As sea levels rise, forests burn, and glaciers melt, 9 Lifeboats offers a musical installation filled with storytelling and play, as a performance survival manual for migration from climate catastrophes.

photo of audience participants at 9 Lifeboats workshop
9 Lifeboats audience participants share survival techniques from unfolded paper boats

Imagined and personal experiences inform the content. Audience members and performers contribute stories while learning songs within a participatory installation and story circle structure. Musical material ranges from whistle tones to sung melodic fragments that overlap like waves.

photo of paper boat made by workshop participant
9 Lifeboats participant with a paper boat
“My grandparents fled China in 1938. Images of boats with people escaping a natural disaster or political duress bring me to family stories and prompts me to develop songs and structures that enact vulnerability, interdependence, and adaptation as local environments shift.”
Byron Au Yong
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 displacement related to the climate crisis.

photo of Au Yong at the Exploratorium
Au Yong speaks at the Exploratorium
In 2017, Byron Au Yong was invited by the Exploratorium to learn how sea level rise affects the San Francisco Bay Area. During this research residency, he reflected on how his work as a composer and educator could foster an understanding of data. The Exploratorium had 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 Au Yong found the data visualizations to be stunning, figuring out how to inform and empower communities to affect change was a challenge. During meetings, he was fascinated with seemingly off-the-cuff remarks such as “we’re all in the same boat.” This led to 9 Lifeboats.

Why 9?
Fascinated with number parallels and grounded in stories, Au Yong starts with a set of abstract rules combined with contextual details. The number 9 references the nine counties in the San Francisco 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. This initiative 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.

Contact to find out ways to host a workshop and/or installation performance.

photo of outdoor workshop in San Francisco
9 Lifeboats participants in an outdoor workshop

“... claustrophobic and expansive, intimate and existential, personal and political all at once.”
Byron Au Yong (歐陽良仁) composes songs of dislocation prompted by a broken lineage. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, his upbringing informs a creative process that examines the contradictions between the American Dream and sustainability.

He has been artist-in-residence with the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, Center for Migration and the Global City at Rutgers University, International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Montalvo Arts Center, Sundance Institute Theatre Labs, Virginia Tech Center for the Arts, and Yale Institute for Music Theatre. Honors include a Creative Capital Award, Ford Foundation Fellowship, and Time Warner Foundation Fellowship.

Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Au Yong creates across disciplines with an attention to the ways people connect with the places they call home. He is an Assistant Professor of Music in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

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Photos courtesy of the Exploratorium
© Byron Au Yong 2020