New metaphors for sustainability: song

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Sue Palmer, an artist making live and digital work with people and place, and author of inquiline, a blog on botany and art, suggests song as a metaphor for sustainability.

the extraordinary song:often straightforward, yet infinitely complex

the diversity (how many millions have been created)

the particularity (each one individual)

a structure enabling brilliant inventiveness

often a voice and an instrument

two kinds of sounds, working

my musician friend John talks about chords as metaphors

about how two ‘discordant’ tones are shifted

through the addition of a third note, bringing resolve

songs are free, and they can make someone a living

they help people make it through the day, and night

songs have changed peoples’ minds

a song can contain a lot of information, honed,

ideas packed in language,

rhythm, rhyme

there’s craft in it, and anyone can do it

there’s multiple ways to begin, and a sense when it’s complete


verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus,


and key change, ‘ad lib to fade’

the pleasure of the repetition, letting the song free up, go

When I think of sustainability, I usually think of losing things, resources, capacity, and I find my materially-centred thought frustrating.

‘If anything, I wanted to understand things and then be free of them. I needed to learn how to telescope things, ideas. Things were too big to see all at once, like all the books in the library – everything laying around on all the tables. You might be able to put it all into one paragraph or into one verse of a song if you could get it right’, Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, 2004.

photo: by Orelie Grimaldi of John Cartwright playing C#m7

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ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

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