Art of Interference
Season 1: Water | Episode 9: Rain
[ER: Emma Reimers | TH: Tori Hoover | ML: Maren Loveland | JP: Jamie Perera | JG: Jennifer Gutman | MJ: Micaiah Johnson | LK: Lutz Koepnick]
ER: So, Tori, I heard you actually made a new year’s resolution this year.
TH: Yeah, I did. I’m not usually one for arbitrary fresh starts — but this year I felt like I needed one, and I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Plus telling everyone does kind of force me to hold myself accountable.
ER: So what’s the resolution then?
TH: I really want to be more present. I’ve been doing a lot of meditation, or at least trying to. Instructions like “send a smile down the length of your body” are hard not to roll my eyes at, but the basic premise of really all meditation is to be present. To notice.
ER: To take a walk outside, and, instead of immediately turning on a podcast, taking the time to notice the feeling of the breeze against your skin, or the heat of the sun on your face.
TH: To enjoy the sensation of my feet against the pavement, the sound of chirping birds and the jingle of my dog’s collar as he lopes along beside me.
ER: To notice the smell of just-mown grass, the particular crispness of morning spring air.
TH: To really and truly sit with the present.
TH: From Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee, this is “Art of Interference,” a podcast about creative responses to climate change. In each episode, we interview artists and experts who work at the intersection of nature, technology, and science today. Today’s episode is hosted by Tori Hoover and Emma Reimers.
TH: So, you know, I’m still a novice with this meditation thing. I almost always feel like I need guidance on it, to follow some sort of blueprint. I know we’re both Headspace users — have you noticed how many of their ambient noise options include some sort of rainfall?
ER: Yes! Overwhelmingly yes. “Rainy night in the library,” “ambient rainy morning”, or my personal fave: “thunderstorm.”
TH: I actually find rain really soothing to study with — it’s basically not a writing session unless I have a rain sound in my headphones to drown out the noise of everything else around me.
ER: I know what you mean. There’s something about rain, about the sound of rain, that really helps to keep us in the present. It’s… stilling, maybe?
TH: But the reality of rain can actually be quite the opposite, right? Coming from my experience here in Nashville, I get really spooked by storms, post 2020-tornado. I’m always checking my weather apps to see if the conditions are right for a possible warning.
ER: Yeah, and even when those storms don’t end up with an accompanying tornado warning, we do have a lot of flash flood risks around here.
TH: Did you know it rains more in Nashville each year than it does in Seattle?
ER: What? No way!
TH: Yes! It’s just that Seattle gets more drizzly days, whereas when it rains here —
ER: The sky basically dumps water onto us.
TH: In a split second, too. It could be raining at my house, and five miles away at your place, it’s totally dry.
ER: And as climate change progresses, these quick-and-nasty storms are going to become more frequent and will be pretty widespread.
TH: So, you know, as we’ve been working on this podcast, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about alternative imaginations of our future, particularly with regard to climate. I’m thinking a lot about the trend of cli fi, or climate-based science fiction, speculative work that deals in some way with our climate crisis. And there’s really a distinct lack of this season’s theme in those imaginings.
ER: Oh, absolutely. While climate change means more extreme versions of all weather events, from storms to droughts to heat waves, there’s a tendency toward the dramatic imagery of the rainless landscape in our science fiction.
TH: Mad Max, Dune, Star Wars — I feel like desert planets, the places devoid of life, are typically portrayed as the most out of our world, kind of lifeless, dystopian places.
ER: That feels really true, actually. It’s always an arid climate apocalypse.
TH: There are some notable exceptions, though, right? Like the ultra-flooded bayou in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
ER: Or rainy, rainy Los Angeles in Blade Runner.
TH: Right! The image of rainy Los Angeles creates this sense of displacement and unease, seeing this perennially sunny place covered in rain and, yeah, techno-orientalist branding. It’s uncanny, just this side of familiar.
ER: Not to mention that it adds to the sense of Harrison Ford as noir detective.
