Integrating science, music, and cultural inquiry, the Coastal Futures Conservatory creates ways of listening to coastal change. Our collaborations seek immersive forms for understanding the relations through which coasts are being remade. This album extends an invitation to listen into the future of a rapidly changing coast, with a promise that the listening itself can be a restorative act.
An ever-shifting border world of sea and land, a sea-tangled1 liminal zone where ocean and continent play through their meeting, the word “coast” already includes change in its concept. Shorelines are always being remade, so referring to coastal change can seem a redoubled concept – as if, flux of the flux-zone. Yet it rightly connotes that conditions by which coastal dynamics have played out are increasingly influenced by anthropogenic vectors and planetary forcings, which enter into complex regional combinations, relations, and becomings. Imagining “coastal futures,” then, involves scales and complexities that seem to confound comprehension. That is a central Anthropocene challenge: proliferations of scale and temporality that exceed inherited ways of making sense of our environments, and novel assemblies of relation that frustrate capacities to take responsibility for them.
Music can encompass complexities of time and scale and can express unresolved assemblies of relation. The Conservatory was founded as a partnership between music and environmental humanities scholars with scientists of the Virginia Coast Reserve — a U.S. National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Long-term ecological research investigates patterns of change in particular sites over decades, which increasingly involves research on interactions between anthropogenic planetary shifts and regional systems. Ecoacoustics follows sound through ecological relations as to interpret environmental changes. Environmental humanities investigate environmental change through the archives and tools of cultural memory. A conservatory can mean a school of music, a greenhouse, or a cultural archive. We draw on all three meanings by centering ecoacoustic methods to stimulate holistic, science-based inquiry into coastal change in ways that engage cultural meaning-making.
“Music is a conservation strategy for keeping something alive that we now need,” writes David Dunn, “a way of making sense of the world from which we might refashion our relationship to nonhuman living systems.”2 We share the premise that listening across disciplines and into coastal lifeworlds can open possibilities for recomposing the relations of coastal systems. But conservation does not seem the right concept for attending to the scales and complexities already remaking coastal futures because it suggests retaining something given and potentially changeless. Responding well to coastal change will necessarily be an improvisation with changing relationships, a composition undertaken with many other change agents also making coastal futures.
SOUNDSCAPES OF RESTORATION is composed through three senses of restoration:
First, several pieces work with the soundscapes and sonified data sets of two signature ecological restoration projects in the Virginia Coast Reserve: one focused on oyster reefs and one underwater seagrass meadows. Both enhance resilience to climate change and both figure in coast-focused projects of negative emissions, or what is sometimes called “climate restoration.”
Second, each piece offers a form of cognitive restoration. The tracks restore the mind’s attention to world-making practices of non-human organisms, beings, and forces. “Arts of attentiveness remind us that knowing and living are deeply entangled,” write scholars of multispecies studies, “and that paying attention can and should be the basis for crafting better possibilities for shared life.”3 Developed from immersion — both aqueous and intellectual — into coastal lifeworlds, the “arts of attentiveness” in this album restore possibilities of understanding the living world that have been lost or missed.
Third, the album explores lines of future-oriented cultural restoration. Anthropocene relations that threaten to overwhelm cultural capacities to make sense of our worlds. “Response-ability” is Donna Haraway’s lead concept for the cultural task of inventing ways to live through Anthropocene relations: “nurturing capacities to respond, cultivating ways to render each other capable.”4 These compositions create ways to experience changing relations and compose futures within them.
Listening can help develop all three kinds of restoration. Acoustic methods of investigation have led to scientific discoveries about — for example — seagrass interaction with greenhouse gasses. Listening to the sonified data of those interactions on the track Dreams of Seagrasses opens cognitive and cultural possibilities of composing responses. And in listening well we prepare to respond to some other, quieting ourselves to attend to them, anticipating a future that might be made with them. “Listening is the invisible and inaudible enactment of the ethical relation itself,” writes the philosopher Lisbeth Lipari; “Upon it, everything depends.”5
This album emerges from research exchanges that have produced scientific papers, museum installations and art exhibitions, literary and philosophical studies, and community-led research. For each piece you will find a “composition note” written with the artist explaining how the track was made, followed by a “listening note” connecting ideas across tracks and inviting reflection.
– Willis Jenkins
1A word from James Joyce, to which we were introduced by Nicholas Allen: Ireland, Literature, and the Coast: Seatangled. Oxford University Press, 2020.
2Dunn, David. “Nature, sound art, and the sacred.” The Book of Music and Nature (1997): 97.
3Van Dooren, Thom, Eben Kirksey, and Ursula Münster. “Multispecies Studies Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities 8.1 (2016): 1-23.
4Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016: 8. 5Lipari, Lisbeth. Listening, thinking, being: Toward an ethics of attunement. Penn State Press, 2015: 204.