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The Automatic Earth

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    31:00 min
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Instrumentation:   BandElectroacousticElectronic

Genres:   Electroacoustic

Movement Title(s):

A Slow Fire – 5’15”
Days of Miracle and Wonder – 4’30”
Shining of Shadow – 9’30”
The Automatic Earth – 7’30”
The Language of Light – 5′

UBC Bands: The Automatic Earth #concert4theclimate from UBC School of Music on Vimeo.

Our way of life is unsustainable, therefore it will not continue. The Automatic Earth weaves together two threads: the climate crisis, and the technological transformation of what it is to be human. The tandem acceleration of technological wonder and ecological catastrophe means, at best, a strange, unrecognizable future, likely within our own lifetimes.

As the interlocking set of crises that we call climate change make life more and more difficult for everyone, I fear we will turn, in desperation, to geoengineering and human re-engineering We will alter the earth and alter our bodies in radical, untested ways in order to survive. Surpassed only by an extraordinary change in our willingness to cooperate with each other.

In other words, it confronts our own hubris in thinking that technological progress will somehow magically solve the problems created by the last round of technological progress.

I wrote a piece in 2008 called Ecstatic Waters which addressed the merging of human and computer. In this work, I was ultimately optimistic that we would eventually find a successful way to become more than human, to transcend our organic limitations and become happier, fitter creatures. Now, however, I’m not so sure it will be a good thing, but if it’s possible, then it’s inevitable. Humanity will alter itself, or it will perish.

Some links and resources for more information:

“The warming effect of increasing carbon dioxide takes decades to influence the planet’s temperature. Even if we cut all emissions today, we are still set for a temperature rise, due to the cumulative effect of the climate. To meet a goal of 1.5 °C warming, this demands immediately cutting the planet’s emissions to 45 % below 2010 levels by 2030. If the global temperature rises by 1.5°C, humans will face unprecedented climate-related risks and weather events. We are on track for a 3-4°C temperature rise.”

– 2018 IPCC report

“We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground. If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments. It’s not ‘we should do this,’ or ‘we’d be wise to do this.’ Instead it’s simpler: ‘We have to do this.’”

– Bill McKibben, Yes! Magazine, 15 February 2016

“We shall best understand the probable course of natural selection by taking the case of a country undergoing some physical change, for instance, of climate. The proportional numbers of its inhabitants would almost immediately undergo a change, and some species might become extinct.”

– Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Over the dark mountain, over the dark pinewood,
Down the long dark valley along the shrunken river,
Returns the splendor without rays, the shining of shadow,
Peace-bringer, the matrix of all shining and quieter of shining.
Where the shore widens on the bay she opens dark wings
And the ocean accepts her glory. O soul worshipful of her
You like the ocean have grave depths where she dwells always,
And the film of waves above that takes the sun takes also
Her, with more love. The sun-lovers have a blond favorite,
A father of lights and noises, wars, weeping and laughter,
Hot labor, lust and delight and the other blemishes. Quietness
Flows from her deeper fountain; and he will die; and she is

– Robinson Jeffers, Night

It was a dry wind
And it swept across the desert
And it curled into the circle of birth
And the dead sand
Falling on the children
The mothers and the fathers
And the automatic earth

– Paul Simon, “The Boy in the Bubble”

We did not intend this harm, but we have done it; given the reign of neoliberalism and the lies of the fossil fuel industry, living as social beings almost required that we do this harm. But now, if we wish to remain social beings, something else is required of us.

– Emily Johnston, Loving a Vanishing World

Special thanks to Dr. Katrina Clements for recording some of the Clarinet material used in the electronic sounds.

Commissioned by: Arizona State University and a consortium of ensembles


22 February 2019, Arizona State University Wind Orchestra, CBDNA National Conference, Tempe, AZ

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Availability Date: March, 2019