TH: Totally. You know, climate fiction might do well to include more rain. More intense storms, like the one in Lydia Millet’s 2020 novel, A Children’s Bible. After all, as I think I mentioned in our episode on floods a while back, excessive rainfall and resultant flooding are our biggest climate change related threats here in Nashville. And that’s true throughout a lot of Europe and here in the United States, particularly in the Midwest and the northeast.
ER: Right — for instance, in recent years, a larger percentage of precipitation has come in the form of intense single-day events. According to EPA data, nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have occurred since 1996, and the prevalence of these events has risen dramatically in the last 40 years or so, at a rate of about half a percentage point per decade.
TH: So why does climate change mean more, harder rain? Well, it’s a basic tenet of atmospheric physics. For every degree Fahrenheit that the air temperature rises, the atmosphere’s capacity for water vapor goes up by about 4 percent. This is called the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship. Warmer oceans mean a greater amount of water evaporates into the air, producing more intense precipitation: heavier rain, for one. Nashville is one of the cities that has been experiencing this a lot lately: when it rains here, it pours, as we’ve already said.
ER: Absolutely. The drizzle is a foreign entity here. Again, these storms are getting more and more common: during a five-week span in July and August of 2022, the United States saw five individual 1,000-year rain events – storms with a 0.1 percent chance of happening in any given year.
TH: And heavy rain can also be a serious issue on the ground. It leads to increased risk of flooding and landslides. Stormwater runoff, rife with heavy metals and pesticides, can degrade water quality, harming human health as well as the well-being of aquatic ecosystems in the area.
ER: This is especially true in cities that use a combined sewer system, where stormwater and wastewater are both mixed, treated, and released. Stormwater can overwhelm those systems, basically causing a form of mixed backwash into nearby bodies of water.
ML: Hey guys, it’s Maren. Do you mind if Jen and I cut in here for a second?
ER: Sure thing, go ahead.
ML: You know as you’re describing all these problems together, it makes me think about how one of the limitations of the structure of this show is that it emphasizes the interconnectedness of the problems we highlight.
JG: It’s true. A writer for New York Times magazine named Pablo Duncan touched on this in a recent article about the devastation of Puerto Rico as a result of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Fiona. Duncan writes,
LK: “Was the disaster the first hurricane? The second? Was it a food system, once largely self-sufficient, now dependent on canned produce shipped from the mainland? Was it soil made loose by years of destructive farming? Rebuilding over and over in the face of such interconnected struggles requires trying to strike at all of them at once.”
ML: Climate change is kind of one big domino effect. It’s the compound interest we’re now paying on centuries of industrialism, of destructive over-farming, of extractive practices. And that doesn’t just feed into storms: it feeds into pandemics, into the worsening disparity between the rich and poor, into interpersonal and international conflicts and partnerships.
JG: And this is still true in places that have the means to combat climate change to some extent. Maren, what do you know about cloud seeding?
ML: Honestly? Nothing.
JG: Okay, well: cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s, actually. It’s a climate technology that introduces ice nuclei – silver iodide, which has previously been used in things like photographic film development techniques – into storm clouds through special flares released by airplanes. In plain English, it creates the conditions for a storm. Basically, it makes rain out of almost nothing.
ML: That really sounds like something out of science fiction.
JG: Definitely. But it’s real, and it’s happening. Though it’s most often used to increase precipitation as a drought management technique, cloud seeding is also employed to clear fog in airports, fight forest fires, and even divert rainfall – they actually used it to do just that during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
ML: It almost sounds too good to be true. And you know what they say, if it sounds that way…
JG: … It probably is?
ML: It probably is.
JG: You’re not wrong, necessarily. We don’t yet know the full scope of risks and consequences associated with cloud seeding, especially when it comes to environmental impact. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists writes that cloud seeding may well lead to maladaptation, which they define as “action taken ostensibly to avoid or reduce vulnerability to climate change that impacts adversely on, or increases the vulnerability of other systems, sectors, or social groups.”
ML: Right – one person’s solution may well be another person’s problem.
