounds of a work are heard, how the sounds interact with the world, and beyond). In this way, I hope to help contribute to a growing dialogue between the two often overlapping complex fields. This paper comes from coursework and research compiled from 2014-2015. The project has since evolved, leading to a presentation on Neuhaus’s Sirens project at the Society for American Music annual meeting in 2016 (Boston) and continuing into my dissertation research.

Fascinated with the idea of Neuhaus writing an op-ed piece about noise and its regulation, I began to read more about noise abatement. I soon began to wonder, how is noise determined? How is it controlled? Who or what is making noise? Who gets the power to control noise? Goldsmith (2012) discusses the long and complex history of noise, the relationship between society and noise, the control of noise, and the use of noise as weapon or protest. The power dynamics of noise control date back to the Greeks. The word “noise” derived from the Latin word “nausea,” meaning seasickness, which evolved into the English definition of noise as an “unwanted or disturbing sound,” which is unwanted when it interferes with quality of life. With the passing of the Noise Control Act (1972), the EPA strived to reduce noise pollution in urban areas and to minimize noise-related psychological and physiological impacts on humans, effects on wildlife and property, and other issues. The agency was also assigned to run experiments to study the effects of noise. These initiatives were a reflection of the greater American concern with urban planning. The government’s negative response to noise created opportunities for sound artists and musicians to combat or defend the acts in unique ways.

During the early 20th century, definitions of noise within western art music have varied from the futurists to John Cage. Futurist composers and artists glorified the industrial sounds from their time and encouraged others to take part in the new sonic experiences, as explained in Filippo Tommaso Marrinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto” from 1909. By the 1950s, advances in electronic instruments allowed for sonic explorations made by Varèse, Cage, Stockhausen, and others (Ouzounia 2013, 89). John Cage’s definitions of music, sound, and noise changed throughout his lifetime, but in his 1937 “The Future of Music: Credo” he wrote on the incorporation of noise within music:

I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the use of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored….Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. (Cage 1937, 3)

By the end of his life in 1992, he stated:

They say, “you mean it’s just sounds?” thinking that for something to just be a sound is to be useless, whereas I love sounds just as they are, and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are. I don’t want them to be psychological. I don’t want a sound to pretend that it’s a bucket or that it’s president or that it’s in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound. (Cage 1992)

Thus, Cage saw sound, noise, and music as fluid based upon artistic intention. Similarly, Neuhaus, a friend, admirer, and performer of Cage’s works, dealt with the meaning of sound and noise through audience interaction.

On the afternoon of March 27, 1966, Neuhaus took his audience outside of the concert hall when he met a group of participants who had been invited by word-of-mouth in the Lower East Side. They met to experience a “Concert of Traveled and Traveling Music” with Neuhaus leading them around this neighborhood to listen to their surrounding environment, hearing sounds from a rumbling power plant, highways, river, people in the streets, and so on. The Sunday afternoon walk concluded at Neuhaus’s studio apartment, where he performed many works of his standard percussion repertoire (Dekleva 2003, 45). Neuhaus saw Listen as his “first independent work as an artist” (Neuhaus 1990, 1). Eventually, he stamped the participants on the hand with the word “LISTEN” instead of providing them with a program or itinerary. He recalled:

As a percussionist I had been directly involved in the gradual insertion of everyday sounds into the concert hall, from Russolo through Edgard Varèse and finally to John Cage where live street sounds were brought directly into the hall. I saw these activities as a way of giving aesthetic credence to these sounds – something I was all for. I began to question the effectiveness of the method, though. Most members of the audience seemed more impressed with the scandal of “ordinary” sounds placed in a “sacred” place than with the sounds themselves, and few were able to carry the experience over to a new perspective on the sounds of their daily lives. I became interested in going a step further. Why limit listening to the concert hall? Instead of bringing these sounds into the hall, why not simply take the audience outside? (Neuhaus, n.d.)

The piece included “do-it- yourself” versions, which involved Neuhaus printing posters or postcards “LISTEN,” instructing that they be placed in locations selected by the cards’ recipients (Neuhaus 1990, 1). This version required the audience to interact with the work, selecting locations where future listeners could experience sounds.

The largest iteration of the Listen series, however, was the 1974 editorial (Neuhaus 1990, 1). As Neuhaus saw it, “a million people” could have read the paper and been exposed to his ideas on listening and noise. Prior to writing the editorial, Neuhuas had encountered a pamphlet created by New York City’s Department of Air Recourses titled “Noise Makes You Sick,” which was disseminated along the streets and subway. While he agreed dangers to hearing could occur from listening to excessively loud sounds at prolonged levels, he criticized the pamphlet for making urban dwellers afraid of their sound environment. Neuhaus criticized the Department’s definition of noise as “any unwanted sound” and supported a more progressive attitude that human response to sound is socially conditioned and that no sound is “intrinsically bad.” He stated: “How we hear [sound] depends a great deal on how we have been conditioned to hear it.” Neuhaus feared the department’s attitude towards urban sounds and attempts at publicly controlling would only force their citizens to be anti-noise as well. He concluded his article by stating, “silencing our public environment is the acoustic equivalent of painting in black,” believing that if the urban sounds were oppressed, the true character of the urban sonic space would be as well (Neuhaus, 1974).

