published on Media + Environment
Mediating Art and ScienceJuly 15, 2021 PDT
The Blued Trees Symphony as Transdisciplinary Mediation for Environmental Policy
As the devastating impacts of anthropocentric behaviors have emerged in the Anthropocene, the specter of globalized “ecocide” has also emerged, requiring creative policy solutions. The Blued Trees project was an experiment in modeling how art might forestall ecocide by legally redefining public (economic) good to reconcile with common (benefit to a community) good. This continental-scale work of interdisciplinary art was copyrighted in 2015, requiring courts to recognize an emergent overlap between copyright ownership, eminent domain law, and new forms of art. My intention was to create a transdisciplinary, art-based model for sustainable relationships with other species and across demographics, which could be scaled in the court system for policy implications. My premises were that transdisciplinary thinking—work that dissolves disciplinary boundaries—can best preserve habitat integrity in these complex, uncertain times, and that laws are the building blocks of policy. The Blued Trees Symphony was conceived as sonified biogeographic sculpture in five movements based on the eighteenth-century sonata form, with the musical structure narrating a contest between Earth rights and accountability for ecocide. The legal theory was litigated in a mock trial produced with the fellowship program A Blade of Grass in 2018. The work, which brings together art, music, and performance with law, ecological science, and dynamic systems theory, continues as a work in progress in that some of its elements, such as trees and ecosystems, the score, and the vital need to stop ecocide, remain alive and very much in play today.
Climate change resulting from unchecked fossil fuel use, exacerbated by habitat fragmentation, overpopulation, and sprawl, prompted me to develop The Blued Trees Symphony (2015–present). This project is a transdisciplinary large-scale eco-artwork intended to effect social and ecological change. In 2015, at the invitation of private landowners, I began installing a series of one-third-mile-long musical measures in forested corridors where natural gas pipelines or pipeline expansion projects were proposed. GPS-located individual trees in each measure were mapped as “tree-notes,” in an aerial score. Tree-notes were identified in advance using aerial satellite mapping and ground-truthing. The measures were transposed and performable by live musicians. Each measure included at least ten tree-notes conceptualized in G major, a key that musicians in the Baroque period, such as Scarlatti and Bach, considered pleasing and stable. Since the intention of the project was to envision continental habitat contiguity, this seemed the obvious choice. The time signature in the score submitted for copyright is unperformable in any conventional sense: thirty-two beats to a measure, and the quarter note gets one beat because it is too rapid. This time signature was intended to indicate that we need to imagine another world if we aspire to protect the one we have. But the melodic refrain can still be sung, performed, and developed.
The legal intention was to “harmonize American with European intellectual property laws protecting droit moral, the moral rights of art and extending the law to protect features of ecological significance.” The tree-notes were each marked with a vertical sine wave design. A sine wave indicates the movement of sound in time. The mark, like the impossible time signature, was intended to symbolize an acoustic experience that is multidimensional. The marks were painted—from canopy to roots, including rock formations at the base of the trunk—with a permanent casein of nontoxic ultramarine blue and buttermilk that could grow moss. The sigil referenced the dimensionality of sound in the project. Cumulatively, the measures contribute to a synesthetic, continental-scale score in progress for the Overture and First Movement. The Overture was installed on the summer solstice of 2015 in Peekskill, New York, and the elements were immediately submitted for copyright registration. Rather than copyrighting the forests endangered by natural gas pipelines in The Blued Trees Symphony, we copyrighted relationships between the human teams, the art, and the trees in their habitat. (In writings and interviews, I have been careful to describe the work as being with the trees rather than on them.) We received confirmation of our registration that fall (figure 1).
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