JG: Yes. We know that silver iodide, the chemical used to seed clouds, is a toxic substance classified as hazardous under the Clean Water Act. We also know that cloud seeding has been linked to issues of flooding in drought-stricken areas, where a lack of water has created the conditions for disastrous flash floods.
ML: There’s that domino effect again.
JG: Exactly. According to the New York Times, experts also disagree over whether cloud seeding might mean less rainfall for downwind areas – essentially a kind of rain theft, as crazy as that sounds.
ML: So I guess it comes down to this: modern science is still working to untangle these threads, but for now, it’s a tricky balance to try to find a solution to drought conditions, and cloud seeding – for all its science fiction sheen – may be one of the answers.
JG: That is, if it doesn’t create more problems in the process.
ER: You know, this season, we’ve worked a lot with primarily visual artists. It’s been one of the most interesting challenges of making this show.
TH: It really has been – how do you help your audience imagine the work you’re looking at? How do you sonically render something for which the experience is mainly visual?
ER: Right. But today’s artist is actually a sound artist —
ER: — And one you turned me onto. His name is Jamie Perera, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak with him recently.
ER: Hi Jamie, how’s it going? Ah, you’re muted. Hold on. The wonders of zoom and sound.
JP: I know it’s my fault.
ER: Oh, there we go.
JP: Sorry I’m a bit late.
TH: Just an aside, but can I say that I love knowing that even sound artists have difficulties with Zoom audio?
ER: I know, right? What a relief.
JP: I’m Jamie Pereira. I do data sonification and I’m a sound artist. I tend to do longform or big data projects. When it comes to big issues like climate change or capitalism what this process does is it allows me to shift perspective and learn about the issues behind the data in a different way,
TH: For the laypeople out there, data sonification is basically just what it sounds like: an audio version of data visualization. That’s everything from your typical graphs and charts to more creative, artistic renderings, like artists who knit scarves where each row corresponds to a year and the color of that row represents that year’s average temperature.
ER: Right. And as for sonification?
JP: Sonification is, I mean, I’m coming at it from a very arty perspective, but it’s still a very academic and scientific process for the transfer of information, and therefore there’s knowledge that’s created. So, my interest is what kind of knowledge is created for me. And what kind of things are created for listeners
TH: So data sonification, not unlike data viz, is a process that’s really a marriage of science and art.
ER: You know, Jamie says basically the same thing.
It sits between science and art. You can see it sits between the emotional and the factual and maybe the articulated and non articulated. So it’s a form unto itself that kind of helps to, I suppose, bridge that divide and give us some space in which to create things, you know, in a different way.
ER: Data sonification can be a complex concept, especially when you’re managing big data sets. But Jamie has a great way of distilling it into an idea that literally fits in your hand:
JP: If everyone imagines holding their right hand in front of them and then looking at your thumb and four fingers, and now imagine that we’re going to make a little tune out of the height of the fingers.
JP: If the thumb is middle C and you’re looking at your thumb, it would be dum dum. You might be able to see that duh, that’s what’s C, F, G, F, E. But what happens if you look at your left hand in front of you?
TH: That’s my dominant hand, so my fingers are a little longer there, but basically the same, right?
JP: What sort of tune would that create? And that’s more like a duh, let’s try again duh, dum. And so it gets interesting when you say things like what happens when you make a fist? What happens if you’re doing the victory sign? What happens if you’re doing a sort of screw you sign?
JG: Hold on just a second here.
ER: Hi Jen. What’s up?
JG: Well, I’m just a little concerned about the premise of this work. I know you and Jamie say that his is a combination of art and science, but isn’t it just science? I mean, it’s just a different kind of a graph or a chart, isn’t it?
TH: Sure! But graphs and charts – and maps, too, which are maybe our oldest forms of data viz – might seem a bit less like art than, say, a painting or a sculpture, especially because it’s so easy these days to automatically crank one out with a few pivot tables in Excel.
ER: Well, in the olden days, I think we wouldn’t dispute that this is an art. Creating maps and tables by hand, that’s something that takes a massive amount of artistic talent and discipline in addition to data.
