“Documenting Ecosystems” by Lisa Schonberg


DENISE JORGENS: Good evening. And thank you all
for joining us here at International House at
the University of Chicago for this very special program. My name is Denise Jorgens. I am the director here
at International House. And I am the president of the
International Houses Worldwide. And I mention that
because it’s of interest, that we are part of a network
of 19 houses on four continents. This evening’s event is one
of many special programs celebrating our
85th anniversary. Today’s program is presented by
the International House Global Voices program, the Program
on the Global Environment, the Arts, Science, and Culture
Initiative, the Phoenix Sustainability Initiative,
and the Frizzell Speaker and Learning Series. This program also is
made possible, in part, by the generous support of
one of our alumni, Bart Lazar. Bart is a longtime
supporter of I House, and we are pleased that he is
able to join us here today. I look forward to seeing all of
you here at International house throughout the remained
of the academic year as we continue to
celebrate turning 85. This is a moment for
all of us to reflect on and to celebrate our
enduring mission, to enable students and
scholars from around the world to live and work together
in a diverse community that builds lifelong qualities
of leadership, respect, and friendship. Thank you again for
coming this evening. And thank you to all the
members of our community for your ongoing commitment
and dedication to our mission. And now I’d like to welcome
Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser, who is a fourth year economics and
public policy double-major. She currently serves as
the student coordinator of the Frizzell Committee and
the Environment, Agriculture, and Food Working Group, EAF. Thank you, again. And welcome, Caitlin. [APPLAUSE] CAITLIN PICCIRILLO-STOSSER:
Thank you for that great introduction. Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for
joining us today. I’m Caitlin. I’m the student
coordinator of the EAF as well as the Frizzell
Community on-campus. First, I’d like
to remind everyone to please go vote for our
fantastic student exhibitors, whom we have here today. And I’d really
like to thank them for journeying here, some
of them from downtown, and then, of course,
everyone is already super busy with a
lot of school work. And I really appreciate
them taking the time to come here today. So, please go vote if
you haven’t already. You should all have gotten
[INAUDIBLE] when you walked in. And we will be announcing the
winner at intermission, not at the end as we
had originally said. So, please go vote now. I don’t mind if you get up now
while I’m talking to go vote. Anyway, so, again, I’d just
like, on behalf of the Frizzell Speaker and Learning Series,
I’d like to thank all of you for coming today. The Frizzell Series is a
year-long, student-run series of events that engages the
fields of environment, health, and food. The series is meant
to commemorate the life accomplishments
and aspirations of Alexander Frizzell, who’s
a student here in the college. Tonight, we are very excited
to join the Local Voices program at the International
House, the Art, Science, and Culture Initiative,
and Bart Lazar in posing Lisa Schonberg
from Secret Drum Band. Lisa is a composer,
percussionist, and environmental activist. Throughout college and graduate
school, she studied ecology, and entomology, and since then,
has done extensive field work. While working as
a field biologist, Lisa was drawn to
soundscapes, and as a drummer, she decided to use her
skills in performance, and composition to
protect wild places. Her work is dedicated
to connecting the arts to environmental
issues such as threats to public lands, habitat
loss, and endangered species. Lisa founded the
Secret Drum Band, Document Habitats and
Soundscapes Through Music, and the band’s compositions
raise awareness about the relationships between
humans, ecology, and music. With that, I am very honored
to introduce Lisa Schonberg. [APPLAUSE] LISA SCHONBERG:
Thank you so much, and thanks everyone
for being here. Thank you to
International House, and to everyone who had a part
in organizing tonight’s event, and to my band mates for
driving from Portland to Chicago in just under six days
time, and hauling gear into and out of
venues every day. Anyways, just get
this configured. So my name is Lisa
Shonberg, and I’m from Staten Island, New York. But together with my
band mates, we all live in Portland, Oregon. So as she was saying, I
grew up playing drums, and started drumming
in the school band. But living in Staten
Island, I didn’t have that much exposure to
what we could call wild places. But every time I did
step into the woods, it really sparked my
mind, and I really wondered about
what was out there, and had a concern about
environmental issues, even though I hadn’t
really stepped foot, or really gone hiking, or
even ever set up a tent, or slept in one. And then when I went off to
college in upstate New York, I had the opportunity
for the first time to really spend
time in the woods, and I switched
from a music major to an environmental
studies major, and started taking
ecology courses, and became especially
interested in insects, and the ants in particular. So that started– my life kind
of took a turn at that point, but I continued playing music,
and always had at least two, maybe three or four bands
going on at the same time. And moved across
