LONG DISTANCE DEDICATION
(Now On with the Countdown!) No. 2
in collaboration with Carlos Alomar
Appropriated lyrics: “What's Going On” (1971), “She's Gone”(1973), “Baby Come Back” (1977), “Don't Leave Me This Way” (1975), “True” (1983)
A site-based audio giving voice to the non-human world
premiered on Governors Island, 2021
Long Distance Dedication (Now on with the countdown) is a sound
piece to sonify waterfront environments with backing vocals of pop songs from the 1970s as a Greek chorus for climate change. Emanating
from a marine navigation buoy, a boat speaker, or a public address system in a marina, the voices express the emotional urgency of climate change. Singing to all those who can hear it, this soundtrack serves as a collective voice for the non-human world, underscoring the bewildering and rapid changes to the climate.
The vision for this project is to install the soundtrack in waterfront spaces vulnerable to sea level rise, and within objects that bear witness to climate change every day: buoys, trees, etc. Sonifying these spaces and objects supplies them a voice—an outlet—for the changes they experience but cannot readily emote.
Backing vocals, composed with periods of slience to be played over a 12-hour cycle—like the tides—integrate into the surrounding environment. Carried on the wind, and amplified by stillness, this work creeps into the consciousness of the space around it, joining waves, boat engines, birds, breeze, humans and machines.
The 1970s witnessed numerous crises: Watergate, OPEC, gas shortages and the energy crisis, fiscal crises, nation-wide droughts, and burning rivers, to name a few. With these crises came a pervading sense of tumult, catastrophe and anxiety. These feelings—familiar today—were powerful enough to ignite progressive change. The many environmental crises created a new awareness of the symbiosis between humans and nature.
The environmental movement began in 1970, encouraging the formating and signing of NEPA. That same year, the EPA was established, NOAA was formed, and the Natural Resources Defense Council was created.
On the heels of the idealism of the late 60s, the 70s bore out not just a loss of innocence, but larger feelings of loss: loss of national cohesion, and a loss of control at a global scale—a feeling many are struggling with in 2020 and 2021. This sense loss was reflected in popular music of the decade. More Top 40 songs of the 70s were ballads about disillusionment and regret than in any other decades. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye—written in 1970—is considered a cultural catalyst in the birth of theenvironmental movement. Most of these popular songs employed the common convention of strong, harmonized backing vocals that reflected and/or commented on the pain and anguish in the refrain of each chorus.
Growing up, I was glued to the radio every Saturday morning to listen to “America’s Top 40” — a nationally franchised program by Casey Kasem that essentially played the top forty songs backwards from 40 as rated by the week’s pop charts. One of the featured segments every week was the “Long Distance Dedication.” Listeners would write in stories of love and longing or loss to Kasem, asking for a song to be played for someone far away. It was the one moment in the otherwise mechanized process of the show that humanized my favorite songs in a surprisingly intimate way. To shift from this emotional moment back to the driving pace of the show, Kasem would cry, “Now on with the countdown!”
The title of the work references this cultural anchor of my childhood, but also the time and space that are embedded in addressing Climate Change today that is both urgent and on-going for generations.