Robert A. Baron, author of the 1970 anti-noise book, The Tyranny of Noise, wrote to The New York Times in response to Neuhaus’s editorial. Baron stated:

Of course electronic percussionist Max Neuhaus does not like noise abatement. At one concert he added electronic amplification ‘so that not only the initial impact tore at the ears, but the echoes as well.’ No wonder he would have us believe excessive noise is harmless…Sound does affect the glands and internal organs…noise irritates, disturbs the sleep stages and awakens New Yorkers…Our ears are for hearing, and it is precisely for that reason that we must fight as hard as we can to protect them from hearing loss. And one source of hearing loss, it should be noted, is amplified music. (Baron, 1974)

Neuhaus was more bothered by the condemning attitude that all noise is “bad” than the physical symptoms of noise overload. This resonates with Jacques Attali’s analysis of the politics and discourse of noise as something that is affiliated with disruption, violence, and social deviance. Attali argues that the musical process of controlling noise mirrors the political process of structuring society (Attali 1977, 10). In this vein, Neuhaus’s editorial, and his Listen series as a whole, challenges listeners to expand their conception of music and sound and resist governmental efforts to control noise. His series ultimately could be read as an intervention against governmental or societal encroachments on how we as humans listen and interact in various sonic environments.

In his essay on the Listen series, Neuhaus recalled taking hundreds of students from a “university somewhere in Iowa” on a listening walk. The faculty was expecting a lecture and was outraged when Neuhaus took them out of the auditorium to walk and listen rather than speaking to the students about listening. Neuhaus recalled: “A number of years later, when Murray Schafer’s soundscape project became known, I am sure these academics didn’t have any problem accepting similar ideas” (Neuhaus 1990, 2). This statement shows Neuhaus’s Listen series may have predated Schafer’s conceptions and suggests Neuhaus’s awareness of Schafer’s soundwalking.

Already concerned with noise in his 1967 book, Ear Cleaning, Schafer offered ear training exercises not only to prepare his music students for contemporary music but also to get them thinking about the sounds they hear in connection with their environment. Schafer went on to create the World Soundscape Project, which surveyed sounds from across urban and rural areas within and outside of Canada. Coming from an anti-noise approach, Schafer, backed by the findings of the WSP, published The Book of Noise in 1970 and A Survey of Community Noise Bylaws in Canada in 1972. The Book of Noise served as an introduction to noise pollution on an international level and its impact on any citizen. Like Ear Cleaning, The Book of Noise was suitable for music education and children. A Survey of Community Noise Bylaws in Canada served as a compendium of noise regulations from Canadian cities, with commentaries and statistical analysis to guide the reader and even offer legal advice on ways to deal with noise on a local, municipal level.

Most well known is Schafer’s 1977 book, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. In this book, Schafer examines pre- and post- industrial soundscapes and puts forward methods of analyzing soundscapes. He discusses the evolution of nature and urban sounds as well as the perceptions and ideals connected to sound and music. In The Soundscape, Schafer also offers commentary on the soundwalk and how it may differ from a listening walk: “A listening walk and a soundwalk are not quite the same things…a listening walk is simply a walk with a concentration on listening…The soundwalk is an exploration of the soundscape of a given area using a score as a guide” (Schafer 1977, 212-213).

Schafer’s comments above seem to suggest that he may have been aware of Neuhaus and his Listen series. While Schafer explicitly differentiates listening walks from soundwalks, I believe that the two share strong commonalities even if their intentions were different. Schafer’s earlier goals were to help students clean their ears from noisy, unnatural, urban sounds that were polluting the once pure environment. His concern for noise pollution and environmental awareness contrasts with Neuhaus’s 1974 editorial. While both are dealing with similar concepts and influences, the two project their responses to listening in slightly different ways. Neuhaus’s listening walks explored the environment and the physical space the sounds were in. Neuhaus embraced the urban, post-industrial sounds within his city environment while Schafer placed more appreciation on “nature.” Some scholars, including David Toop (2010) and Steve Goodman (2010), have criticized Schafer’s idealized view of nature and see nature as a weapon of power. Tom Kohut questions the separation of urban/ modern sounds with rural/nostalgic sounds and discusses the use of nature as a weapon of power during noise abatement’s history, arguing that this served as a mode of social control (Kohut 2015, 5-8). This critique resonates with historical geographer Neil Smith’s views on the production and the exploitation of nature for the sake of bourgeois control and aligns with recent work by urban political ecologists intended to address the active role of the city in history (Smith 1990; Heynen, Kaika, and Swyngedouw 2006; Cronon 1995). We might even consider the overtones of Schafer’s ideals: his access to rural living and romanticizing of the wilderness could be seen as coming from a place of middle-class privilege, as Andra McCarney has suggested (McCartney 2014, 212-213).

Neuhaus’s Times Square is a great example of an interactive sound work that challenges the public’s definition of noise within a permanent space. In 1977, speakers were installed underground in Times Square for what would become Neuhaus’s best known permanent installation. Sounds “resembling the after ring of large bells” emerge from the subway grille as one walks through the middle of the triangular pedestrian area at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, between 46th and 45th streets (Tomkins 1988, 116). Metal sidewalk grates separate the area where the sounds emerge underground from the area where the pedestrians walk above. The sounds are created by amplifying the resonance of the space in a pre-existing ventilation chamber built below the street. Neuhaus linked underground electronic sound generators to a loudspeaker that resonates the exact frequencies of the chamber (Rockwell, 1987). What occurs is a meditative drone, although the amplified sounds differ slightly depending on the sounds moving around the chamber – altering depending on the location and perception of the pedestrian. The sounds blend into the rich energy and activities of the hectic city, and many passers-by are unaware of Neuhaus’s piece and dismiss the sound as the result of underground machinery.