JG: Yeah, I mean, I guess someone had to come up with those forms of data presentation in the first place. There wasn’t a pie chart present at the big bang.
TH: But data visualization isn’t a contemporary development. Looking far back in history, we can see how things like Inca used string devices called Quipus with various knots, colors and cords to keep track of everything from tax obligations to calendars to military organization. The quipu essentially looks like a huge banner or a starburst.
ER: There’s also the Dunhuang Star Chart, one of the first known graphical representations of stars from ancient Chinese astronomy, dating back to the Tang Dynasty, in the 7th century showing each of the lunar months. And those are only two early examples.
TH: Look, the main thing is this: alternative forms of data presentation can really impact the way we take in that data. For instance, one of the foundational texts of data viz is Joseph Priestley’s 1769 map entitled “A New Chart of History,” which lists events in 106 separate locations. The chart is an illustrated account of history from one perspective (Priestley’s) about what he considered a historically significant event, and its combination of time on the X-axis and place on the Y-axis gives us a better sense than many other timelines as to the contemporaneity of certain eras and events.
ER: Then you’ve got other figures you may have heard more about than Priestley. People like Florence Nightingale, who created what she called a rose diagram to communicate the preventable deaths of soldiers during the Crimean War, and W.E.B. DuBois, who showcased a series of colorful data visualizations on black life in America at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.
JG: Okay, I think I’m getting it. So, a big part of what makes data visualization an art is the experience of it. It’s all about transforming the way we receive that information, and about potentially making us more receptive to it.
ER: Which is something Jamie Periera knows a bit about.
JP: As a population, a world population, now we’re used to living our lives with this kind of visual data. But what happens when we listen to it? Because we have a different way of perceiving things when we’re listening.
ER: And that perception, that receptivity, that’s something I talked to Jamie about. Something we’re both really interested in, I think, is how data and art can combine to create a kind of memory for us.
ER: It’s like, I think maybe part of that mythos of late capitalism that we’ve bought into is our own forgetfulness, right? Like, Oh, what does it mean to, to rediscover this data and these stories and put them in a way that, you know, you’re creating remembrances and things we can return to and listen to again, when we forget to be angry or forget to be devastated, or we’re exhausted and. Or we forget to be hopeful. Right. There’s that remembrance, that call to it is so core.
JP: Yeah. And I think it’s important to say that, you know, in terms of the, you know, people that might be feeling guilty that they don’t remember that, that we’re actually, from birth, we’re gaslighted into thinking the world is a certain way.
JG: Okay, that’s actually pretty interesting. And a big claim!
JP: And all of the framing of our crises isn’t necessarily meant to change the structures that the crises come from, you know? So it’s very confusing. But yeah, like there’s art has a way, especially at the moment, of saying the things that many other types of practice can’t.
TH: One of Jamie’s most acclaimed pieces is a symphonic composition called Anthropocene in C Major. The piece is a roughly 45-minute performance, split into 4 parts: Reflective, Optimistic, Instablity, and Intensity.
JP: Anthropocene in C major
which takes 12, 000 years of socioeconomic data and earth system trends data, things like fossil fuels, population GDP data, and turns it into an orchestral symphony. And that was that kind of led me to the original statement to re sync with the planet and human altruism.
ER: There’s an extent to which Anthropocene in C Major resembles its own kind of weather pattern. The crackle in the background, almost a white noise, resembles rain itself. But more than that, it’s the feeling of the piece, which gives the listener the sense of a storm, of being bombarded with data in this ex pressive, detailed way.
ER: But the work Jamie did with Anthropocene marks a kind of shift in his work, he says.
JP: So now, where I get to in my work is more, Decolonial, or I suppose, to do with deep change and helping other people to see why that’s necessary,
ER: This led to another piece, inspired by the COVID 19 pandemic.
JP: It’s called sonification. Every UK COVID 19 death by day from March the 5th, 2020 to June 23rd, 2020. Now that’s I don’t even know if that’s a title, you know, but it shows where I was with the coronavirus sonifications.
