Well, even if Handel’s suites are not overtly about water, your project certainly is. How did you approach the issues of climate change and the politics surrounding water, which are only just now emerging as real concerns?
I really knew nothing about this subject of water other than what we all know: that there are floods and droughts; that oceans are polluted; what we’ve all heard about fracking, and about warmer winters and colder winters. I needed to start with the how and what of water.
I began my research on YouTube, watching tons of National Geographic documentaries about water and oceans and the hydrological system. I was interested in how water got here, which is amazing — Big Bang, planets, comets, volcanoes, endless rainstorms, that kind of stuff. There are also these documentaries online about the spiritual aspects of water, including about Emoto, this Japanese writer who claims water holds memory.
I began my reading research with Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes From a Catastrophe.” She writes lots of investigative articles about climate: One that I found inspiring was about a scientist who helped solve the mystery of an ancient city’s rapid demise due to sudden drought. Sudden tipping points are really scary, and also musically interesting to me. I wrote a tune, “Tiny Blue Green Creature,” about how extinction is not only for Indonesian tigers and ancient Mesopotamian city-states. It’s about how similar our own situation could be to many civilizations now extinct.
Later I dipped into Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us,” which gave me the idea that our blood has the same chemical components as ocean water. Or just taste your tears. We just carry around a good deal of moving water. We have an internal ocean. I read “The View From Lazy Point,” by Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute. I met with him recently. We discussed how to “find people where they are situated” rather than to confront them with the looming disaster. This is really an issue — how to communicate the enormity of what is happening environmentally, and not alienate or disturb people so that they walk away. Garbage is another big issue in the oceans. None of the world’s major rivers still run to the sea all year round; there is just so much damming and routing of water for agriculture and cities.