The piece ran almost uninterrupted from 1977 until Neuhaus moved to Europe in 1992. Upon his return, the piece was reinstalled in 2002 and has been running twenty-four hours a day since his death in 2009, supervised by the Dia Art Foundation. The work is unmarked, which means the public becomes aware of the piece as they notice it, or as Neuhaus says, is “ready” to notice it (Loock 2005). Since it is permanent, it is inscribed in the social space and is in contact with millions of people, from different cultures, over decades on a daily basis. According to Ulrich Loock, a curator of the Kunsthalle in Bern, Times Square departs from traditional conceptions of music because Neuhaus separates sound from the dimension of time (Loock 2005). Even for those aware of Neuhaus’s work, the specific source of the continuous and unchanging sounds may remain a mystery. Continuing day and night, Times Square has little in common with a musical composition whose structure is articulated through time; instead, the formal boundaries that define Times Square are essentially spatial ones. The structure is open and the public may decide to experience the work for just a few seconds or for a longer period of time. The listener’s positions shape their experience of the work to a considerable degree. Times Square also differs from most concert performances in its ambient nature, disappearing into the city’s soundscape for those pedestrians who do not even recognize its existence.

Ulrich Loock wrote that “listening [and] perceiving in Neuhaus’s work is an activity, a question of orientation, of differentiating, of exploring, of shifting…” (Loock 2005). Neuhaus’s concern for the public’s shifting perspective of sound in a city resonates with Michel De Certeau’s ideas on the tactical uses of power in urban space. In Times Square, we see temporal and spatial dimensions continuously altered; the act of walking or driving through a city becoming variable due to the shift in spatial and aural perceptions of each individual. Times Square also emphasizes the tactical because it can only be experienced at ground or subterranean level, not accessible for those in the buildings above (De Certeau 1984, 91-92).

The place, Times Square, is a monument of historic, economic, and popular culture with 39 million visitors annually. Every day approximately 330,000 people, both locals and tourists, pass through the area (Owen 2013). It is a symbol of the intersection of homogenized commercialism with complex developmental histories of ownership, spatial control, and mobility. In this context, the meaning of Neuhaus’s piece is constantly in flux. In his New York Times review of the work, John Rockwell stated:

Times Square is so many things to too many people, but one thing it is to everybody is noise…but for those who listen closely, there is another kind of noise… not everybody realizes they’re in the presence of art, or of anything at all. Pedestrians routinely march across the grate without giving the slightest sign of recognition. But for others, the piece is an invitation to stop and contemplate with a sudden, almost furtive pleasure. (Rockwell, 1987)

Neuhaus’s Listen series, which included his listening walks and the “BANG, BOOooom, ThumP, EEEK, tinkle” editorial, and his Times Square all challenge boundaries that separate artistic mediums and disciplines. He raises the fundamental question of how we place and perceive works that call for the audience to experience a particular space or location through noise. Going beyond works meant to be appreciated in a concert hall, these works engage the public at large who interact with them in everyday life. Yet, his output connects to the public on a political level by opposing the subjection of all sounds as “noise” and rejecting the control of artistic and social norms. Neuhaus’s editorial in particular attacks the New York City Department of Air Control public policies by questioning what is agreeable sound. His emphasis on listening, moreover, may be seen as a more inclusive and early articulation of the attention to soundscapes later espoused by Murray Schafer and the acoustic ecology movement. Unlike Schafer, however, Neuhaus refused to qualify soundscapes and embraced all sound, even those that could easily be associated with excessive urbanization or deemed harmful to humans or other forms of life. Lastly, Neuhaus challenges us to re-think noise, making us confront it and reckon with its material and emotional effects, especially in the urban or otherwise developed soundscapes where much of humanity resides. Thus, complicating the history and legacy of Schafer’s soundwalks and focusing attention on Neuhaus, who offered an alternate discourse about how to approach noise and sound, offer particular nuances to the connections between sound studies and ecomusicology.


Papers from this panel:

1. Donna Lee Kwon, “Overlapping Ecomusicological Realms: Teaching Ecomusicology to Graduate Students through Collaborative Exploration”

2. Tanner Jones, “Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual”

3. Megan Murph, “Max Neuhaus’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise

4. Ben Norton, “Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music”


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DeCerteau, Michel. 1984. “Walking in the City.” In The Practice of Everyday Life, 91-110. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Dekleva, Dasha. 2003. “Max Neuhaus: Sound Vectors.” MA thesis, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cronon, William. 1995. “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, 69-90. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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Heynen, Nik, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swyngedouw, eds. 2006. In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism. London and New York: Routledge.

Kohut, Tom. 2015. “Noise Pollution and the Eco-Politics of Sound: Toxicity, Nature and Culture in the Contemporary Soundscape.” Leonardo Music Journal 25: 5-8.

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McCartney, Andra. 2014. “Soundwalking: Creating Moving Environmental Sound Narratives.” The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, 2: 212-237.

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—. 1990. “Listen.” Accessed on January 24, 2017.

—. n.d. “Walks.” Accessed on February 19, 2014.

Ouzounia, Gascia. 2013. “Sound Installation Art: From Spatial Poetics to Politics, Aesthetics to Ethics.” In Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience, edited by Georgina Born, 73-89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Owen, David. 2013. “The Psychology of Space – Can a Norwegian Firm Solve the Problems of Times Square.” New Yorker. January 21.

Ratcliffe, Carter. 1987. “Max Neuhaus: Aural Spaces.” Art in America 75(10): 154-63.

Rockwell, John. 1987. “Beneath a Street, Art Soothes.” The New York Times, November 10.

Schafer, Murray. 1970. The Book of Noise. Vancouver: Price Milburn.

