Listening to Art 01.03, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888) recorded on the “Mystical Landscapes” tour while at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 29 December 2016, is now out.
The next issue, on 01 July, will be van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), recorded at its home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It’s interesting to compare them.
I adjusted the levels in the recordings and the audio sounds better now. If you have any problems with the podcast feed or the audio files, please let me know.
The next two issues (01.03 on 13 June and 01.04 on 01 July) are devoted to related paintings by Vincent van Gogh. Issues 01.05–01.08 will be of works by the same artist and will appear in July and August.
The issues are available as podcast feeds as medium-quality MP3s or high quality FLAC files. I’ve tested them in different platforms with different podcast aggregators, and they should work everywhere, but if not, please let me know.
I conceived the project last year and started making the field recordings last summer, but wasn’t sure how to manage and release it until listening to 25 Minutes of Silence gave me the idea of doing things one by one in podcast form. For that I thank Joey Clift.
Jeremy Scahill: This week, my friend, Leo Heiblum, is visiting New York. Leo is originally from Mexico, and he is an incredible musician and composer. He and I got to know each other several years ago when Leo was working with the actor Gael García Bernal on a documentary film about a undocumented immigrant who makes a journey through Central America and ends up in the United States, and then is found dead in the Arizona desert. That film was called “Who is Dayani Cristal?” It’s a great film. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. Well, Leo did the score and the music for that excellent film. And then this other musical artist, singer/composer Tenzin Choegyal, who is a Tibetan living in exile — they met each other just the other night. And then they came into our studio to perform together, and — well, I’ll just shut up, and I’ll let them introduce themselves and the song that they’re gonna share with us.
Leo Heiblum: My name is Leo Heiblum, and I’m from Mexico City — “Chilango” from Mexico.
Tenzin Choegyal: I’m Tenzin Choegyal, a Tibetan in exile and now living in Australia.
Leo Heiblum: I am staying at Philip Glass’ house here in New York, which is where I usually stay, and that’s a great place to meet friends and musicians. And I was just there with my instrument and playing the tabla, and Tenzin came, and we just started jamming. And now we’re playing together.
I imagine that if one ever stays at Philip Glass’s house that is exactly the kind of thing that happens.
The whole episode is worth listening to, but if you just want to get to their performance of The Partisan (made famous, at least to me, by Leonard Cohen), then jump to about 20 minutes in.
I was at Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium, 2017 on 13–14 May. I’ll be posting more about it soon, but here is the audio and text of the five-minute talk I gave: “GHG.EARTH.” I was delighted to be there. My thanks to Rory Litwin, Madeleine Charney and Casey Davis Kaufman for organizing it.
I have five minutes.
Before I start: this talk is CC-BY; it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Minute five. Introduction.
Hello. I’m William Denton, a librarian at York University in Toronto, Canada. I’m going to talk about GHG.EARTH. GHG is for “greenhouse gases” and EARTH is for “earth.”
This is a web site. But do not look at it right now! Please get ready to look at it. Open a tab in a browser (Chrome or Firefox, any device), type in GHG.EARTH, but don’t hit Enter yet. Do not hit Enter! Wait until minute four.
Some background. I’ve been working on sonifications, turning data into sound. Climate change research produces a lot of data, especially time series, and it’s interesting and useful to turn that into sound or music. Sonifying atmospheric carbon dioxide you hear the yearly fluctuations as the northern hemisphere takes in carbon in the summer and releases it in the winter. And you hear the rise, year after year, of the greenhouse gases we are adding to the atmosphere. Sonifying long time series of climate data makes very clear the sudden changes we have caused since industrialization.
GHG.EARTH, however, just does one thing. It plays yesterday. It turns yesterday’s CO2 measurement into sound.
Minute four. Now we’re going to perform it.
Get ready: when I say “now,” hit Enter. You’ll see a number and you’ll hear a sound. At the end of the minute I’ll count down to five, then please close the tab. Everybody ready? Now!
[At the end of the minute, count down: five, four, three, two, one, STOP.]
Thank you for the performance.
3: The Number
Minute three. The number.
The number is yesterday’s CO2 reading, in parts per million (ppm), taken at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This is where the famous Keeling Curve is from. A script scrapes the data every day from its web site. Follow the details link for the code and everything else.
The usual estimate is that before the Industrial Revolution CO2 was at 280 ppm. We’re over 400 now, and it won’t go back under in our lifetimes.
IPCC models make predictions about how much CO2 will be in the air depending on different actions we take. In the best-case scenario emissions peak very soon, then decline, and by about 2070 we’re actually removing CO2 from the air. In that case in 2100 we’ll be at about 420 ppm.
