conscient podcast: Sounding Modernity

Note : Une version en français de cet article est disponible sur : xx

Territorial Acknowledgement
I acknowledge that I live, learn and unlearn in the unceded and unsurrendered Territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation, whose presence in the Ottawa region reaches back to time immemorial. This acknowledgement is also a commitment to act upon the many recommendations in public reports such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

sounding is a reflexive engagement with a location through a process of active listening that prioritizes being-in-the-world.

David Beattie, in his Forward to ‘Listening to Places’ by composer Robin Parmar

Background
Photography exercise made during the Facing Human Wrongs course. July, 2022, Duhamel, Quebec (photo by Claude Schryer)

On February 8, 2022, when I published episode 99, Winter Diary Revisited, of the conscient podcast, I mentioned that I was taking a break to study decolonization and, among other things, to ‘learn to unlearn’.

I did this. 

On March 15, 2022 I wrote a posting for the Artists and Climate Change website called Rise Up, Dissent, and Disassemble, where I suggested that ‘the arts sector has the capacity to shift people’s hearts and minds and will be central to a transformation agenda’ about the ecological crisis.

I stand by this. 

On June 6, 2022, I posted this statement on social media 

‘I’m not sure if or when I’ll produce more conscient podcasts. I don’t see the point of sharing more info or awareness. What interests me now, inspired by Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, is how to transition out of modernity through metabolic connections. Not sure what that sounds like, yet…’

I do now (or at least I’ve figured out a way to explore it).

What is Sounding Modernity?

On September 16, 2022, I had the privilege of receiving a Canada Council Strategic Innovation Fund Seed grant to produce season 4 of my conscient podcast called ‘Sounding Modernity : weekly 5-minute sound art works in 2023’, published on Sundays, from January 1 to December 31, 2023, in English and in French.

Each episode explores a complex issue and includes a question for listeners to respond to in any way they wish, with words, images, sound, video, etc. through the conscient website or on conscient social media. The idea to create an informal forum for learning and unlearning. I commit to do my best to respond to every submission and, with permissions, to publish some of them in the conscient newsletter.

My goal with ‘Sounding Modernity’ is to explore what modernity sounds like, how it affects us and how to ‘create the conditions for other possible worlds to emerge in the wake of what is dying’ as suggested in ‘Preparing for the end of the world as we know it’ by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective, a group of scholars and researchers led by Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, author of Hospicing Modernity. The work of the GTDF collective has strongly influenced my approach to this project and I am deeply grateful for their wisdom and support.

Metal rods from  ‘tension, episode 101 of Sounding Modernity, September 2022
What do I mean by modernity? 

Which modernity? I don’t mean modernist art or modernism as a style (though I guess it can be a part of it). I mean the modern era based on extractive capitalism, overconsumption, endless growth, systemic racism, white supremacy, separation from nature, and so on. 

I want to investigate various interpretations of ‘modernity’: our so-called modern lifestyles, structures, sites, beings, creatures, habits, etc.  and I want to do this by listening to the sound of modernity.

In other words, I want to address some of the causes of this massive and violent overreach of planetary boundaries while exploring how we can preserve some of modernity’s benefits, without the destruction. 

My objective with Sounding Modernity is not to find short term solutions, nor is it to help you feel better about the state of the world. Rather, with a lot of humility and respect, I offer you 5 minutes every week to stop and listen to a sound artwork that addresses an issue, a situation, a dilemma, a problem, an impossibility, but also to celebrate, to preserve and to nurture possibilities. 

I invite you to ‘stay with the trouble’  which is a well-known quote from Dr. Donna J. Haraway and to embrace the advice of Dr. Vanessa Andreotti to ‘hold space for the good, the bad, the ugly and the messed up, within and around’.