the country to go to grad school at the Evergreen
State college in Olympia. Has anyone been to
Olympia, Washington? [AUDIENCE MEMBER SHOUTS] Yeah. Geoducks. So I got my masters of
environmental studies there, and I was lucky enough to study
with two wonderful professors, Jack Longino, who’s an
expert in neotropical ants, and Nalini Nadkarni, who
happens to be his wife. And she’s this
extraordinary ecologist who has done a lot of ground
breaking work about the canopy. So the top of the forest. And I was able to work
with both of them, and they both were a
big inspiration to me. Nalini especially reached out
to different kinds of audiences to get people,
such as prisoners, and spiritual leaders, and
hip hop artists engaged with environmental issues. So it kind of planted
this seed in my head on how I could possibly
combine my interests. So that’s a little background
about where I’ve come from. So while I was at Evergreen,
I was doing field work mostly in Costa Rica, running around,
collecting ants, and doing biodiversity studies on them. But I always paid
a lot of attention to the sounds around me, and
I became really interested in these fields,
acoustic ecology, and soundscape
ecology, and I started reading books by Marie Shaeffer,
and the guy who is quoted up here, Bernie Krause. They’re some of the
leaders in these fields, and they basically had really
established conversations around the importance
of looking at sound, and soundscapes in environments
as to clues as to the condition of the space, or habitat
disturbance, as opposed to just counting the amount
of species over there, or any traditional
quantitative studies. So I was getting really
into reading about those, and listening more, and
I’d jot down musical ideas while I was out collecting ants. And so this is a quote
from Bernie Krause that I especially like. “A great silence is spreading
over the natural world, even as the sound of man
is becoming deafening.” So it’s really
hard to find places where we don’t have
man-made sounds. And man-made sounds
can upset the balance, the acoustic balance,
of ecosystems– set it off balance. Set it off-balance. So I started thinking about how
I could combine these things, and once I graduated
from grad school, I was doing field biology
jobs in Washington State, and in Hawaii, and also touring
with my bands in the US, and Europe, and while
we went around the US, I would collect insect
specimens, and field recordings. But the best idea
I’ve come with so far, as far as how to
combine my interests was to go into the woods, and
have just drum circle jam along with birds. But thankfully, my friend Emily
asked me to a solo exhibit in her gallery. She’s like, you really
like insects and art, how about you– I’ve never done this before. So she gave me this
opportunity, and I put together an exhibit using
the things I had collected on tour with my band,
and on some camping trips. And so there were insect
specimens, and field recordings from the places that I
collected them, and drawings of the insects along
with some natural history information about them. So I was getting more, and
more excited about these ideas. In 2011, I got a grant to
write a big composition for Secret Drum
Band, which had only existed once before as a
floor piece 10 years before. And so what I did
is I spent a week on Mount Hood within Oregon. It’s pretty much
like the mountain in the backyard of Portland,
and I was at an artist residency with a wonderful program
called Signal Fire, and they bring artists
to public lands. And I sat at my
tent, and listened, and wrote a piece
called Mount Hood, which they ensembled, and performed. So this was the first
time that I really composed a full piece of
music based on a habitat. And I wanted to talk a
little bit about my process. We just sit outside,
and listen for things, and then write down percussive,
rhythmic ideas of what I heard. And I just wrote down any
idea that came to mind, knowing that probably
only a few of them would end up getting
used in the end. And I jot down
things that I thought would go well
together, sometimes based on what I was hearing,
or based on what I thought fit well, rhythmically. This is a page from a
field notebook of mine, and I know how to do
percussive notation. So I just write out
the notes like that so it’s easy to refer to later. And then I’d also pay attention
to the larger soundscape, so the combination of all
sounds in my environment, and think about how that
could inform the mood, and the arrangement of
the piece of music itself. And while I’m doing that,
I’m making recordings that I could refer to later. So it’s a combination of
composing on site, and then [INAUDIBLE] studio at home. And some of it is based on
just mimicking what I hear, and representing it with
percussion, or sometimes melodic sounds, or the
textures, and then some of it is actually just
taking recordings, and making loops out of them. And you’ll hear when we
perform later, actual field recordings in our music. And then sometimes
it’s just abstraction. I’m just sitting in
a place, and taking in how it feels to sit in this
desert, or tropical forest, or beach, and writing
music based on that. And then I also look around,
and take visual cues. So sometimes that comes to
play more often than others. And the IO software
that I’ve come to love is Ableton Live, and
my band mate Allen, who also writes
music in the band, and I have really
loved this program. And when I get back to where
