When most people think about climate change studies, numbers and graphs likely come to mind. But, local composer Mike Bucy is hoping to change that with his song “Babel 2.0.”
The original composition incorporates the work of Vladimir Alexeev, a climate scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The song uses a dramatic collection of sounds to illustrate the ways complex change in the warming Bering Sea is shifting the trajectory of the jet stream farther north — a key factor in climate change and a force driving some of the unusual weather patterns across Alaska.
The song was the brainchild of Kaja Brix, a program director in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska office and an affiliate faculty member at the International Arctic Research Center.
Brix said that while attending a climate change conference, she realized that most of the people present were affiliated with a higher-learning organization. That realization struck her as a missed opportunity.
“I thought there has to be a better way to bring the public into this picture,” she said in a phone interview with the Empire last week.
She said a series of conversations with friends in Juneau led to the idea of mixing climate science and music to give people a different kind of exposure to the problem.
Brix, who says she is not a musician, found willing collaborators in Bucy and Alexeev who met by phone a few times to discuss the project.
“It was a long shot,” Alexeev said in a phone interview with the Empire. “He asked me to send some data and asked me what I felt the music should sound like. I said it should be pronounced and end with a profound sound and it should be Tchaikovsky style — that would be appropriate.”
Bucy said he welcomed the challenge and liked that it gave him a sense that he’s contributing to the conversation around climate change.
“When I look at climate news, it’s too overwhelming. I feel overwhelmed,” Bucy said. “One thing I appreciate about this is that I’m doing a little tiny bit. I’m doing something.”
Bucy said he started by thinking about which instruments could represent the data. He said he used horns and trumpets to convey a warning call — almost like a fanfare.
He said different time signatures condense the song to show urgency. He said a musical feedback loop helps to illustrate the climate feedback loop present in Alexeev’s data.
Juneau-based poet Guy Unzicker penned a poem to go with the music, likening the disruption of the jet stream, by the column of rising warm air, to the biblical destruction of the Tower of Babel, inspiring the piece’s name.
Last November, the work debuted as part of Juneau’s Con Brio Chamber Series. Marta Lastufka sang Unzicker’s poem as part of the performance.
“The performance was very classy,” Alexeev said. “I liked the performance.”
Brix said the performance was “thrilling.”
“People received it well at the concert, and hopefully, it will get people a little inspired to create music connected to science,” she said.
According to Brix, more collaborations are planned to create several musical representations of UAF climate change science by the Juneau Composters Consortium.
“The main point is the idea of bringing different people and expertise together in a collaboration,” Brix said. “ We all have different talents and relationships. I hope this inspires collaboration in other places where we may not think a collaboration exists.”