JP: it was something that I needed to process and treat with a lot of respect and care…. Every, every sound you hear represents one death. And every 30 seconds is the time span of one day starting from the day of the first recorded death on March the 5th.
ER: Jamie says what we’re all probably thinking listening to this:
JP: It sounds like rain….cause it’s quite percussive and quite detailed.
JP:… I suppose it’s like it’s a horrific sound of rain
JP:…or it could be Walking into a nuclear reactor with a Geiger counter or something.
JP: They’re all derived from quite long sounds that I’ve recorded over that time period…. you could call it a collection of stories, that have been distilled into this.
ER: Jamie’s taken something horrific and turned it into a soundtrack worthy of a science fiction piece, into something that evokes the feeling of a downpour – an ambush of tragedy and death.
TH: Emma, with all this talk of science fiction, I knew someone I just had to reach out to about today’s episode. Micaiah Johnson is a rising sixth-year in the English PhD program here at Vanderbilt, a member of my cohort, who works in race and subjectivity. But Kya also happens to be the Compton Cook Award-winning author of her own climate change-influenced science fiction novel, The Space Between Worlds, which has been written up by the likes of the New York Times, NPR, and Polygon. Her book is set in a desert environment, inspired largely by her own upbringing in the high desert of California, so I wanted to know her take on rain in science fiction – and on Jamie’s work.
MJ: One of the reasons that I think we see the desert featured so highly in climate fiction — and particularly climate fiction of science fiction — is that the desert is the place where the dominant encountered nature as antagonistic, right? Particularly in an American setting, a lot of the places where the desert is are places that we’re brought to through Manifest Destiny.
MJ: And so we’re often seeing with a lot of those, especially the early kind of science fiction that didn’t recognize itself as being colonial, um, what we see is that shock and awareness of the new information that the earth is actually not meant to be tamed.
TH: Kya was also taken by Anthropocene in C Major. She was inspired by Jamie’s alternative approach to representing climate data.
MJ: And what I like about Perera’s project is that so often the same dominant that is newly keen to this idea of climate, nature, rain of this becoming, you know, more than they can control. This is brand new for them, but they are still the ones who want to provide answers. And so they want to legislate that experience in their terms in simple data, right? And through the STEM and not through the arts. Which is again, the language of a certain group of people, right? And I don’t think it can ever capture the real effects. It can’t really be translated into statistics. You do need that, but you also need this other half of like the actual human experience.
MJ: And so what excites me about that project, it is that marriage. You can only really understand this through tapestry because even when you go through the statistics, you can understand one part of climate change — temperature, or ocean sea levels, or classification of the ocean, or terraforming. But it’s really hard to get all of that, just grief of all of the things happening at once, you know? Whereas in a project like this, having that tapestry, having that overwhelming array of sound, it’s almost even, it’s even more evocative, even though it’s not obviously conveying to you hard data of numbers.
ER: This gets at what Jamie is saying about decolonizing this kind of data, too.
JP: We need to flatten the curve of our colonial legacy and it’s perpetuated myth.
TH: Right, and while Kya takes issue with any notion of decolonization, she does celebrate the attempt to make this information more accessible.
MJ: Showing the data through music is that kind of way of showing the heartbeat in the scientists and hopefully keeping science from the missteps that have historically made it such an enemy to non-dominant populations. I do, maybe naively, maybe optimistically, like to think of music as this great leveler, right? You know, there is this kind of access point that I think is really wonderful, and I think that that’s what, you know, data can do when it’s at its best is when it is packaged for facing out of the institution, facing out of the kind of scientific conglomerate.
TH: Jamie’s work is about evoking the emotions of climate anxiety and grief, of helping us feel the depth of what we’ve done to the earth, and the extent of that damage.
MJ: I think as far as justice goes, as far as equitable access to information, it’s such a beautiful concept to use music and the other fine arts as a path there, since we’ve always relied upon their ability to evoke emotion without specifics.
TH: And equitable access also goes hand in hand with equitable vocality, right? I think something Kya’s caught onto here in Jamie’s work is the way it also makes space for so many different voices, for the individual to experience their own individual form of climate grief.