I’m staying, or my studio, I’ll throw in the ideas I
came up with from the field, and see how they
work out together, and that could be done
with either live drums, or just tapping on whatever is
around, or using mini drums. And then the process
of experimenting with arrangements, and building
the song actually starts. So putting the ideas that
came up in the field. And so I wanted to talk about
a few particular projects that I’ve done since the
[INAUDIBLE] composition, and how my ideas, and
our ideas as a band have evolved around through
all of these projects. In 2012, we were invited to
go to Joshua Tree, California to stay on the lands of an
artist named Andrea Zittel. She’s fabulous, and she
makes functional art. Basically, things you could live
in, or things you could wear, and she also has
a compound where artists can come, and stay,
and think about their work, or make new work. And so we were
lucky enough to be able to spend the month there,
and Allen Wilson and I– Allen right there, one of the
members of the Secret Drum Band– we spent a week or two
roaming around the desert, collecting field recordings. And our objective was to
create a new body of work that was based on the desert
environment around us, and we invited one
of our band mates to make costumes, and one
of our videographer friends to come along to make videos,
and there was two dancers that we invited to make work. And so this was a
collaborative effort where everyone
was really looking in our immediate surroundings
for things to inform our art. And we found it was
really exceptionally quiet there at that time of year. It was October. And so we really had to
look hard for sounds, and ended up manipulating
things in our environment to get sounds, and making a
lot of use out of contact mics. So this is a cactus
that we had a lot of fun with by putting a
contact mic on it, and plucking the spines
to get different tones. And our work was presented
in two performances. One at night with
projections on the boulders, and each field
recording was projected through its own channel,
and its own speaker, and we brought 12
speakers with us. And then we had another
performance that was off-site, and unpowered. But I wanted to play you
just a song from that. This piece is actually
composed by Allen Wilson. My iPad doesn’t want to go on. [MUSIC PLAYING] So all of those
tones you’re hearing are each from cactus spines. So we had a lot
of fun with that. Well, especially Allen did. So our songs from that
trip had contained sounds from a metal roof
that was changing shape as the clouds passed
over it, or found metal. There was rusted up found
metal everywhere we went. There were different tones in
the layers of decomposing rock on the boulders that
were everywhere, and different plants
created different sounds when you placed the
contact mic on them, and touched them
in different ways. And we used a lot of samples
of water on that project. So it was called
“Hits of Sunshine,” and it was basically a side
project through Secret Drum Band, and we perform
some of the songs from that project to
this day, and we put out a little cassette for that work. And so that project was a really
fun, successful experiment as to how we can look
at an environment, and make art in response to it. And then soon after
that, I started this work called the Hylaeus Project. Shortly after grad school–
or rewind a little bit– I took a job with
the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate
Conservation, and they’re a wonderful non-profit
group that’s tech ordered in Portland, but
they do international work, and they protect invertebrates. So they speak up
for the little guys, and so that includes anything
from freshwater muscles, to pollinators, aquatic
insects, caddisflies, snails. They’re doing amazing work, and
I was there for about a year, and one of the things
they asked me to work on was reviewing the status
of a group of bees in the genus Hylaeus
that live in Hawaii. So there are 63 known
species of Hylaeus in Hawaii, and they’re the only
native bees there. And so the Xerxes
Society thought there was a chance
of getting them listed as an endangered species
with the federal government. So they were like
look at this list, and come up with the
species that you think are the best candidates. So I got in touch with an expert
on these bees, Karl Magnacca in Hawaii, and together,
we wrote petitions to get them listed
as endangered. And it took about
seven years, but they were listed in
2016, shortly before our current
administration took over, and were the first bees listed
as an endangered species, and there’s seven
species listed. These are not what you think of. When you hear the word
bee, probably honey bee comes to mind, these don’t
look anything like honey bees, and they don’t act
anything like honey bees. They’re quite small. This is a Hylaeus
bee on a Ohia flower. They’re five to seven
millimeters long, and they’re solitary. So they don’t have colonies. They don’t make honey. They’re not aggressive,
and don’t sting, and the female mate, and
then go make her own nest in a hole in the ground, or
a twig, or a piece of coral, and lay her eggs, and
put provisions with them, and then that’s about it. So they don’t have these
huge social networks. They do nest in aggregations. Where there’s a
suitable habitat, there will be a lot of them. But anyways, so I learned a
lot about these bees while at Xerxes, and it did take
