Friday, August 26, 2011

350: Science --> Poetry --> Music

350 parts per million is the "safe upper limit" for CO2 in our atmosphere presented by NASA scientist Jim Hansen in December 2007 and widely agreed upon.  From that number .was born. On October 24, 2009, 350 Poems celebrated an international day of climate action with a posting, from poets all around the world, of 350 poems of 3.5 lines each --  each responding to concern for man-made climate change. 
     My contribution to the site was "The Spider," a 3.5 line poem given below,  In response to this 3.5 poem, Boston composer Erik Gustafson composed his version of "The Spider" -- for piano. Listen!

     The Spider     (265/350)        by JoAnne Growney

     Spinner of intricate, twenty-inch silk food snares.
     Twenty inches — not fifty or two hundred.
     She knows the limits to her senses.  Humans 
     keep building bigger webs.

An earlier, longer version of " The Spider" is available here.  About the muscial version of "The Spider" Gustafson notes that, rather than setting the poem directly to music, his piano piece uses the words as an introduction to the music, which relects the poem's text as well as its its environmental concern. Gustafson's composition has 3.50 or three and one-half sections; and, as the spider of the poem spins webs of "twenty inches," the music has twenty measures as a full unit of its spinning. Where the music gets cut short in the last (half-)section, having only ten measures, one may interpret that either the "spider" somehow stops mid-spin or human activity and (mis)treatment of the environment prevents further activity by this remarkable creature.

The following chart shows our recent human excess of  the 350 limit.  Is this how the world ends -- from carbon dioxide?

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