More Than a Soundtrack: Music Between Text and Image in Environmental Art

Heidi Hart


Abstract: Music has rarely been the subject of analysis in environmental art forms, from film to post-apocalyptic fiction. This article seeks to fill that gap and shows how music functions between word and image, using three case studies: The Crossroads Project, a lecture-performance series on climate crisis; Trinity, a short documentary video on the history of nuclear testing; and Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan, a dystopian novel with music at its core. In all three examples, music does not work as atmospheric background but rather as an active mediator in its own right. Entering the spaces between text or spoken word and image with unexpected material presence, it can help to open the audience toward greater urgency or inquiry about climate disruption; it can accumulate intensity as viewers watch and hear data on nuclear testing; it can even incite violence within a narrative, both thematically and in the text itself, as Sybille Krämer has noted in her work on performativity. Though activist art can easily become baldly manipulative, music can “expose” its hearers (to use Stacy Alaimo’s and Jean-Luc Nancy’s term) to planetary threats in a way that fosters critical, not just sentimental or fearful, response.

Keywords: music; text; image; Anthropocene; climate; performativity.

Resumo: A música raramente tem sido objeto de análise nas formas de arte ambiental, do cinema à ficção pós-apocalíptica. Este artigo procura preencher essa lacuna e mostrar como a música atua entre palavra e imagem, a partir de três estudos de caso: o Projeto Crossroads, uma série de leituras performáticas sobre a crise climática; Trinity, um vídeo-documentário de curta duração a respeito da história dos testes nucleares; e The Book of Joan, de Lidia Yuknavitch, um romance distópico que tem por foco a música. Nos três casos, a música não funciona como pano de fundo para produzir uma determinada atmosfera, mas sim como um mediador ativo. Penetrando as fronteiras entre texto, ou palavra falada, e imagem com inesperada presença material, a música ajuda a provocar na audiência maior senso de urgência ou questionamento a respeito das alterações climáticas; pode acumular intensidade à medida que os espectadores assistem e ouvem dados sobre os testes nucleares; e pode até mesmo incitar violência em uma narrativa, tanto na temática quanto no texto em si, como observou Sybille Krämer em seu trabalho sobre performatividade. Embora a arte ativista possa facilmente se tornar manipulativa, a música pode “expor” seus ouvintes (para usar o termo de Stacy Alaimo e Jean-Luc Nancy) às ameaças planetárias de uma forma que promova uma reação não só sentimental ou tímida, mas crítica.

Palavras-chave: música; texto; imagem; Antropoceno; clima; performatividade.


music; text; image; Anthropocene; climate; performativity.

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Direitos autorais 2017 Heidi Hart

Aletria: Revista de Estudos de Literatura
ISSN 1679-3749 (impressa) / ISSN 2317-2096 (eletrônica)

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Esta obra está licenciada com uma Licença Creative Commons Atribuição 4.0 Internacional.