seven years to get them listed, and in that time, I did a
creative project on them called the Hylaeus Project
because through working on them at Xerxes, I realized
that I had somehow become one of the world’s
leading experts on them because no one has
paid attention to them. There’s Carl, and so
this is Carl’s work that he put out in 1991,
and it’s basically a review of the genus Hylaeus in Hawaii. It’s amazing important
work because by doing this, he found that they had
declined precipitously since the last person
who had looked at them, and the last person
who had looked at them was this guy R.C.L Perkins. He was a British guy, a
British naturalist who was roaming around the Hawaiian
islands in the 1890’s, and he called them the most ubiquitous
of any Hawaiian insects. And then when Carl looked
at them in the 1990’s, they had vanished from most
of those locations. And then here I am, looking at
them for maybe a period of six months, and like wait a
second, what I can do? Maybe this could
fit into this thing I’m working on as far as
combining art and science. So I got some funding, and
carried out this project, and my goals with this were
to use art and creative work to bring attention
to these bees, and to work directly with
an entomologist in an effort to integrate scientific
knowledge and creativity. To have a certain level
of scientific expertise in the work. So I invited artist Aiden Koch. She’s an illustrator
that I knew in Portland, and does amazing work. We spent time on three islands– Kauai, Oahu, and the big
Island, and visited habitats where the bees were
known to exist, or some of their
former habitats. And Aiden made illustrations,
and we wrote a ton, and wrote a book. This is right here,
which you could check out after the talk called
The Hylaeus Project, and it has Aiden’s
illustrations in it. But my focus, while she
was doing illustrations, was listening. And so even though these
bees are really small, and I didn’t have the
technology, or know-how to capture their sounds,
if they’re even making any, I decided that these
habitats– these very few remaining habitats that
they’re hanging on at are so important that I decided
to document those habitats. So I was listening to sounds
in the places that they live, and making new music. And so this is one of the
places where there was actually, maybe what you could possibly
call a swarm of Hylaeus, the most I saw on the
entire trip, an they nest in the holes in
the loose soil, and this on the Kona coast of Hawaii. And here are some
of Aiden’s drawings. These are two of
the native plants that the bees love to visit– Koa, and Ohia. And something that’s really
important about these bees is that they visit almost
entirely native plant species, which are really
sharply declining in Hawaii. So it’s like the
conservation of both of those is really tied together. And Aiden did some wonderful
comics too, and water colors. So this water color is
being held up in the habitat where she drew it, and that
place is called Kipukapuaulu, and it’s on the big island. And a kipuka is basically
an island of forest that at one point was
surrounded by lava, and then this forest
is left spared. So they’re very special places. And this one particular
kipuka is an important habitat for the bees, and it’s
so dense with bird call any time of the day. This is one of my
favorite places. When I worked in Hawaii as an
entomologist, I visited a lot, and it’s always just so
thick of a bird call there. This is what it
sounds like there. [BIRDS CHIRPING] And so I decided to write
a song using these calls, and I picked out
different calls, and wrote percussive
parts of them, and tried to create a
piece that had rhythms juxtaposed in the way
that this place has bird calls juxtaposed. We’ll play that song later,
and it’s called “Kipukapuaulu,” and I’ll mention it when we
get to it in the performance. But our nickname for
the song is Crazy Town because it was really hard
to find the down beat when we were layering it. It intentionally made it
a little bit complicated. That’s the Hylaeus
Project, and that project was really
eye-opening because it got a lot of positive
reception in Hawaii, and I went back twice to
present talks about it. A lot of people just
didn’t even know that these bees were
a thing, that they existed, and learned
that they are so important to native plants. I didn’t know until I
went there to Hawaii, and worked as an entomologist. And so it was really cool
to talk to people about it, and to just learn about
it myself by hanging out with lead entomologists there. And in the time that the
bees had gotten listed, there’s been additional
funding, and resources given to learning about them. Another project that I
want to talk about briefly is Environmental
Impact Statement, and I started this with
two women in Portland, and our goal was
to basically get artists to come to
Mount Hood National Forest, that same place
that I mentioned earlier, and show them what’s going
on as far as land use there, and ask them to respond
with creative work that we would then
show to the community. And the goal was
to basically get conversations happening in
our art community about land use on Mount Hood, and
then through that, also to get the information out
to the larger community, and arts audiences. And so a lot of this had
to do with logging sales, and either places
that had them logged, or places that were
slated to be logged, or being considered
to be logged, and looking at what