—.1977. The Soundscape: The Tuning of the World. Vermont: Destiny Books.

—. 1988. The Thinking Ear: Complete Writings on Music Education. Canada: Arcana Editions.

Smith, Neil. 1990. Uneven Development: Nature, Capitol, and the Production of Space. Basil Blackwell Publishing.

Tomkins, Calvin. 1988. “HEAR.” New Yorker, October 24.

Toop, David. 2010. Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener. New York: Continuum.

World Soundscape Project. 1972. A Survey of Community Noise Bylaws in Canada. Burnaby:
Labatt Breweries of Canada.


Megan Murph is a Ph.D. candidate in Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of
Kentucky with a dissertation titled, “Max Neuhaus, R. Murray Schafer, and the Challenges of
Noise.” She has presented research at SAM, IASPM-Brazil, Acadprog (Dijon, France), SEM-
Midwest, AMS-South, DOPE (Dimensions of Political Ecology), Boston University’s Graduate
Student Conference, UK, LSU, USC-Upstate, and Brevard College. Megan has taught Creativity
and Innovation in Rock Music (MUS 222) and Introduction to Music (MUS 100). She served as
national student co-chair of the Society for American Music’s Student Forum and the President
of UK’s FOCUS (Graduate Music Research Association).

Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music

By Ben Norton



In this paper, I focus on “classic” or hardcore punk, a genre that has thus far been given relatively little attention in ecomusicology despite the fact that environmental themes are fairly common in the overt politics of the genre. Emerging out of the urban working class, punk has tended to exhibit populist themes.[1] While rightist and reactionary tendencies are not absent, the vast preponderance of this influence is of the leftist variety. Today, scholars of popular culture largely take for granted that punk has deep roots in situationism, anti-authoritarian socialism, and anarchism. Tricia Henry, writing at the zenith of influence of the hardcore punk scene in the late 1980s, noted that, like “members of earlier avant-garde movements, [punk musicians] were anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist” (Henry 1989, 1). Within this context, the expression of environmentalism in punk should not be surprising. The following constitutes a cursory survey of the employment of ecological themes in punk music.[2] While ecological themes can also be found in metal (including such sub-genres such as death metal, trash metal, black metal, doom metal, etc.) and hybrid metal/punk genres (including sub-genres such as metalcore, deathcore, mathcore, grindcore, crust punk, and more), here I focus mainly on analyzing environmental themes in the music of bands in the tradition of “classic” punk or hardcore punk.

While other spheres in punk, such as fashion, stagecraft, movement/gesture, and video production, are certainly relevant to the expression of environmental ideas, I have chosen to focus primarily on the lyrics and, to a lesser extent, their relationship to the music. In the examples here, I find that it is most effective to view the lyrics as the primary vehicle of extra-musical meaning. This is not to say that the music serves no larger dramatic purpose; the music may (and, in the punk tradition, typically does) affectively reflect the general meaning of the text, but rarely does it reflect individual words or more discrete units of meaning. Text painting is, for the most part, absent. The sound of a heartbeat may sporadically be implied with a dotted kick drum rhythm, yet this is the extent to which the music is used in this way. To my knowledge, no examples exist in the repertoire in which distorted guitars and growled vocals are supposed to depict, say, the screaming of the natural world, and of the life—human and non-human—within it, as it is destroyed. Along these lines, reading affective meaning from music and text relationships in punk is especially problematic because standard conventions of affect in Western art music (specifically of the classical and romantic periods) and some popular music genres simply do not translate in punk. Traditionally positive or “happy” attributes and aesthetics (such as consonance or smooth vocals and instrumentals) are intentionally rejected and subverted in punk and other similar genres. The highly distorted guitar, the shouted vocals, the dissonance, and the fast tempos are merely part of the musical style; together, they may imply a dark, foreboding, disconcerting mood, but they are generally not supposed to convey an extra-musical or programmatic narrative.

Methodologically, given the importance of the text in conveying environmentalist themes in much of this music, a more traditional, theoretical approach to musical analysis will not be employed here. While some attention will be paid to aspects of the musical style, my emphasis will be placed on interpreting lyrical texts and their attendant discourses within their historical, social and cultural contexts. (Full lyrics are provided in the Appendix.) In this way, my approach borrows techniques of lyrical analysis and interpretation used in popular music studies, musicology and ethnomusicology and is ecocritical in the way I view punk lyrics as texts that speak to humanity’s destructive impact on the environment. While my fellow contributors from Dr. Kwon’s seminar have similar contextual concerns and methods, my approach can be distinguished by its attention to the lyrics, which I argue are the most pertinent carriers of semantic meaning in regards to environmentalism in punk.


Environmental Themes in the Punk Tradition


I consider Crass to be the first punk band to employ environmental themes. As one of the earliest punk bands, Crass is arguably the most overtly political of the music’s progenitors. Formed in 1977 in the United Kingdom and disbanded by 1984, after facing legal trouble from the British government, the band released five studio albums: The Feeding of the 5000 (1978), Stations of the Crass (1979), Penis Envy (1981), Christ The Album (1982), and Yes Sir, I Will (1983). Although early punk music was certainly political, in its iconoclastic, anti-establishment perspective, one might say it was largely emotionally political, although not necessarily intellectually political. In less abstract terms, one might say early punk was a reaction against the status quo, but one that ultimately presented little alternative as to how one should address the criticized social issues, or, even more importantly, as to how to organize a society in which such ills are not present, aside from simply “rebelling.” This punk was largely about deconstruction, and not necessarily about construction. In contrast, Crass was prominent in constructing goals in which punk’s angst and endless energy could be manifested, directing it toward meaningful political activity instead of diverting it into drugs and self-destruction. Anarchism was seen as the motivating political philosophy. The realization of the goals of anti-authoritarianism, horizontalism, egalitarianism, and liberty were deeply planted as the very roots of the culture, buried firmly in the center of its very ideological and philosophical existence.