MJ: And that is the place that I think art can fill to really showcase this proper mourning and it is a mourning, right? This is an obituary.
ER: Exactly. That sense of many voiced-ness is something I asked Jamie about, too, in relation to rain and his work:
ER: How do you kind of, put those together or think about the poly vocality in your work because to me rain is inherently poly vocal if each raindrop is its own kind of life which I think is like you said really noticeable in the percussiveness of that one piece.
JP: What a word, poly vocality or the structure that’s created by many voices is very important for, but at the same time, we need to realize the limitations of language, especially Western colonized languages. And that’s where I encourage many people, you know, not to necessarily talk about things, you know, but encourage listening and listening in a decolonized way.
TH: I talked with Kya about this, too. About how real, genuine listening might also require some kind of action, a ceding of power. I actually asked her about the idea of listening as decolonization.
MJ: Yeah. I do wonder if that’s possible, right? I like the idea of it as a place of inspiration, but I don’t think we wanna get into the place of confusing inspiration for change or action.
TH: For Kya, decolonial listening isn’t as impactful as genuine action.
MJ: These populations really have understood how to live in line with the earth. Let’s cede power to them. Let’s give them back the land. That’s never the conversation.
ER: Right. You know, that elevating of alternative perspectives, of traditionally marginalized perspectives, is potentially a form of what multispecies feminist theorist Donna Harraway has called kin-making. As Harraway says in her book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene, it’s about how we tell stories, and whose stories we tell:
ML: “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”
ER: Jamie has a perspective on that, as well.
JP: The biggest trick that capitalism ever played on us was to say that we are a part. When the truth is absolutely, we are part of nature, you know, so, we are synced with the planet and we are synced with human altruism.
TH: So much Anthropocene scholarship urges this really valuable perspective of a unified humanity, of a new and improved approach to kinship. Kinship with each other, with the earth. And yet, something Kya has repeatedly foregrounded in her own work is the way that scholarly perspective can often oversimplify the existing dynamic: that as we are antagonizing and sublimating the earth, we are also antagonizing and sublimating other human beings. The kin-making approach can be very unifying, but it can also have a flattening effect.
MJ: When Donna Haraway talks about the Plantationocene and how she wants to rename the current, not Anthropocene, but Plantationocene, I was excited because I thought it was her forefronting the ways in which those racial dynamics play out, but it wasn’t when you hear her speak about it. She said in this one interview that, Of course, I’ve written about, uh, which is, oh, because when you think of the plantation, the first thing you think about is agriculture. And that helps us help with agriculture. No, the first thing you think about is agriculture, but it’s that same, as you say, this invisiblization of the human element.That’s why I so prefer something like Catherine Yusef’s a billion black Anthropocene where it’s like, um, particularly for black Americans, we are objects before when it was convenient. And now we’re human when it’s convenient. Cause you want to flatten out those distinctions. When Nancy writes about how all mankind is climate and it’s all capitalist, it’s very convenient.
TH: But you know, this does all come back to that issue of equitability. And if there’s one Harraway take I know Kya can agree with, it’s that, as Harraway says in Staying with the Trouble, “Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quite places.”
MJ: In an institution or in anything that has that kind of white supremacist leaning, the way that you counteract it is by being honest about it.
ER: And yet, for all our talk about elevating and about ceding power and equitability, the environment itself struggles to achieve any kind of equilibrium, particularly with everything we’re doing to it.
TH: Greenhouse gases, extraction of resources, you name it.
TH: So, then, how do we give power back to the earth?
ER: For Jamie, giving back power is akin to listening. It’s about seeing and hearing the earth’s perspective. You know, we’ve talked about this a lot, right? The idea of inhabiting the subject position of the natural. What is like to be the ocean, or the rain, or a glacier, in this fraught time?
JP: So, yeah, where I can, I try to encourage the idea of listening as Instead of listening to, and there’s an exercise that I do where I get audiences to listen to the sea, and then following a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kamira when she starts Listening to the, you know, she becomes the bay, you know, I think in this situation before that she’d been very, she’d been really struggling with understanding her own native language.
