Adventurous Art

Songs to Urban Ecology

Songs of Urban Ecology is a socially engaged and multi-disciplinary body of work. The songs include celebrations of places that I have lived and document my relationship to those places with images and sounds that highlight the invisible and interconnected contrast between what is natural, and what is human. In Jamaicaway Matins, an animated process drawing of seasonal change is accompanied by urban and natural sounds. Inspired by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcitcus, I created an improvised flute piece inspired by one morning when I paused to listen to the joyful sounds of birds returning to Boston in the spring of 2020. Although there were fewer cars to drown out their music, still they are interrupted by sirens as an ambulance rushed someone to the nearby hospital. 

This body of work began before I knew what it was, as an embodied practice, wandering along the Huron River in the place where I was born, documenting small changes in the liminal space between human and natural environments that exist in every city and town. I collected photos and sounds near a highway overpass that creates a forgotten but sacred space, with the echoes of traffic sounding like an organ, and the reflection of light on the water, highlighting the beauty of the steel bridge’s tracery: the Cathedral of M-14.

The first song to Urban Ecology for Wonderfool Productions “FOOLmoon reIMAGINEd” on April 3, 2020

It didn’t turn into something larger until I attended a conference presentation by a group of Finnish educators at the Next Wave Summit in October of 2019 in Boston titled : “Everything Has to Change and it Has to Change Right Now: Sustainability in the Finnish Education System,” and they also shared this book you can download for free edited by Justin Cook of the Center for Complexity at RISD

The presentation started with an introduction by the former director of the Finnish National Curriculum who said: 

“When I started out in the office here, I remembered the love I felt when my grandparents would read to me, and I thought, I want every Finnish child to feel that love and support while they learn.”

Irmeli Halinen, retired Head of Curriculum and Development, Finland

It almost made me cry, because my grandparents, both the Finnish ones and the others, used to read to me and were all strong advocates for empathetic supportive education as central to civic agency and sustainable problem-solving.  

As an artist, my Finnish cultural heritage influences my understanding of getting by through making do so their words about love and learning really resonated.  My mother and grandmother taught me how to re-use everything from cutting down clothes and creating rag-rugs, to darning socks and coming up with inventive ways to use old plastic bags.  Which meant hearing from the Finnish educators inspired me to find a purpose for the hundreds of photos I took over time. By researching Finnish music I stumbled upon Cantus Arcticus by Einojuhani Rautavaara and decided to use the photos and found sounds to create my own songs about ecology.

Climate change is an issue that directly impacts equity, and environmental justice world wide.  Wealthy nations and communities have the resources to anticipate and act on behalf not only of themselves, but of the rest of the planet, but too often those of us living in those wealthy countries ignore the urgency of the issue because it is inconvenient to present day production. 

Over the last three years the world has been through through lockdowns caused by a pandemic, and the re-ignition of post-colonial and racial reckonings world wide. It is clearer than ever that our mutual fates are intertwined, and that collective action is necessary, not just to prevent harm to the vulnerable, but to create beauty and connection for all. 

The goal of creating these “Songs of Urban Ecology” is to open a discourse at the intersection of places, people, and justice. In different places, justice means different things for the people who live there. By sharing these songs about different places and the ideas that emerge from participants and myself in those different contexts, I hope to uncover links and contrasts that might have an impact on justice and sustainability.

In my practice as an educator and artist, I endeavor to love every student, and listen to what they say and do. The multiple points of crisis our world is facing right now makes it clearer than ever that every voice matters: humanity is interdependent with one another and our world.