About

As sea levels rise, forests burn, and glaciers melt, 9 Lifeboats offers a musical installation filled with in-the-moment storytelling and play as a performance survival manual for climate catastrophes. Imagined and personal experiences inform the content. Audience members and performers contribute stories while learning songs within an installation and story circle structure. Musical material ranges from whistle tones to sung melodic fragments that overlap like waves.

Inside each symbolic lifeboat are audience members who share stories about floods and topics related to survival facilitated by singer instructors. Survival kits contain first aid, food and water, a form of shelter or warmth, plus signaling and navigation devices. 9 Lifeboats adds storytelling and play as a necessity for humans to continue. Moreover it provides an intimate and expansive space for people to think about migration related climate change.

My grandparents fled China in 1938. I compose songs of dislocation prompted by a family history of forced migration. Images of boats with people escaping a natural disaster or political duress bring me to family stories and prompts me to create a structure to find ways to enact vulnerability, interdependence and adaptation as natural environments shift.

In 2017, I was invited by the Exploratorium to learn how sea level rise affects the Bay Area. During this research residency, I reflected on how my work as a composer and educator could foster an understanding of data. The Exploratorium has been working with civil and environmental engineers who collect data to predict the impact of sea level rise on civic infrastructures, such as transportation systems. Even though the visualizations are stunning, figuring out how to inform and empower communities to affect change was a challenge. During meetings, I was fascinated with seemingly off-the-cuff remarks such as “we’re all in the same boat.” This leads me to 9 Lifeboats.

Today’s in-process excerpts include performers working with the audience to find moments of beauty amidst catastrophe. Fascinated with number parallels and grounded in stories, I start with a set of abstract rules combined with contextual details. The number 9 references the nine counties in the Bay Area, Nine Chinese dragons each related with an animal, and Nine Muses in Greek mythology. There are also nine circles of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

9 Lifeboats is a multi-sensory analog experience where the values of participation are that everyone—young and old, immigrant, refugee, and American citizen—share and perform together. Deep listening happens with the entire body. 9 Lifeboats provides templates for sounds and stories to find meaning and solutions to bridge the psychological distance of climate catastrophes as well as embody vulnerable interdependencies away from fear towards open-hearted courage.

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