areas should be logged? What are the concerns? What are the
ecological concerns? How much logging do we need? Should this even
be happening here? And just presenting on
all these questions, and talking together. And another issue we looked
at was the Oxbow Creek in the gorge, where the
Nestle company wanted to build a bottling
plant, and so [INAUDIBLE] talking about that. The governor overturned
that project this year. So it’s not happening, but that
was part of the discussion too. And it was so interesting
because a lot of people had never even heard
the term logging sale, or went to these
areas in the mountains because it’s very easy to
go visit this mountain, and not see a trace
of logging, which leads to the title of
another project that we did, which was called Visual
Quality Objectives. And in that project,
we asked the artist to submit comments as
part of the public comment period for an environmental
impact statement. So our name comes from actual
legally required document that’s needed before
any development happens on public lands. And so there’s a
public comment period, and so we invited our artist
to make proposals of work that wouldn’t be able to happen
if that area was logged. And so they’re like well, I want
to dance around this old growth tree, but if you take it
down, I can’t do that. It was as simple as that, and
so those were the comments. The projects were more
creative than that, but that was basically
t the format. And we submitted them in the
formal public comment process, and we’ve since
done it twice more, and we have a new
director in Minneapolis actually, who’s taken
this on himself, and become one of
our collaborators. And he did a similar
process for Standing Rock, and then also for
the PolyMet mining proposal that’s currently
being considered in Minnesota. So the Visual Quality
Objectives title came from– also we took that
from government lingo because when they
hide all the lobbying, and made sure that you can’t
see it from the freeway, that’s one of the visual
quality objectives that they’re considering. So we were like well, we
have our own visual quality objectives that would
be created by artists, and that will just make those
part of the conversation as well. So that’s that project,
and that’s been ongoing, and has to do with– there’s
a lot of different input from a lot of amazing artists. And as part of that,
I wrote a piece– well, I made field
recordings at Oxbow Spring, but I also wrote a piece
called Jazz Timber Sale. There’s a timber sale
named Jazz in Mount Hood, and we’ll be
performing that later, and it includes
sounds that we heard in the forest of
the logging truck, and of different human
introduced elements, as well as characteristics of the forest. And my friend and
collaborator, Jodie Cavalier, made a video in that same
location that we’ll be showing. And so in a lot of these pieces
I’ve been talking about so far, we recorded on our first
full length record. We put that out last
year, and Allen and I couldn’t agree on a cover. So I wanted to feature
work by Aiden Koch, who I did the bee project
with, and then he was very excited about
this guy, Richard, who’s this artist up in
Centralia, Washington. And we really liked each
other’s ideas a lot too. So this is what happened. We have two art works. And there’s one. My most recent
work, which I think the drums are kind of
blocking the wording, but I was lucky
enough last summer to be able to visit the
Brazilian Amazon with a program called Lab Verde. And the goal of Lab Verde
is to bring the artists into the Amazon environment,
and ask them to make work in response, and
bring scientists in as sources of information,
and to create conversations between artists and scientists. And so every day
we had lectures, and time in the
field, and then we made work from the field work. Back when Allen and
I were in the desert, we were putting contact
mics everywhere, trying to find sound
anywhere, and then he suggested that we put it in
the trail of some ants walking into a nest, and we picked
up these crazy sounds that we didn’t even
think were real at first, but it turns out
ants do make sounds, and they stribulate similar
to the way the cricket might do it, where they rub their
leg along a ridged surface. So the ants do that, but
they have the ridged surface, and the scraper between the
second and third body segments. And so they make stribulation
sound, but they also drum. Ants are drummers, and
I found out about this. I did it a couple of years
ago, and I was just floored. They wrap different parts of
their body, either the head, or the abdomen, which with
an ant is called the gaster, against the surface. So I decided that I would
spend my time with Lab Verde recording ants. As this project has
progressed, I’ve come up with different
goals, and reasons why I want to do this. And I got in touch with
an entomologist, more specifically, a myrmecologist. That’s someone who studies
ants who works in the Amazon, and he had already been
working with Lab Verde, and his name is Fabricio
Baccaro, and he’s a musician. So it was kind of like
a perfect pairing. I never thought that I would
find the perfect collaboration on the other side of
the world, but I did, and it was appropriate
to be talking about it in International House. So Fabricio and I,
together, got very excited about this idea
of recording ants, and so he helped me out with
gear, and identifications, and we had been doing a
literature review together with one of his