This is not to say that these punk musicians stopped raging against the machine; on the contrary, rebellion remained perhaps the most prominent discourse. Rather, it is to say that this raging was directed toward a particular goal. Anarcho-punk, a style of which Crass was one of the most important founding members, never firmly took hold in mainstream Western culture, but many of its ideas later trickled down into the wider punk tradition. The Clash, also formed in the U.K., albeit one year earlier, in 1976, also put politics up front in its music, but not to the degree of Crass and the anarcho-punk community. To Crass, the musical and the political were not separate entities. Their symbol (Figure 1)—the letters CRASS with a circle around the large letter A (creating a circle A, the most well-known symbol of anarchism), with a machine gun breaking on its triangular zenith—demonstrates that politics came first and foremost in their art. The band would often play shows surrounded by posters reading things like “No war,” “anarchy & peace,” and “Fight war not wars, destroy power not people.” The band spoke very openly about issues such as anarchism, socialism, pacifism, anti-capitalism, egalitarianism, feminism, anti-racism, non-human animal rights, environmentalism, direct action, and sexual liberation.

Musically, Crass characterized much of which is now firmly implanted in the punk tradition, including fast tempos, eschewing of tonality and harmonic movement, purposefully un-rehearsed and “raw” performances, non-technical instrumental parts, a Sprechstimme-esque vocal style etc. Crass, however, in its use of sound collages, spoken word performances, free improvisation, and other techniques associated with avant-garde music, was furthermore a founding figure in what is today called “art punk,” a sub-genre synthesizing avant-garde and punk music.

As has been the tradition in much of the punk community, Crass was not so much a clearly delineated band as a somewhat loose collection of musicians who played with each other at various times. Co-founders vocalist Steve Ignorant (born Steven Williams) and drummer and vocalist Penny Rimbaud (born Jeremy John Ratter) could perhaps be seen as the band’s permanent members, yet the lineup was fluid. Most notably, the band sometimes included two additional female vocalists, Even Libertine and Joy De Vivre [sic]. Women featured prominently in much early punk music. Unfortunately, as punk developed further, and especially after hardcore largely coalesced with metal, it came to be more male-dominated, even while bands continued to advocate for feminist messages and themes. Crass stood as an important early platform for the visibility of women in punk music.

Crass inspired a community of radical anti-capitalist, anti-war, intersectional activists around it; its legacy is still felt in many punk venues today, where members of leftist organizations often hand out pamphlets, brochures, fliers, and more. The band was operating in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a time before the environmentalist movement had come to the forefront of the leftist movement. Environmental themes are therefore not necessarily most prominent among those the band chooses to address; they are, nonetheless, still evident.

In the most prominent examples of environmental themes in Crass’ music, we can look to the band’s second album, Stations of the Crass (1979). Track 17, “Contaminational Power,” stands as a firm testament to the anti-nuclear movement of the time. In the song, nuclear power is seen as a potential “death shower”—for humans, animals, and for the environment more generally. The band censures the apology that nuclear power is justified in its provision of jobs for workers, seeing it as a disingenuous “gesture of equality,” a guarantee of employment in a capitalist system that is already rigged against the worker, and one that offers only temporary employment—as the use of nuclear power will turn us all into “rotting corpses, staring at each other to see who’ll make it first.”

The principal fear in “Contaminational Power,” as the title suggests, is that of nuclear contamination. In this approach, Crass sees the danger of nuclear power in that it “settles in your pores,” it pollutes all of nature, and poisons us in the process. Nuclear power is not simply about creating another source of electrical power, they insist; rather, it is another thinly-disguised form of militarization, serving and employed by those in power, at the expense of humans and the natural environment. According to the song, militarism will only “BLOW YOU RIGHT AWAY” (sic). In a theme common in much of Crass’ music, the band calls for action, asking its audience to get up and do something, to cause “a disturbance, cause a fucking noise.” In this song, Crass largely foreshadowed the ensuing powerful anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s. In this way, Crass joins a wide array of fellow punk bands who began speaking out (or better: screaming out) against social ills before they were in the discursive limelight.

In another environmentally-themed song off of this same album, “Mother Earth,” track 1, the band addresses the misogynistic underpinnings of human representations of nature, pointing out multiple levels of hypocrisy of the social order. Non-human nature is seen as a feminine entity, to be conquered, exploited, destroyed by and for humans. The natural world is devalued, just as, in a patriarchal society, “feminine” genders and sexualities are devalued. The band is specifically addressing an infamous incident on modern British culture: the torture and murder of five British children, from 1963 to 1965, by serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. The ways in which the British media treated Hindley exemplified a widespread underlying collective misogyny. Tabloids often referred to her as “the most evil woman in Britain” (BBC News 2002). In a remarkable display of overt sexism, she was often likened to Greek mythology’s Medusa. Helen Birch writes that Hindley had become “synonymous with the idea of feminine evil.” (Birch 1994, 32).