ER: It’s that Harraway-esque rethinking of kinship, a renewed recognition of the ties we have and can have to the things we traditionally conceive of as outside of ourselves, our worlds, our circles.
TH: You know, that grief Jamie’s talked about throughout this episode – it’s something we join the earth in feeling, no? It’s a path toward that alternative perspective. As Harraway says, “Grief is a path to understanding entangled shared living and dying; human beings must grieve with, because we are in and of this fabric of undoing.”
JP: In the same way, I like to, listen as the sea
. It has a profound effect. It’s a fundamental change in how we perceive the world we don’t know until that point that we’ve been viewing these things as another.
TH: And for Kya, that power should also be ceded to the populations that have modeled how to live with the land in some sort of harmony.
MJ: Giving up power, giving back land, all of these things you allegedly, these places, these people that you allegedly honor so much.
TH: As much as we may need to listen to the land, we also need to listen to these populations. And, crucially, we need to honor them – which means making a conscious effort to honor their way of life, not to colonize their resources. To recognize alternative epistemologies.
MJ: I think the most important thing to me about showing the desert not as a wasteland, not as something dead, but as something that is living. The desert as a place that is absent of life is not inevitable nor natural. There was lots of life in the desert where I come from, except we have a series of dams, right, to make sure that LA gets their water and the IE gets their electricity. Really, what you’re seeing is really a product of so much rediverting of water and so many resources being taken away, but the desert is teeming with life. But it wasn’t enough life to be recognized to justify not diverting the Mojave River, right, or to justify not, you know, damming up rivers along the way. And so I guess my whole thing is most important line to me in my book is that it was settled by people who were already there, people who already thought this was paradise before neoliberals decided to build a paradise. We’ll make a golf, you know, we’ll make a golf course in Palm Springs. But there were people who were already there who had names for things that reflected their love of it. And so the idea to make something out of quote unquote, nothing is so dangerous.
ER: And ultimately, something Jamie and Kya can both agree on is that, in our climate discourse, there is a need for the voices of both the individual and the whole. For the raindrops and the storms. If each life in Jamie’s piece is a note, then we need every note, every instrument, to build a symphony that can really achieve some sort of change.
JP: I think it’s quite interesting to question everythingand also to be able to be a kind of walking hypocrite
. There’s it’s a dangerous path if you’re saying, I’m not part of this world and I’m going to go do good in it, you know, which can happen as well.
So yeah, again, going back to the idea of that, can you say it again?
JP: Polyvocality. Yeah. New favorite word.
ER: It’s a fun one.
JP: Polyvocality. I think that only happens when you’re really trying to be part of the many, and so that really is a lovelyidea in terms of like what rain means the vast kind of complexity of rain andhow it all forms together as water at the endthat’s really nice.
TH: Maybe, after all, this is one way forward. Recognizing that we are many and one.
JP: The message is messy, you know, and we’re in a messy place at the moment.
ER: Rain and its inseparable sonic qualities can transport us to seemingly infinite times and places: to a childhood storm, watched from the comfort and safety of your front porch; to terrifying flash floods and hydroplaning cars; to lush landscapes, green and flush with water. And yet, paradoxically, it also anchors us, holds our attention in the present.
In May of 2020, right when Jamie Perera was finishing up his first coronavirus data sonification piece and as Kya’s book was going to press, I bought and moved into my first home here in Nashville. The feature that sealed the deal for my husband and me was the back porch with a tin roof where we now spend most of our time. The summer storms of the South start with just a few plinks of rain on the roof, a percussive foreshadowing the lightning and thunder and flash flooding to come.
The sound of the rain carries a mixture of emotions. In the increasing drops, I feel the gravity of Perera’s coronavirus piece, imagining each one representing a life. Then, I can sense within the rising ecological grief that accompanies the more and more frequent flash floods in my area, a heaviness attached to the bigger picture of the human-made climate crises we now face. As the individual sounds blur together into a soft shushing over my head, I can feel the familiar calm and comfort I associate with listening to rain as I drift off to sleep each night.