Viewfinder: When Music and Oceanography Intertwine

Viewfinder Climate Change Header
Atwood Magazine’s Viewfinder column revolves around music videos, and how a piece of music is synergistically enhanced by well-produced visuals.

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It is nearly impossible to escape the news in today’s politically charged climate. Aside from the constant notifications, tweet storms, and intense media coverage, politics has also leeched into music, with many artists producing work in reaction to issues such as systemic racism, police brutality, and sexual harassment.

Given the constant barrage of headlines shoved down our throats, it’s difficult to recall every individual news event that has happened since the 2016 election, but it was less than a year ago, in June 2017, that President Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris climate accord.

The subject of climate change has long been part of the political and cultural discourse, with documentaries such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The 11th Hour,” narrated by Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively, having been released in the mid 2000s. However, despite ample scientific evidence, the Trump administration has actively taken steps to reverse Obama-era climate change legislation, leaving the USA two steps behind most other developed countries.

In November 2017, 15,000 scientists issued a “warning to humanity” published in the journal BioScience, stating that “Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.”

Coming off the heels of the aforementioned open letter signed by climate scientists, several artists have also used their music to draw further attention to the issue of climate change. In December, Australian producer Flume released a short video collaboration with Greenpeace featuring unreleased music. The video comprises of shots of the Great Barrier Reef teeming with wildlife, interspersed with sobering footage of factories and other damaging industrial activities.

"Flume X Greenpeace" Still, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

“Flume X Greenpeace” Still, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

According to Greenpeace, the biggest threat facing the Great Barrier Reef is climate change driven by the mining and burning of fossil fuels. Rising global and sea temperatures have led to increased incidence of coral bleaching, which is the process of corals losing their color after expelling the algae that live inside their tissues, and eventually dying. This point is reinforced by the color grading in the video. All shots of marine life are vibrant and colorful, whereas the footage of human industrial activity is drab and desaturated.

Not one to shy away from political discourse, Radiohead have previously expressed their political beliefs in their music. Tracks like “Idioteque” and “The Numbers” utilize explicit imagery regarding climate change, with lyrics referencing an impending ice age, and rivers running dry.

Thus, it only seemed natural that for the launch of the nature documentary series “Blue Planet II,” the BBC enlisted a collaboration between Radiohead and Hans Zimmer, who had previously composed the main theme for 2016’s “Planet Earth II.”

The video prequel to “Blue Planet II” features a reworked orchestral version of Radiohead’s “Bloom” which was released on their 2011 album The King Of Limbs. In a discussion about the collaboration, Thom Yorke revealed that the original track was inspired by the first “Blue Planet” series, and with the new version of the track, called “(ocean) bloom,” the entire creative process has come full circle.

"Blue Planet II : The Prequel" Still, BBC Earth

“Blue Planet II : The Prequel” Still, BBC Earth

"Blue Planet II : The Prequel" Still, BBC Earth

“Blue Planet II : The Prequel” Still, BBC Earth

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the prequel features awe-inspiring footage of marine life from the series. From vast, overhead drone shots to close-ups following individual organisms, the cinematography on display rivaled that of previous BBC nature documentaries. Coupled with the ebbs and swells of the music, the video is a timely reminder of the beauty of our oceans, and the myriad ecosystems contained within them.

Both videos are different takes on the same pressing issue. Flume’s video, with its comparatively hard-edged electronic music, forces us to acknowledge the far-reaching environmental consequences of uncontrolled human activities. On the other hand, the BBC “Blue Planet II” prequel focuses on the magnificence of ocean habitats. Far from coming across as nagging or finger wagging, the videos are a reminder of the impact of human industrial activities, and reinforce the fragility and magnificence of our marine ecosystems.

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Carmen Chan

In trying to balance her love for both science and music, Carmen moonlights as a writer for Atwood Magazine while juggling her day job as a research technician studying cancer biology. She mostly listens to R&B, electronic, and rock music, and wishes she could get paid to make playlists all day.