From mitigation to regeneration

When I started the conscient podcast in 2020, I was mostly in a ‘mitigation’ and ‘information deficit’ mindset. I believed that by raising awareness and sharing knowledge that artists could provide insights and help find solutions to the ecological crisis. This remains a valid intention, however I’ve now shifted to a ‘regeneration’ mindset, whereas I accept the inevitability of systems collapse based on past behaviour (many are already happening) and focus my efforts on longer term adaptation and regeneration strategies. 

Excerpt from a video report made during the Facing Human Wrongs course, Unlearning Bundle Unit 3 – Denial of Unsustainability, July 5, 2022, Duhamel, Quebec (photo by Claude Schryer)
What does modernity sound like?

We are part of a much wider metabolism, and this metabolism is sick. There is a lot of shit for us to deal with: personal, collective, historical, systemic. Our fragilities are a big part of it. This shit needs to pass, so that it can be composted into new forms of life, no longer based on the illusion of separability.

Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective

Without being aware of it, I have always felt the ‘metabolic sickness’ that the GTDF collective refers to here and have always been intuitively attracted to electroacoustic music, with its transformational potential to serve as an acoustic mirror at the intersection of reality, fantasy, and spirit.

During my career as a composer and sound artist, I developed a ‘soundscape composition’ style that combines layering context (field recordings) with abstraction (electronic and instrumental music) – often with an observational or poetic narrative.

The artistic language of ‘Sounding Modernity’ expands on this vocabulary with a mix of slowly paced narration and long silences that are interwoven with new or archival field recordings and/or soundscape compositions. Each episode involves a combination of the following elements: 

  1. presentation of the topic (what it is and why it interests me) 
  2. new and/or archival field recording(s) that illustrate or evoke the topic 
  3. thoughts and insights on the nature of that sound 
  4. transformation or alteration of that sound through soundscape composition techniques that suggests alternative or new perspectives 
  5. thoughts and insights on the transformed sound(s) and how they might raise new questions 
  6. An invitation for listeners to engage with a question on an issue or concept that can be uploaded to the conscient podcast website for public sharing and dialogue. 

Here is a preliminary list of topics I am considering (note: these will evolve, including rewrites, through to the end of the project on December 31, 2023): 

  • acceptance, aesthetics, appropriation, climate resilience, collapse, complicity, composting, context, criteria, death, decolonizing the unconscious, despair, disinvestment , distance, eco-distress, entanglement, exploitation, failure, fiction, gaslit, hope, hospicing, humour, inconsolable, kin, kindness, leadership, listening, metabolism, music, mycelial, northstar, ordinary, production, psycho-analytic distance, reciprocity, reducing harm, reparation, resonance, rumble, separability, seven fires prophecy, tightrope, time, transformation, uncertainty, unlistening, validation, violence, worlding.
Excerpt from a video from exercises in Hospicing Modernity, April, 2022, Duhamel, Quebec (photo by Claude Schryer)
Thought, felt, and danced with and through

My intention is not to define these terms, nor to explain them as such, but rather to engage in ‘worlding their meaning’, as suggested by Dr. Vanessa Andreotti’s notion of ‘worlding stories not focused on the aesthetic perfection of form, but on the integration of form and movement. They are not supposed to be ‘thought about’ but thought, felt, and danced with and through’. 

Note: The term ‘worlding’ is used by Dr. Vanessa Andreotti in reference to the work of Māori writer Carl Mika, see ‘Indigenous Education and the Metaphysics of Presence: A Worlded Philosophy’ (Milton Park, UK: Taylor and Francis, 2017)

In other words, my hope is to create sound art works that are ‘living entities’ (with thanks to my curriculum advisor Azul Carolina Duque for this observation).

I like the way a colleague from the Facing Human Wrongs course this summer put it in an October 24, 2022 email:

May the living sounds and entities in the episodes co-inform sounding modernity and where it’s heading/losing its way. 

I will explore how to engage in ‘co-information’ during this project and to be OK when it loses its way. 

