Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text


MUSIC & THE CLIMATE CRISIS

Jen Shyu

L y n n L a n e what gave me hope is the people: their resolve, their strength, their resilience and will power, to make a change for a better life. My faith in big ideas survives through my faith in people. The GGW is an ambitious and bold idea, if completed it can combat climate change and the peripheral issues it causes.”

‘Save the environment!’ are too vague… If someone is inspired to plant a tree or to use their own silverware, or stop buying anything with plastic for a month or year, or to compost in their apartment, or to never request hospitali in a hotel again – all these small decisions add up.”

“What concerns me is the race we are in, we don’t have much time le . My generation is the one that has to make it right before it’s too late. We are living on a knife edge, there is this tremendous human potential to rise to the challenge or perhaps a ticking time bomb if we fail to act.”

MYSTIC L VISIONS An American born to Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrant parents, Jen Shyu is a multi-instrumentalist, celebrated jazz composer and dancer. Her most recent show, Zero Grasses, explores the strained relationship between humani and nature, drawing parallels with how people relate to each other. Commissioned by John Zorn, it taps into folk and shamanic traditions from several Asian cultures, with Shyu performing on the Japanese biwa, Korean gayageum, and Taiwanese moon lute. The piece is ethereal, experimental and poetic, but, she says, nonetheless frontal about the challenges we face.

Shyu says a love of nature was instilled in her and her brother by their parents, who would take them on carefully planned road trips from their home in Dunlap, Illinois, to places like Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. She recalls learning, aged ten, about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, when her school sent donations of towels to locals to save animals trapped in oil. “This was perhaps my first time realising how destructive human negligence can be upon Mother Nature,” she says.

Shyu’s artistic awakening began in 2014, with her first fulllength solo theatrical work, Solo Rites: Seven Breaths, directed by famed Indonesian film and stage director, Garin Nugroho. This

“My generation is the one that has to make it right before it’s too late”

made use of field interviews with river communities affected by deforestation in Kalimantan, Borneo, carried out by a political ecologist, and featured a symbolic paper cube that was destroyed during the performance, emulating the destruction of a floating cradle box used in a funeral ceremony on the island.

“I express anger and ugliness and raw hones in this show, unlike my past work, which has been pically focused on beau , organic integration of elements, and using virtuosi as a means of expression.” Shyu insists “music can directly change things,” invoking powerful examples of past artists who, she says, have “spurred activism and ignited movements,” names such as Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Michael Landy and Chin Chih Yang.

In Zero Grasses, she says she wants people to relate to tsunamis and phenomena like the red tide (algae blooms) at a human level. “It’s important for me to make these connections and parallels – how a death of a parent is like a tsunami, for example – because we are so disconnected from nature as we increase our dependency on technology.”

“They explicitly stated their activism in their art, be it in their lyrics, presentation, objects they use, or simply being the first to do the thing that they became known for. If the art spurs someone to think differently or change their awareness or consciousness about something, that is direct influence. People don’t like to be told what to do, and generalisations like

Shyu’s unashamedly avant-garde work might seem meditative, even mystical, the kind of ‘ar ’ performance Boris Johnson would associate with ‘crusties’ or educated hippies. But she sees the link between science and the non-scientific aspects of nature as crucial to forging a new understanding.

“I’m o en a sceptic,” says Shyu, “which drives my intellectual curiosi and need to do research and find ‘evidence,’ but I am also extremely open and non-judgmental,

People don’t like to be told what to do, and generalisations like ‘evidence,’ but I am also extremely open and non-judgmental,

and I know for a fact that I can experience things more and I know for a fact that I can experience things more fully because of this open attitude. From many mystical experiences and encounters with incredible people along my travels, I do pi those who do not allow themselves to be shown the gi s from the universe that are infinitely showing themselves at a given time and place.”

MELTING ICE Ice has been a recurring motif of environmentalism since the days when we talked about the ‘ozone layer’ and ‘global warming’ with an insouciant neutrali . From the ‘iconic’ polar bear on its stranded mini-berg to clips of calving glacier walls to the animated computer models showing northern countries falling into the sea only to rise again as floods move somewhere to the south, the cold white rock is as ominous and impenetrable as the climate crisis itself.

Norway’s Terje Isungset began to explore ice music in 1999 when he was asked to play a frozen waterfall in Lillehammer. He took to the medium as naturally as he had done to the Arctic birch wood, granite, sheep bells and slate he used in other sound art pieces. Isungset takes a holistic view of his

WWW.SONGLINES.CO.UK

ISSUE 154 › SONGLINES 29

Skip to main content