students, and they had been processing
my field recordings, and were looking forward
to continuing this work. One of the reasons I
really wanted to do it is just to help
encourage appreciation for ants and other
smaller organisms, and for their really important
roles as ecosystem engineers, and I was surprised when I
found out that they made sound, especially after studying
them in grad school because most people talk
about pheromone, and chemical communication when
they talk about ants. So I was really
interested in emphasizing the sense of mystery. To me, there’s a very direct
connection between ants, and the work they’re
doing, and our goal in the world because the
ants, they aerate the soil, they distribute seeds, they are
one of the biggest herbivores and predators in the
rainforest, and so they’re keeping that
rainforest functioning. With them, it would
just go kaput. And then the rainforest
is keeping the atmosphere on the whole planet in
tact, and functioning, and we’re not helping
the process at all. And so this project,
for me, is a tribute to them, and asking to
pay attention to that, and to think about
our role in this, and how we live our lives,
and about how that’s directly related to the ants,
and their contributions to keeping the
rainforest in tact. And the ants are indeed effected
by climate change, and all these things, and
habitat disturbance. So I used the most basic contact
mic as my most successful tool last summer. It was just a core clip-on
mic, and those white hairs are homopterans. So they’re scale insects, and
at this phase in their life, they don’t move, and basically,
the ants are farming them. And so the homopterans
excrete sugary substances that the ants eat, and then the
ants, in return, protect them, and they happen to
be making sound. I clipped it on, and
I got a recording. [INSECT SOUNDS] So there’s the sounds of
cicadas and some birds, but the ants are the
whirly sound in there, and here’s another sample where
it’s even maybe more clear. That was the pheidole
species, and this is what that ant looks like. They’re quite small. So the co-evolved domestication
with scale insects. Here’s another ant. This is a leaf-cutter ant sound. [INSECT SOUNDS] So it’s kind of like
that evil laughter sound. Do you hear it in there? This is another
tool that I used, which is an extension
to a contact mic so I can pick up the
ants foot movements. These are army ants, and
here’s the set-up recording of the leaf-cutter ants. This is one of the results
form Fabricio and [INAUDIBLE] down in the Amazon where
they’re looking at the calls, and they want to
make, basically, to catalogue these calls,
and make sense of them, and figure out the differences
between species, and the how, and why of all of this. And we’re really excited
to combine our efforts because we– just putting together
this art and science is really exciting for
all of us together, and we’ve already learned
so much from each other, and we’re pretty
sure we’ll reach broader audiences by working
together than otherwise. And so the Amazon work I put
out this little EP for tour, and I named it “Wow,”
which is how they spell– U-A-U is how they
spell wow in Brazil. And let me play one more piece. So the ant sounds, I’ve
written two or three works so far that use these
samples, and one of them I’ll be performing
later, but this is the version of that song
that doesn’t have any drums. It has rhythm, but the rhythm
is all from ants sounds, and it’s called “Multi Species”
because it features army ants, the pheidole that I showed
you earlier, and leaf cutters, and I think one other. [MUSIC PLAYING] And I’d like to recognize a few
different organizations, all based in Oregon, actually, who
have been crucial to making this work happen. So thank you so
much for listening. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER 1: So my
name is [INAUDIBLE].. I’m the director of the
program on global environments, and our environmental
studies program here. So it’s nice to meet another
environmental studies graduate. Two degrees in environmental
studies, I believe you have. So I’m going to start the
conversation with Lisa. And I’ve got 15
minutes, and then I know she needs to go prepare
for the next performance. So I’ll start the
conversation, and then we can open it up to questions. We have a microphone here. So in a few minutes, we’ll just
ask you to come to the mic, and ask us questions. So thank you, Lisa,
for being here today. When we learned about your
work, we were very inspired, which is what led us to host
the exhibits here today. And I know we’ll be hearing
from some of the students, and how they came to their
inspirations as well. And so I guess my first question
really is how do you start? How do you decide where to go? How do you decide what
you want to document? How do you decide if you’re
going to go to Hawaii, or if you’re going to go to–
you gave us some examples, but how do you really
come to your place? LISA SCHONBERG:
All of these works were collaborative in nature. So I think by finding the
right people to work with, and the right timing
is a big part of it. The bee project, I
really wanted to do, and I felt like I had already
made that connection with Karl Magnacca, and I tried to get
funding for three or four years before I was able to. And so when I got the
funding, I was like OK, I’m going to do it now. But I decided that
one in particular that I wanted to do it because I really wanted to combine