The Facing Human Wrongs course involved facing these complex systemic issues with honesty, humility, humour and hyper self-reflexivity and learning to live with their discomforts and pain and doing so without falling into ‘traps’ such as self-validation, self-infantilization and exceptionalism, while exploring how to ‘create the conditions for other worlds to emerge’.

Hum, that’s a rather long and charged sentence, isn’t it? 

What I mean to say is that it is important to have a good frame of mind going into this work and to avoid repeating cycles of personal glorification and self-indulgence.

This is difficult for artists, who, like me, love the spotlight and often engage in self-referential work, but I think it’s possible to focus on the impact of our work, and less on our personal needs, for those who are coming from situations of privilege and low-intensity struggle. 

Cartography from Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective (used with permission)
Sobriety, maturity, discernment and accountability

I have found the 4 compass values illustrated above, along with the tightrope teachings, to be useful guide marks in making decisions and avoiding the worst pitfalls. 

This compass (and related cartographies) also helps me work through ethical and relational issues when I do field recordings, such as obtaining implicit and explicit permission to record sounds and how to use them respectfully in published works. 

The work of UBC professor and indigenous scholar Dylan Robinson, notably his Hungry Listening book, also guides my decisions in terms of how and when to record.

But who will listen?

The urgency of the climate and ecological crisis demands that the arts and culture sector activate its unique capacity for creative expression in service of a livable future for all. In this critical decade of action, this requires a clear focus on climate justice and a genuine transformation in values: from consumerism and extraction to stewardship and regeneration.

Sectoral Climate Arts Leadership for the Emergency (SCALE-LeSAUT)

Reaching 1 person at a time is enough.

My experience in producing 100 episodes of the conscient podcast is that audiences are saturated and overwhelmed with facts and data about the ecological crisis but are more comfortable engaging, relationally and affectively, with these complex issues through stories, metaphors, illustrations, and connections to what they value the most in everyday life. 

Sounding Modernity is intended to be accessible to all audiences but is more likely to be relevant to those who have already begun a learning and unlearning journey about the ecological crisis, including questioning the complicity of western art itself. This is hard work, akin to biting the hand that feeds you.

For example, I am extremely grateful to have received the aforementioned Canada Council Strategic Innovation Fund Seed grant for this project to hire expert collaborators to help me deepen this work and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their support and yet I am critical of institutions like the Council that perpetuate colonial systems. 

But at the same time, I appreciate that the Council and other funders offer opportunities to empower artists to develop a more resilient, equitable, inclusive and sustainable arts sector, and in so doing, a more liveable planet. This is the complex and hard work of decolonization and transformation that the arts sector is currently undertaking. For example, Shannon Litzenberger wrote an essay called State of Emergence: Why We Need Artists Right Now. I also spoke with her in episode 90 of the conscient podcast;

I would first and foremost love to see artists really lean into experimentation with their creative practices and to share that what comes out of those practices: the learning and experimentation with each other. I think that’s something that even as a community of art makers we can get better at. But what that then also does is start to socialize learning about what art as a system of knowledge production is, and this is how we start to disentangle ourselves from the ways that we’re trying to solve this challenge, or the ways that we’re trying to think about what is happening right now as a problem to fix, is maybe part of the dilemma and that art as a way of knowing.

My hope is that we find a way, together, to navigate our way out of modernity’s trappings and to create, step by step, the conditions for other worlds to emerge. I know many of my colleagues in the arts are working hard on this. I am grateful for their vision and courage.

I like the way fellow podcaster and cultural icon Kamea Chayne explains it in her vision for the Green Dreamer project: 

Exploring our paths to collective healing, biocultural revitalization, and true abundance and wellness *for all*.

I also refer to my own experience in listening to podcasts about culture and environmental issues, which have the potential to nourish our spirits and remind us that we are not alone in feeling deep anxiety about the ecological crisis. I am grateful for the aforementioned Green Dreamer and also:

Fence at Stanley Park, Vancouver, from ‘tension’ pilot episode of Sounding Modernity, September 2022
 Why now?

