The Last Songs Of Gaia

Episodes

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1: Birds2020062320200811 (R4)In the last year, the scale of the climate and wildlife crises has been laid bare by scientists around the globe. As ecosystems collapse, a frightening number of species are falling silent. How are the world’s musicians, sound artists and poets responding?

Music broadcaster and gardener Verity Sharp meets the artists seeking to memorialise and document the species on the cusp of extinction.

The series begins with the most fondly held sounds of our natural environment - birdsong. What does it mean to us, and how might this shift as species disappear?

We visit the Australian outback in the small hours to listen to the crystalline and endlessly inventive pied butcherbird; and hear how an ancient myth is inspiring hope in Nicaragua, how a Welsh musician is reviving an old folksong to draw attention to the plight of the cuckoo, and what it’s like to live with the ghosts of extinct birds.

With contributions from Hollis Taylor, Sally Ann McIntyre, Tamara Montenegro, Owen Shiers and Nan Craig.

Produced by Chris Elcombe
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Additional material:
Annie Johnson - ‘Cànan nan Eun’, copyright of the Canna Collections, National Trust for Scotland
Recording of Mr Humane Humana, 1949 , copyright Nga Taonga Sound & Vision

Photo: © Salvadora Morales

How are the world's musicians, sound artists and poets responding to the loss of species?

01Birds20200623How are the world's musicians, sound artists and poets responding to the loss of species?

In the last year, the scale of the climate and wildlife crises has been laid bare by scientists around the globe. As ecosystems collapse, a frightening number of species are falling silent. How are the world’s musicians, sound artists and poets responding?

Music broadcaster and gardener Verity Sharp meets the artists seeking to memorialise and document the species on the cusp of extinction.

The series begins with the most fondly held sounds of our natural environment - birdsong. What does it mean to us, and how might this shift as species disappear?

We visit the Australian outback in the small hours to listen to the crystalline and endlessly inventive pied butcherbird; and hear how an ancient myth is inspiring hope in Nicaragua, how a Welsh musician is reviving an old folksong to draw attention to the plight of the cuckoo, and what it’s like to live with the ghosts of extinct birds.

With contributions from Hollis Taylor, Sally Ann McIntyre, Tamara Montenegro, Owen Shiers and Nan Craig.

Produced by Chris Elcombe
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Additional material:
Annie Johnson - ‘Cànan nan Eun’, copyright of the Canna Collections, National Trust for Scotland
Recording of Mr Humane Humana, 1949 , copyright Nga Taonga Sound & Vision

Photo: © Salvadora Morales

02Waterlife2020063020200818 (R4)In the last year, the scale of the climate and wildlife crises has been laid bare by scientists around the globe. A frightening number of species are falling silent as a result. How are the world’s musicians, sound artists and poets responding?

In the second episode, Verity Sharp journeys underwater into a soundworld that even the most dedicated experts know relatively little about. 90% of the oceans’ species are still unclassified, let alone recorded.

If we were more familiar with the sounds of waterlife, might we care for it more? Verity listens to shrimp crackling and fish grunting. On Easter Island, where the Pacific stretches for thousands of miles in every direction, the ocean means everything to the local community, including its musicians. And Verity goes for a walk in rural Hampshire to commune with an unassuming waterway that has had far-reaching implications for the British way of life, but where key species are facing ever-greater threats.

With contributions from Jana Winderen, Yoyo Tuki, Sam Lee and Philip Gross.

Produced by Chris Elcombe
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

Additional material:
Musicians of Torba Province, Vanuatu - ‘Dolap Warer music’ (Wantok Musik)
Photo: © José Alejandro Álvarez / IG: josealejandroalvarez_photos

How are the world's musicians, sound artists and poets responding to the loss of species?

03Mammals2020070720200825 (R4)In the last year, the scale of the climate and wildlife crises has been laid bare by scientists around the globe. A frightening number of species are falling silent as a result. How are the world’s musicians, sound artists and poets responding?

In this episode, Verity Sharp asks what role mammals have in our collective imagination. What might we lose culturally if species go extinct, and how do the stories we tell and the music that’s inspired by mammals affect how we feel about them today - for better or worse?

Verity heads into the studio to sit in on an exclusive session recording inspired by the elephant. A Malagasy lemur expert tells us an ancient story about the Indri as we hear its cry resounding across continents. And how do artists respond when entire human communities are threatened with destruction?

Featuring contributions from Stuart Hyatt (aka Field Works), Katherine Rundell, Antye Greie-Ripatti (aka AGF), Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Sarathy Korwar, Abel Selaocoe and Jay Baza Pascua.

Produced by Chris Elcombe
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Additional material:
Taylor Deupree - ‘Echo Affinity’, and Kelly Moran - ‘Sodalis’, from Ultrasonic by Field Works
Photo © Iraki Relazon

How are the world's musicians, sound artists and poets responding to the loss of species?

AGF: INDRI indri produced in the context of Extinction Room by Sergiu Matis
using field recordings with permission from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Xeno-canto Foundation.

04Plants And Insects2020071420200901 (R4)In the last year, the scale of the climate and wildlife crises has been laid bare by scientists around the globe. A frightening number of species are falling silent as a result. How are the world’s musicians, sound artists and poets responding?

The series concludes with the biggest leap - into the scarcely imaginable soundworld of pondweed, ants and the interior of tree trunks. If we could get inside these soundscapes, how might our perspective on the world change?

Verity Sharp listens to how the sounds of ants on the Amazon forest floor are transformed into music for drum ensemble, and considers whether we could ever grow to love the sound of pondweed photosynthesising. The symbolism of trees makes them easier to connect with and we hear tales of spirits and persecution in southern Mexico, as well as folk music inspired by threatened wildflowers much closer to home.

Featuring Jez riley French, Lisa Schonberg, Mikeas Sanchez and Janie Mitchell.

Produced by Chris Elcombe
A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Additional material:
Horacio Franco - ‘Diálogo entre flautas’ from Lienzos de viento (Puertarbor Records puertarbor@gmail.com)
Baka chanting courtesy of Greenpeace Africa and Swiri Milsheron Nche
Photo © Pheobe riley Law

How are the world's musicians, sound artists and poets responding to the loss of species?

Featuring Jez Riley-French, Lisa Schonberg, Mikeas Sanchez and Janie Mitchell.

Additional material:
Horacio Franco - ‘Diálogo entre flautas’ from Lienzos de viento (Puertarbor Records puertarbor@gmail.com)
Baka chanting courtesy of Greenpeace Africa and Swiri Milsheron Nche
Photo © Pheobe Riley-French