The reasons why Hindley came to commit such horrible atrocities were seemingly of no importance. The BBC notes “her supporters say she was coerced into her crimes” by Ian Brady, with whom she was infatuated. Brady, the man who largely inspired her to commit the crimes with him, was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the press. That Brady was probably a Nazi, having studied Mein Kampf and having read about Nazi atrocities with great interest, was ignored; instead, the media preferred speaking of the “evil” Hindley, constantly making references to her gender. Most of the mainstream press at the time conveniently glossed over Hindley’s horrific upbringing, beaten regularly by her violent alcoholic father, preferring instead to paint Hindley as inherently “evil.” In this way, the band criticizes what it sees as levels of intense hypocrisy: most superficially the hypocrisy of supposedly “goodly Christian people” wishing so much pain and suffering on another human being; but, even worse, the hypocrisy of those who, while “tear[ing] that women limb from limb,” beat, brutalize, and destroy their very own mother, Mother Earth. The band also espouses its pacifist beliefs, insisting “that violence has no end,” and that seeking violent retribution on a murderer only furthers the chain of violence.

Crass’ approach to environmental themes—as with most of those addressed in earlier forms of punk and metal—is ultimately an anthropocentric one. The environment is seen as a necessity for human survival, and thus as an extension of humanity. Later bands criticize environmental destruction in its own right, condemning the cost of non-human animal life and of the natural world as contemptible concerns in their own right.

Much of the lyrical content in the punk tradition, overall, is very direct. It is not that the text lacks subtlety; it is that the text is not supposed to be subtle. The ways in which these direct messages are communicated, nonetheless, differ greatly. Crass appeals to audiences, asking for them to take action, to get involved in direct action and change the world around them, but through a combination of poetry and prose. In some styles—especially more metal-influenced ones—this kind of pro-active approach is absent; instead, we are merely left with a dark, often pessimistic critique of the order of things. These musicians do not necessarily ask their audiences to try to change the world; they merely speak to the world’s horrors. These contrasting environmental approaches in punk are highly resonant with the classic ecocritical paradox in literature in that they vascilate between direct action and indirect witnessing.


Reagan Youth

Hardcore punk (often referred to simply as “hardcore”) is a later musical development that many see as the culmination of punk. Punk historian and music critic Steven Blush calls hardcore, which emerged in the late 1970s, the punk “extreme: the absolute most Punk” (Blush 2001, 18). As hardcore developed on the West Coast, Reagan Youth, a hardcore band based out of Queens, New York, along with a small wave of young punk bands, started an East Coast movement. Formed in 1980, Reagan Youth was an explicitly political collection of young anarchists, as their name suggests. (The name satirizes the Hitler Youth and deliberately associated Reagan with Hitler—as seen in one of the band’s album covers evince, in Figure 2).

Before breaking up in 1989 (coinciding with the end of Reagan’s presidential term), the band recorded its third album, Volume 2 (a sequel to the previous year’s Volume 1) and was released in 1990. Opening the album, Reagan Youth penned a somewhat environmentally themed song titled “It’s a Beautiful Day.” The song juxtaposes middle-class American suburban ideals of barbecues with both ecological destruction and the threat of military destruction. The song paints a picture of privileged Americans standing outside barbecuing hot dogs and burgers, listening to transistor radios, while fish “choke polluted water” and die from “toxic seebees, dumpin’ in our stream.” In the turn of the penultimate refrain, the scene swiftly darkens: “This time the hot dog is you.” A scene of military destruction by bomb comes into focus; the Americans become the hot dog, the beef; their political leaders and their spokesperson, the newsman, blame the destruction on “a failed negotiation.” Reagan Youth also juxtaposes ecological destruction with military destruction. In “It’s a Beautiful Day,” however, the average citizen is not a mere bystander; the average citizen is complicit, just as in Crass’ condemnation in “Mother Earth.”

Musically, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” exhibits a kind of binary repeated AB form, alternating between a satirical R&B style, including a melodic vocal line and guitar arpeggios, with hardcore punk sections, including a fast, driving drumbeat and distorted guitar power chords. This musical alternation serves as a kind of mimetic parallel to the textual alternation between scenes of suburban American dreams and suburban American destruction.

On the same album is “Acid Rain,” a track devoted entirely to the discussion of ecological themes. Like Crass, Reagan Youth expressed deep concerns about militarization and its destruction of the planet. In this song, the band depicts a dark, almost dystopian view of today. A little boy is advised not to go outside; his father warns him of acid rain and insists they hide in the basement and pray. The band then follows up in the second and final verse, pulling no punches: “The factories are dumping toxic poisons in your air. They’re gonna drop and kill you.” As anarchists, the band is, of course, referencing capitalism. The capitalist system, they explain, is “fucking up” itself, but it doesn’t care. The well-known quip—most often attributed to Lenin, although historians doubt the veracity of the attribution—comes to mind: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” In this way, a hardcore band like Reagan Youth was effective in shaping its environmental concerns into a larger systemic critique of capitalism.


Oi Polloi

Reagan Youth were by no means alone in the hardcore band scene in addressing environmental themes. Scottish band Oi Polloi made it one of the primary concerns in their music. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, while hardcore was developing on the West, and later, the East Coast of the U.S., the Oi! movement was developing in the U.K. The Oi! movement inspired a number of bands and was largely an attempt to bring the punk movement, which was seen as having drifted toward more educated, intellectual segments of the population, back to its working-class roots. Musically, this meant returning to a “simpler” style, even sometimes drawing from British folk musics. Oi! bands, however, are more difficult to characterize than many other sub-genres of punk because they were politically more complex than other styles. For example, Oi! was rather unique in its attempts to welcome the skinhead community, the two of which were, at this time, largely separate. The politics of the skinhead movement were even more convoluted and varied. With origins in Jamaican music and black British immigrant populations, the scene began largely diverse, internationalist, and leftist (its earliest manifestations were even black nationalist in character). In the early 1980s, as the skinhead and punk scenes began to coalesce, more radical leftist punk influences trickled in. In response, many Oi! bands that started out apolitical began to turn to the right. A minority of skinheads (mostly white, but even, at first, including some black skinheads) in the late 1960s had become right-wing extremists, notorious for participating in hate crimes against South Asian immigrants, which racist skinheads colloquially called “Paki bashing” (Brown 2004, 157-61). (It is for this small contingent, and for the mainstream media’s exaggeration of their influence, that the skinhead movement has its largely negative reputation today.)

