Sounding the Anthropocene in the Arctic Ocean – the gut of the sea

Can we hear the Anthropocene in the ocean?

We are often enough offered visions of what the Anthropocene looks like. Starving polar bears and raging bush fires are pretty well emblematic of our epoch, to name just two potent images of anthropogenic crisis. We are less often offered a ‘vision’ of what the Anthropocene sounds like.

As I get further into my current PhD research into world politics after the human – working through multiple forms of extinction – I have been thinking about how to bring my other background as a composer into this. The sound of the Anthropocene seems like a good place to start.

During the summer of 2019, I composed a new work for euphonium, tuba, and electronics that asks how we situate the hearing and noisemaking human subject in the sound-world of the ocean. Composed for the Toronto Creative Music Lab, the gut of the sea features a languorous brass duo that courses through a dense ambient soundscape of deep ocean currents, calving icebergs, and blue whale songs, blurring the lines between human music and nonhuman sound. Using found recordings of whales from deep sea hydrophone arrays, microphones bored into icebergs, and recordings of melting glaciers, I created a work that submerges the sound of the brass instruments within strange and morphing sounds of the Arctic Ocean.

The piece is the beginning of what I hope will be a broader project – which I am  tentatively calling Finishing Sound – that asks two major questions about music in the Anthropocene: what will the death of music sound like? Can we understand nonhuman noise-making as music? Really what I mean by this is to ask in the gut of the sea is: does the ocean sing? This project will ultimately seek insight into the preconditions of a more-than-human or posthuman music, which I hope may hold insight into how musicians can create truly ecological music today, as well speculating on the future of music.