The world needs you right now, because anything that we do this year or next is worth ten of the same thing ten years from now.

Emily Johnston, Loving in a Vanishing World

Because we have no choice, but we also don’t need to drown in a state of inertia (life will go on, without or without ‘us’).

Much has been written by artists about this crisis and how to increase the impact and resilience of the arts sector, such as poignant and courageous ‘call to arms’ essays by Dr. David Maggs and the aforementioned Shannon Litzenberger. And yet, society is not (yet) in ‘emergency mode’ as suggested by the Climate Emergency Unit. We seem to be asleep at the wheel of ‘comfort and indifference’ as Denys Arcand noted in his 1991 film (albeit in a very different context).

What I love about the arts is their unlimited potential as a process of change. The arts can simultaneously comfort the afflicted, inspire the depressed, anticipate the impossible, invigorate the dispirited, catalyse the discouraged, challenge our assumptions, etc. The arts also have the potential to inflict harm, consciously or unconsciously, which is why a set of guiding values and principles are critical.

Thankfully, the arts community is waking up to these realities with various ‘green’ initiatives such as Creative Green Tools CanadaEco ScénoMusic Declares CanadaSchool for Climate, Conseil québécois des événements écoresponsables (CQEER) and the aforementioned SCALE-LeSAUT network, however, an overall stasis and a culture of denial remains the norm in privileged societies such as ours.

For example, I observed this dynamic at the Government of Canada’s laudable National Culture Summit on 3 May 2022, where most arts leaders spoke with great passion about rebuilding the arts sector, while sidestepping (or underplaying) that our planet is rapidly and inexorably becoming uninhabitable… 

  • How can we help people ‘tune in’ to these complex issues without becoming overwhelmed and complacent? 
  • How can we address these deep disconnects and address the root causes of imminent societal collapse? 
  • More to the point: what can any one person do? 
The 20/80 ratio

We need to hold space for the good, the bad, the ugly and the messed up, within and around.

Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, Hospicing Modernity

Actually, we do have choices to make (and accountabilities) as citizens and as artists.

For example, I often tell colleagues about how I adopted the 80-20 ratio principle in 2021, an idea I first heard from arts and climate leader Kendra Fanconi

The idea is to spend 20% of your time and energy on reducing your carbon footprint and changing the things you control (less travel, local foods, giving to worth causes, recycling, being kind and joyful, etc) and 80% of your time and energy on collective action towards systemic change (advocacy, voting, coalitions, campaigns, protesting, decolonization, reparation, supporting for those in high-intensity struggles, directing anger towards positive change, etc). 

This helps take some pressure off our collective shoulders, while focusing our energy on positive, long-term action. 

In other words, we need to engage in substantial personal change (while increasing our enjoyment of life) AND invest in massive societal transformation (without burning out).

Sketch of Claude Scrhyer by Sabrina Mathews, April 26, 2022
But what can I do?

My response, as a composer, sound producer and arts administrator is to create sound art works that encourage audiences, and specifically my colleagues in the arts community, to ‘feel and dance with and through’ the trappings of modernity and to explore how to move out of it, together, as Dr. Andreotti suggests.

Thankfully, I am working with talented collaborators on this project, including artist Sabrina Mathews, web designer and podcast consultant Ayesha Barmania, education advisor and sound artist Azul Carolina Duque, communications advisors Ben Von Wong and Jessica Ruano as well as countless family, friends and colleagues who have accompanied me on my learning journey and supported this work. Thank you.

At a meeting of the Transition Innovation Group on October 12, 2022, the assembly agreed that we were now entering a period of great transition with ‘cautious hopefulness’. I added that what we really need to do is ‘buy time’ through our collective efforts to slow the damage while envisioning new ways of life. 