An overtly racist, white supremacist, nationalist, and neo-Nazi skinhead faction began to emerge and develop throughout the 1970s, forming in 1978 a loose group of bands under the moniker Rock Against Communism (RAC). The skinhead movement grew in tandem with the resurgence of white supremacist movements in the U.S. and in other parts of Western Europe. RAC shared stylistic similarities (and even philosophical similarities, in the desire to return to a “simpler” kind of music) with the Oi! movement, the latter of which was still largely comprised of militant anti-racist, internationalist leftists (Marshall, 1991, 143). When the Oi! movement wanted to reach out to anti-racist skinheads, in order to build a larger working-class base, it had to deal with this right-wing contingent. It was in response to this growing right-wing threat that punks and leftist skinheads in the U.K. organized Red Action, in 1981, and Anti-Fascist Action, in 1985; and in the U.S. organized Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), in 1987, and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) in the late 1980s (Brown 2005, 170). These organizations, through acts of intimidation and interruption, sometimes even resorting to violence, at shows and outside of shows, forced the right-wing contingents underground (to the point that many racist skinhead groups could only organize and conduct concerts in secret, afraid to be disrupted by leftist anti-racist skinhead and punk organizations). In 1993, the anti-racist, socialist, intersectional feminist Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH) formed in the U.S.; since then, it has spread globally, and dominates much of the contemporary skinhead movement.

Oi Polloi developed in 1981, in the middle of this political subcultural turbulence. The skinhead movement in Scotland and northern England had been largely anti-racist and leftist in its political orientation so the band did not deal significantly with racism. Like the rest of the anarchist community, Oi Polloi spoke out vehemently against racism, sexism, cisheterosexism, capitalism, fascism, and imperialism. The band celebrated Anti-Fascist Action at its shows, and encouraged audience members to “smash the fash” (smash fascism). Ecological themes, nonetheless, became perhaps the groups’ primary concern, with members inviting listeners to become part of Earth First!, the radical environmental organization. In concerts and songs, the band would urge the audience to participate in environmentalist activism and direct action, adopting as its motto “No Compromise in Defence of Our Earth.”

Since 1981, Oi Polloi has released over 20 albums (often split with other punk bands), many of which are explicitly environmentalist in nature. Its 1986 album Resist the Atomic Menace (and its title track) displayed a cover depicting Death, scythe in hand, looking down at a tube of nuclear waste pouring a pollutant into the water (Figure 3). Its 1986 album Unlimited Genocide includes songs titled “Go Green,” “You Cough/They Profit,” and “Nuclear Waste” and its 1987 album with Toxik Ephex, Mad As Fuck L.P., includes songs like “No Filthy Nuclear Power.”

Oi Polloi’s 1990 album In Defence of Our Earth devoted itself largely to further exploration of environmental themes, including songs titled “Whale Song”; “Anarcho-Pie,” a long, detailed recipe for a vegan pie; and “What Have We Done?”, a reflection on how much humans have destroyed the natural world (“Pollute and kill – Is that all that mankind can do?”, the song concludes). The opening song, titled “Thin Green Line,” situates the “thin red line” idiom (referring originally to the way the British press romanticized the 25 October 1854 Battle of Balaclava) in a contemporary environmental context, with activists standing as the small line of soldiers defending the planet against complete ecological destruction. The band begins “Thin Green Line” by setting up the urgency of the situation. We are into “the nineties, running out of time.” They are, however, not pessimistic about the future. “Extinction of our planet has already begun but don’t let them tell you nothing can be done,” they insist. A battle is being waged, and they, the green line, can ensure that it is won. “Some of us are angry and fighting back. Non-violent direct action is a means of attack.” Like Crass, and unlike Reagan Youth, Oi Polloi turns the song into a call for action. Listeners are urged to engage in non-violent direct action to save the planet from ecological destruction by greed-filled humans. “Eco-sabotage in the dead of night” is called for; the band goes through a list of prominent Earth First! tactics, including trashing nuclear plant sites; “sab the hunt,” i.e. sabotaging and interfering with hunting activities; smashing bulldozers and destroying corporate equipment; and putting sugar in gas tanks. The band understands that they could face legal repercussions from the state for engaging in these actions, but they “don’t care if that’s what it takes to save the whales … our Earth, [and] the wilderness land.”

In the closing song of the album, “World Park Antarctica,” the band continues these calls to action to save the planet—and the non-human life within —from destruction. Analytical bent is largely lacking from much of Oi Polloi’s music. Instead of addressing why things are the way they are, the band prefers a pragmatic approach, responding to contemporary ills and how to address and allay them. In this song, nonetheless, they begin explaining the reason “wilderness had to die” was because of “naked greed.” In “World Park Antarctica,” the band speaks ominously of Antarctica transformed into a world park, a mere object of exploitation of corporate power. Corporations “rape and plunder whatever they find – sea polluted and minerals mined. Poisoned animals slowly die as they suck Antarctica dry.” Again, the band insists, “Mass action could stop them – but you’ve got to start it.” The song stresses the responsibility of the individual listener in this call to action and save the environment from corporate plunder. “So will you really just stand by and watch the last great wilderness die?” Vocalist Deek Allen (the only permanent member of the band, having gone through over 50 members in the past 30 years) then moves to a spoken-word section, detailing in prose the extent to which greed has rendered the planet polluted and lifeless. He insists, “unchallenged, such commercial exploitation will simply kill this continent. Then, governments and multinationals will move on, leaving it poisoned and scarred.” Ultimately, his insistence shifts responsibility to the listener to prevent this ecocidal insanity; “only one thing stands in their way – you.”