In the worst-case scenario, by 2100 we’re at 936 ppm, which would mean unprecedented global catastrophe.
So far we have consistently been beyond the worst-case scenario. There is no indication that will change.
2: The Sound
Minute two. The sound.
This is a composition. The score is: “Play the tone (Hz) equal to the atmospheric CO2 concentration (ppm).” There is no end specified. There is no arrangement or instrument specified. Anyone can play this for as long as they want, however they want, wherever they want. Like we just did.
A piano has just over seven octaves, with pitches from 27.5 Hz to almost 4200 Hz. All current and historical CO2 readings map to a pitch somewhere in that range. 440 ppm, for example, is A above middle C, “concert pitch”—what an orchestra plays when it tunes up.
280, the pre-industrial number, is a C#, the black key above middle C in the fourth octave of the piano.
410, where we are now, is a little higher, just below G#.
420, best case, is just over G#, still in the same octave.
936 is an octave up, into the fifth octave, at A#5. That is incredibly, dangerously high.
It’s hard to hear the day-to-day changes in GHG.EARTH because it’s microtonal. I’ve never been able to remember yesterday well enough to distinguish it from today, but I keep trying.
1: One Octave to Live In
Minute one. One octave to live in.
Doubling the frequency makes a pitch go up one octave. 440 is A in the fourth octave and 880 is A in the fifth octave. The musical scale is a geometric progression. It’s exponential.
An arithmetic progression is linear: it changes by the same amount every time. Annual CO2 concentration is almost arithmetic. It actually grows slightly differently every year, 2 or 3 ppm, but close enough.
The two numbers, the musical and the atmospheric, are literally working on different scales.
That means we only have one octave to live in. That fourth octave on the piano, from middle C up to B, that’s where we have to stay.
Pre-industrial we were at C#. Now we’re getting close to G#. All of human existence has been in just a few piano keys above middle C. We need to stay there. We definitely do not want to get into the next octave, which starts at about 525.
But that’s long term. GHG.EARTH is there to tell us what CO2 concentration sounds like right now. Play it in the background, quietly, and after a while it will fade out of your attention. You’ll start thinking about other things, but then it will come back—sharply. You’ll remember what it means, and you’ll remember the situation we are in.
In a recent article for the Journal of Radical Librarianship—this is a real publication, launched in 2014 by the Radical Librarians Collective, now three peer-reviewed volumes in—she and another Canadian library scholar outline the case against Little Free Libraries, diving deep into mapping data, network effects, and recent library history to make their stand.
In a study published in the Journal of Radical Librarianship, which is real, Ryerson librarian Jane Schmidt and University of Toronto reference specialist Jordan Hale argue that the neighbourhood mini-libraries don’t live up to their stated goals.
“This is a real publication.” “Which is real.”
Damn straight librarians get radical.
This smug condescension is very disappointing, especially coming from the Star, which has pretensions to socially progressive attitudes. There are radical librarians. There have been all through the last hundred and fifty years or so, since libraries began to take the form they have now. I’m not going to try to assemble a list or a bibliography, but librarians (and our friends the archivists) have been standing up to bullshit and repressive politics for a long time. At root, I think, is a common belief: “There’s this material the government doesn’t want you to see, but we saved a copy, and you’re free to look at it. Anonymously, at no charge. I’ll be sitting over there, and when you want to know how to cite it, or wonder why this is happening in a supposedly free society, please come on over.”
Librarians and archivists don’t sneer at the idea of “radical journalism.” We know it exists. We collect it and preserve it. Give us the same respect, journalists. No more smug attitudes smearing an entire profession based on a vague outdated memory you have from childhood. That nice librarian in your high school probably thought the same thing we do now: that everyone should have free access to the entirety of human artistic, cultural and scientific output.
CO: People have pointed out in some of the reaction to your piece that if you go and open those little houses and look inside it’s quite often quite a pathetic collection. It doesn’t seem to be a real genuine threat to what libraries are providing.
JS: Exactly, right. I think that’s kind of the other thing. We didn’t want to pick on that too much.
CO: Oh, you can.
JS: It is what it is. But, again, if you get back to what we were really trying to focus on with the Little Free Libraries corporation — like the non-profit — they speak very highly of what they’re doing and the impact that they’re having on the community, but … I was like, “Have you looked inside one of them lately?”
Finally, for Jane’s response to all the heat she’s been taking (on social media, I guess, which I don’t read any more), see Oh hello there, LFL® supporters.
You can disagree with us. That’s okay. But similarly, we can disagree with you too. That’s also okay.