my music with science, and it seemed like
the perfect thing because I know
about these insects that hardly anyone
had paid attention to. And I was like here’s
a perfect thing that I think is really
important that I could use these skills that I had
in music to get the word out in writing. Yeah, it was kind of like
timing and the financial means to get it. SPEAKER 1: So the really
practical part about funding, and we always hear
about finding for arts, and funding for science
is a different thing. So I don’t know if people
want to hear about this, but I’m sure artists
want to know, how do you go about getting the funding? Of course, you
obviously had to be very persistent to wait three
years to get your project. LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah. We just kept trying, and we
were really lucky in Oregon to have some amazing
organizations that give a lot of artist grants. The Regional Arts and
Culture council, especially, has been really supportive. You just learn how
to write the grant, and you just keep on trying. And with the Brazil thing, I
got in, and then as an artist, it’s not easy to just
buy a $1500 plane ticket, and take off work for a month,
and so I was lucky enough to get a grant for that. And the timing for
it– the deadline for the grant, where it
worked– it fell into the right exact time when I could get
it, and get there in time, and get my Visa in time. And I everyone I talked
to who I met there– there were 15 other artists there,
and they had about the same kind of story going on no
matter where they were coming from all over the world. It’s a little chance, and
luck, and having the right idea at the right time. SPEAKER 1: So one more
question related to that. You talked about
the arts grants. Do you feel like there’s
support in the science community for what you’re
doing with respect to arts? LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah. There’s these amazing people
like [INAUDIBLE] or Fabricio Baccaro. Fabricio is looking for funding
for me to return right now, and I am too, and
these people are so important because they’re
the ones really making that bridge between
the arts and sciences because I know
plenty of artists who want to work with
scientists, and they feel like you have to
look a little bit harder to find the scientists who
want to work with artists, but they’re totally out
there, and are amazing. SPEAKER 1: So I had a
question about the quote that you put up to set
up your presentation, and I don’t remember the
exact words of the quote, but have you tried
to record that sound, or the sound of humans
drowning out nature? LISA SCHONBERG: I haven’t
intentionally tried to, but I’ve intentionally
recorded human sounds. And so I guess, just by
the very nature of them, they are drowning out
the natural sound. When I was in the
Amazon some mornings, there was this
kitchen where we had these amazing meals every
day, but there was a radio on, and you had to walk for
10 minutes into the forest before you didn’t
hear it anymore, and your initial reaction
as a field recordist– and there were, I think, one or
two other people there trying to capture sound too– is like
oh, man, we hear the radio, but then we’re like
wait, that’s part of it. This is the situation, and
to represent it otherwise wouldn’t be accurate. So it is blocking out
the natural sound, but it’s also the truth
of what’s going on there. SPEAKER 1: Part of the reason I
asked is being here in Chicago, or Portland, I guess– maybe
not as much as Portland as in Chicago, but you
we have to sometimes try to hear nature here. And so that process
of trying to block out the sound of the city, which is
an interesting sound in itself, but blocking it out so
you can hear the birds, or squinting so you
can see the stars. Really thinking about how do you
focus in on the sound of nature when you have all these
distractions around. LISA SCHONBERG: Usually,
it seems like sitting still and stopping is the best
way because even when you’re walking through a
forest trail really fast, you may silence
things quite easily. SPEAKER 1: Yeah, so I had
just a couple of questions that students
submitted, and then I’ll definitely ask people
to come up, and do that. So one thing that a couple of
students asked us a similar question, really, is about
how do you feel that what you’re doing in your work may
reach different audiences that aren’t– that through other
means of either through environmental
work, or arts work, how do you think
what you’re doing brings more people to the
issues of the environment? LISA SCHONBERG: I think
people just end up at our shows or events I do
just because of one thing they may be interested in. They might be a
drummer, or they might be an experimental
musician, or they might be a biologist,
or someone who is just concerned about the
environment, and then in turn, they end up learning
about the other aspects of it, and hopefully, the
environmental topics as well. And I’m also totally
OK with someone just listening to your music,
and enjoying it as music, and not hearing any of
the rest, but my hope is that it will
inspire conversation, and the message will get out
there more often than not. SPEAKER 1: I guess one
other question that came up related to that is when
you engaged artists in this [INAUDIBLE] process
for environmental impact statements, I think
that people may be familiar with environmental
impact statements, and they don’t associate