Concluding Thoughts

In both the “Thin Green Line” and “World Park Antarctica,” Oi Polloi stress the destructive nature of humankind. They gesture towards an ideological stance where humans are no longer the primary locus of ecological concern. In this way, Oi Polloi – and to a lesser extent Reagan Youth – presaged an anti-anthropocentric discourse that took hold later in more metal-influenced versions of punk. This significant shift is resonant with changes occurring in the radical environmentalist movement at the time. Oi Polloi insisted that it is humans who are destroying the natural world, murdering all non-human life in it. Other bands tried to remove humans almost entirely from the picture, which led to an “anarcho-primitivism” movement in the 1980s that romanticized pre-industrial life. “Primitivism” (admittedly an unfortunate designation) became highly influential in many forms of punk and metal—especially in black metal. In some more metal-influenced subgenres of hardcore, including metalcore and grindcore, the anthropocentric condition is almost completely abandoned, often substituted instead for what could even be considered an overtly misanthropic perspective. Regrettably, this is not the space to further explore these trends but it does certainly point to an area of future ecomusicological research.

In the brief survey presented here, my main goal has been to dispel certain popular misconceptions about punk music, demonstrating that the thematic relationship between humans—or more specifically industrial, capitalist human civilization—and the environment is not a mere outlier for this genre. Within this sample of three prominent bands, for example, we can see that issues of political ecology and environmental justice were central themes that certainly had an influence on others in the punk movement. Through an understanding of this thematic legacy and its historical context, a more thorough picture of metal and punk music becomes clear, one that should be recognized as a significant form of sonic activism, raging against a world of ever-increasing environmental degradation and destruction.




Papers from this panel:

1. Donna Lee Kwon, “Overlapping Ecomusicological Realms: Teaching Ecomusicology to Graduate Students through Collaborative Exploration”

2. Tanner Jones, “Military Expansion on the ‘Island of Peace’: Protest Through Ritual”

3. Megan Murph, “Max Neuhas’s Sound Works and the Politics of Noise

4. Ben Norton, “Thin Green Line: Environmental Politics and Punk Music”



Birch, Helen. 1994. “If Looks Could Kill: Myra Hindley and the Iconography of Evil.” In Moving Targets: Women, Murder, and Representation, edited by Helen Birch, 7-32. Oakland: University of California Press.

Blush, Steven. 2001. American Hardcore: a Tribal History. Los Angeles: Feral House.

—. 2007. “Move Over My Chemical Romance: The Dynamic Beginnings of US Punk.” Uncut, January.

Brown, Timothy. 2004. “Subcultures, Pop Music and Politics: Skinheads and ‘Nazi Rock’ in England and Germany.” Journal of Social History 38(1): 157-178.

Henry, Tricia. 1989. Break All Rules: Punk Rock and the Making of a Style. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press.

Glasper, Ian. 2009. Trapped in a Scene: UK Hardcore 1985-1989. London: Cherry Red Books.

BBC News. 2002. “Myra Hindley: A hate figure.” Accessed January 5, 2017.

Marshall, George. 1991. Spirit of ’69 – A Skinhead Bible. Dunoon, Scotland.



Crass. Stations of the Crass. Crass Records 521984. 1979, double LP.

Reagan Youth. Volume 2. New Red Archives NRA12. 1990, LP.

Oi Polloi. Resist the Atomic Menace. Endangered Musik EDR 5. 1986, EP.

—. Unlimited Genocide. Children of the Revolution Records GURT 12. 1986, LP.

—. In Defence of Our Earth. Words of Warning WOWLP10. 1990, LP.

Oi Polloi / Toxik Ephex. Mad As Fuck L.P. Green Vomit Records, Puke 2½. 1987, LP.



[1] Historically speaking, punk grew out of working-class, predominately white, largely male subcultures. The subject of race and gender in this music is unfortunately beyond the scope of this research. That the music—and its more overtly political strands in particular—has had immense, indelible influences from women and people of color (especially African Americans) goes without saying. At the expense of grossly over-simplifying the subject, for the purposes of this work, it can be assumed that much of the music and its concomitant cultural scenes addressed herein will be dominated by white males.

[2] For the purposes of this paper, I use the terms “environmental” and “ecological” essentially synonymously. I furthermore employ “the natural world” and “non-human nature” roughly synonymously. Specific nomenclative discussion and delineation of the terms’ distinct denotative and connotative significances, although important, is unfortunately not permissible within the confines of this work.


Ben Norton is a Ph.D. candidate in musicology and ethnomusicology. He is done with his course
work, and will be working on a dissertation about progressive math metal. Ben completed B.A.s
in film, television, and digital media and Spanish while also pursuing concurrent graduate work
in composition and musicology at the University of Kentucky. A composer and musician in
addition to an ethnomusicologist, he writes in a variety of styles, particularly jazz and avant-
garde art music, and has an avant-garde metal solo project called Peculate. On the side, Ben is
also a political journalist and has written for a variety of publications.

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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