Sustainability – Vancouver 2019

On February 23, 2019, CNMN hosted a knowledge-sharing event around Sustainability for the new music community at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Sustainability at UBC (CIRS). The goal was to discuss ways our practice can be more sustainable and the costs and advantages of such ecological stewardship.

We began the day with a Soundwalk led by Hildegard Westerkamp. Despite rain and slightly chilly conditions, everyone welcomed the opportunity to, as Hildegard suggested, “come into the presence of sound in this location, to create a listening atmosphere for the day ahead of us, to listen together to the sound world around us, to the group and indeed to our own ways of listening.” A discussion of our impressions, thoughts and experiences followed.

This led seamlessly into a talking circle facilitated by Rob Thomson, who encouraged everyone to present themselves, their home territory and to share one way that they are practicing sustainability in their everyday life. Answers ranged from rejecting the use of plastics in the household to reducing air travel. Rob closed with a presentation some of the work Full Circle is doing on sustainability, including efficiency in the way they book our traveling performers and how they maximize their stay.

This opportunity for each participant to present their self, situation and ideas led to an animated lunch-time discussion still in our talking circle.

To rouse us from our lunches, Sharon Kallis invited everyone to participate in rope making. Once she had taught us the basics, she began to share some stories about her practice of “connecting to this place through the plants, bringing others along for that journey, working with plants like stinging nettle which can serve as culture connectors.” Hearing about such direct work with issues of stewardship and sustainability raised a lot of questions about how that might translate to music and sound practice.

For the conversation part of the afternoon,  Tina Pearson suggested we work in pairs or trios to enable more personal and vulnerable conversations around what sustainability, ecology and art practice raise for people. She provided us with a statement in the run-up to the event that framed the conversation:

Many in the new music community have begun to at least consider changes to themes and materials of practices, modes of dissemination, and patterns of engagement with each other and with audiences / participants in consideration of the realities of environmental degradation. Although commitments can be made to, say, travel less, to focus on the local, to make one’s work more politically relevant, and/or to use music and sound art practices to bring awareness to ecological concerns, are there deeper and more vulnerable questions to be asked?

Similar to the questioning that has been prompted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, it seems that an unlearning process is needed, where assumptions about context, impact, ownership and intention in new music practice can be unraveled as a preliminary step in any movements toward addressing environmental sustainability.

It makes sense to first ask what each individual, and the community, intends to sustain. Examining values, ethics and beliefs about belonging, roles, responsibilities, rights, lineages and legacies can be illuminating, as can defining what “community” means when things fall apart.

Questions of stewardship of the place we inhabit, for some, prioritizes the sustainability of a lifestyle, a job, or of human sustainability – ensuring optimum survival of upcoming generations. For others, stewardship is weighted toward sustainability of the planet as a living entity, thereby sacrificing current human lifestyle privileges in order to leave as gentle a footprint as possible. For still others, sustainability is focused so fully and completely on practice that other matters are assumed to, and perhaps do, take care of themselves.


After sharing some of our small group discussions, Tina led us in a practice of Pauline Oliveros’ Heart Chant.

During the day, the conversations and presentations were also supported by the presence of our guest, Giorgio Magnanensi.

CNMN is grateful to the support of FACTOR for the production of this event.