This dynamic was confirmed to me while listening to Asad Rehman: The end of imperialism in a radical green new deal (ep378) on Green Dreamer who said:

  • My motto is, there is no moment of final defeat in this. We have to measure our work into the extent of the disasters we prevent, the scale of lives of our people in the Global South. And for me, every day I get up and go, that’s what we’re doing. It’s not that we’re trying to prevent this crisis. We’re trying to prevent this crisis from getting worse and worse. And it can get much, much worse.’

and…

  • I would say a quote, not from one of our friends, but actually from one of our enemies, the architect of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman, who said, only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change. Our goal is to keep our ideas and policies alive for when the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable. And we, and our vision, is the politically inevitable.

Every day now, when I get up and go, my goal is also to prevent this crisis from getting worse.

Next steps

So…  if you want to join me, there are three ways you can subscribe media on https://www.conscient.ca/subscribe/:

  1. weekly conscient newsletter which allows you to receive notifications about new episodes, some my responses to submissions, news from the community and so on. 
  2. conscient podcast in English ou le balado conscient en français, on any your favorite podcast player such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc. and-or
  3. conscient YouTube channel to see a video version of the podcast as well as 30 seconds promotional clips. 

You can also follow conscient social media on Facebook and Instagram @conscientpodcast.

I will write about my learnings and unlearnings in the conscient newsletter and in the occasional blogs, such as my keynote address at the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology on March 24th, 2023. 

Feedback and critique are always welcome, in public space or privately (claude@conscient.ca)

The post Sounding Modernity appeared first on conscient. conscient is a bilingual blog and podcast (French or English) by audio artist Claude Schryer that explores how arts and culture contribute to environmental awareness and action.

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About the Concient Podcast from Claude Schryer

The conscient podcast / balado conscient is a series of conversations about art, conscience and the ecological crisis. This podcast is bilingual (in either English or French). The language of the guest determines the language of the podcast. Episode notes are translated but not individual interviews.

I started the conscient project in 2020 as a personal learning journey and knowledge sharing exercise. It has been rewarding, and sometimes surprising.

The term “conscient” is defined as “being aware of one’s surroundings, thoughts and motivations”. My touchstone for the podcast is episode 1, e01 terrified, based on an essay I wrote in May 2019, where I share my anxiety about the climate crisis and my belief that arts and culture can play a critical role in raising public awareness about environmental issues. The conscient podcast / balado conscient follows up on my http://simplesoundscapes.ca (2016-2019) project: 175, 3-minute audio and video field recordings that explore mindful listening.

Season 1 (May to October 2020) explored how the arts contribute to environmental awareness and action. I produced 3 episodes in French and 15 in English. The episodes cover a wide range of content, including activism, impact measurement, gaming, arts funding, cross-sectoral collaborations, social justice, artistic practices, etc. Episodes 8 to 17 were recorded while I was at the Creative Climate Leadership USA course in Arizona in March 2020 (led by Julie”s Bicycle). Episode 18 is a compilation of highlights from these conversations.

Season 2 (March 2021 ) explores the concept of reality and is about accepting reality, working through ecological grief and charting a path forward. The first episode of season 2 (e19 reality) mixes quotations from 28 authors with field recordings from simplesoundscapes and from my 1998 soundscape composition, Au dernier vivant les biens. One of my findings from this episode is that “I now see, and more importantly, I now feel in my bones, “the state of things as they actually exist”, without social filters or unsustainable stories blocking the way”. e19 reality touches upon 7 topics: our perception of reality, the possibility of human extinction, ecological anxiety and ecological grief, hope, arts, storytelling and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. The rest of season 2 features interviews with thought leaders about their responses and reactions to e19 reality.

my professional services

I’ve been retired from the Canada Council for the Arts since September 15, 2020 where I served as a senior strategic advisor in arts granting (2016-2020) and manager of the Inter-Arts Office (1999-2015). My focus in (quasi) retirement is environmental issues within my area of expertise in arts and culture, in particular in acoustic ecology. I”m open to become involved in projects that align with my values and that move forward environmental concerns. Feel free to email me for a conversation :

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