by Juha Torvinen (University of the Arts, Helsinki)

Description of the Research Project “Music, Nature and Environmental Crises”

Environmental concerns have become an inescapable part of the everyday life in the Western world. At the same time, it has been widely acknowledged that scientific research, technological know-how, and legislative regulation are not sufficient to gain a full understanding of these concerns. We also need cultural discussion, imagination, art and vision, that is, we need humanistic understanding.

The main task of the present project is to study the significance of contemporary music to our socio-cultural understanding of ecological problems. The project offers a musicological contribution to the humanist study of environmental crises, which examines the values, meanings, experiences, historical roots and future prospects of these crises. The main research question of the project reads: What is the significance of contemporary music to our general ecological awareness? And furthermore: How might music scholars respond to environmental concerns, and what is the significance of musicological knowledge to ecological awareness?

The main objective of the project is defined further in two ways. First, the music studied consists mainly, but not exclusively, of northerly contemporary classical music. This denotes an artistically ambitious genre and an exceptionally significant site of cultural negotiation about ecological values. Second, the project combines interdisciplinary cultural and philosophical methods with music analytic and music phenomenological methods in order to examine in detail the workings of music as sonic form of cultural imagery that outlines and shapes in a significant way the human being’s relation to the environment.

The project will produce new knowledge in various areas of music and cultural research. It will chart in detail ecocritical aesthetics and environmental strategies in contemporary music. It will reveal in how many and what particular ways music and musical practices influence public views on environmental issues and how the age-old relationship between music and nature has gained new significance in the present-day world dominated by environmental crises. The project will open up and develop new methods of ecocritical music research (ecomusicology). The results are expected to have wide-ranging significance both in the academia and society at large. The project will show how music helps us to live and deal with ecological concerns and by that contributes to our cultural understanding of environmental crises.

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