Sophomore Seminars

Listening to Climate Change


Today, it seems that evidence of our changing climate is everywhere: wildfires ravage the Bay Area, Antarctica is as balmy as Los Angeles, and New Delhi has become so hot, it is becoming uninhabitable. Man-made (or, “anthropogenic”) climate change is so ubiquitous and extreme that geologists have pronounced that we have entered a new geological era, the “Anthropocene.” But, climate change is not new, nor is public consciousness of it. Geologists and biologists were already using the term as early as 1778, and evidence of climate change so prevalent that it became a subject of cultural fascination, especially for musicians and composers. For them, making music about the environment was a way of laying “anthropogenic” claim to and commenting upon its reinvention. 

In this course, we will focus on five musical works from a range of time periods and traditions that reflect contemporary consciousness of and reactions to climate change. We will ask: what ideas about power and politics are reflected in music about the changing environment? How did contemporary scientists’ understanding of the environment shape these works? How has the history of cultural encounters with the environment shaped the way climate change is understood today? A highly interactive course, we will engage these questions through interdisciplinary reading and writing, as well as more creative approaches, including singing Alpine melodies with Swiss herdsmen, listening to the rainforest with the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, creating our own soundscape compositions, and crafting soundwalks of campus environments or the environments nearer to home.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Kirsten Paige

"I am currently a THINK Fellow and received my Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2018. Prior to becoming an academic (and moving to the Bay Area), I was an active performing musician. I began studying at the Juilliard School of Music when I was 12, and performed with orchestras around the world. In my scholarly work, I demonstrate how scientific--particularly environmental--knowledge reshaped musical practices and aural cultures in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany, with special attention to global cultural and scientific exchanges. I maintain a strong interest in asking how music and its institutions can address the current climate crisis and its humanitarian implications. I have published on a wide variety of topics, including Richard Wagner's 'climatic' stage technologies, open-air opera under the Third Reich, and nineteenth-century Italian geologists' development of special microphones for listening to seismic rumblings."