them with artists, but that’s exactly what
an environmental impact statement is doing
is thinking about all of the different impacts,
and the losses to society. So when you approach
artists with this idea, and this collective activism,
what was the response? Were people familiar
with that process? LISA SCHONBERG: No. People weren’t familiar with it. The two women that
I worked with, I forgot to mention their names– Amy Hardwood, she has
a history of working as an environmental activist,
and has a very intimate knowledge of these laws. And then [INAUDIBLE] who
had never before visited the mountain, and
so Lee, her story was similar to most of the
artists who we worked with. We had to explain what
the environmental impact statement was, what the process
was, and all those details. But once we got that
info out, people were really excited
to participate, and there was this idea
that you didn’t actually have to carry out the project. You just had to imagine
up something that would happen in that space. SPEAKER 1: Do you plan
to continue to do that? There’s no short to
environmental impact statements and cases out there, and artists
in every part of the world, as you mentioned,
to get involved. Do you plan to continue that? LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah, certainly. Our collaborator in Minnesota,
Ryan, I saw him last night, and he mentioned
another project– the rerouting of a
natural gas pipeline that he wants to address
with this project. So yeah, we’re
continuing to do it. SPEAKER 1: I just have
one more question, and then I want to
turn it over to people. So before we get to
your performance, can you tell us something
about your band mates, and how you all came
together, and was it all inspired by environment,
or how did you find this band? LISA SCHONBERG: How
did it all happen? So Secret Drum Band
has had a rotating cast of musicians
over a long time, and we’ve actually shrunk. We used to be seven, and
Allen and Anthony both thought it would be
easier to travel around the country with
less, but it is. So we have five
members right now, and Allen and I have
been working together the longest in the ensemble. He joined, I don’t know,
a number of years ago. And before that, it was a
whole other group of people. I don’t think any of
them came together because of the
environmental aspect of it. It was just music. I picked people that– or asked
people to be in the ensemble because I liked how they
played music, and liked to be around them. Most of our time was
spent figuring out the particulars of all this
stuff, and how it happens, and where things– where
we put this or that. The environmental stuff
is definitely there when I introduce a new song. Allen, who also composes in the
band, introduces a new song. We talk about well, this
is based on this place. We wrote this here. So Zanny Geffel is
right there, and then Anthony Brisson is next
to her, and Sam Humans, who’s our ambient musician,
is back there somewhere, and then that’s Allen Wilson. Does that answer that? SPEAKER 1: Yeah. So any questions
from the audience? You want to step up
to the microphone? Please introduce yourselves too. AUDIENCE: Fred
[INAUDIBLE] is my name. I know nothing about what you
spoke of today, except it’s a learning experience. Have you developed an ability
to hear better than us? Have you done anything
in development of hearing better than normal? LISA SCHONBERG:
No, if anything, I probably hear worse than
most people in this room because I’ve been playing
the drums for 31 years. AUDIENCE: You use electronics. LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah, certainly. I use things that help me here. I definitely use headphones. So when you’re sitting
in an environment, even if you’re using
just a simple recorder, even if you’re
recording on your phone, the sound is amplified if
you’re wearing headphones, and it’s magnificent even
just doing something as simple as that, and so
that helps a lot. And then I have
tools that I can use to amplify sounds like a shotgun
mic that is very directional. And so if you hear a
bird, you point it at it, and it will pick it up, and
then you move to the other side, and you don’t hear
that bird at all, and you hear something
completely different that’s calling from that direction. So there’s tools like
that that you can use. The contact mic is amazing. Those are things that
none of us would be able to hear without that tool. AUDIENCE: You must
always be listening. LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah, and
sometimes I put in my ear plugs too. I like to sit, and listen, and
I think staying still helps. Like just sitting, and waiting. SPEAKER 1: Any other questions? AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. This was very interesting. My name is Yasmine
[INAUDIBLE] and I was wondering, what
makes you do your music for the sake of science or
science for the sake of music? And you mentioned you were
in upstate New York getting your music undergrad. Which school were you at? LISA SCHONBERG: I was
at SUNY Binghamton. So I started as a
music major, but midway through my sophomore
year, I changed to environmental studies, and
I continued with the music studies just on the side. So I was in the
ensembles, and stuff. That’s a good question. I don’t know. When it comes down to it, I
feel like in order to feel good, I need to play music, and go
through the physical process of actually playing drums,
and the creative process of actually coming
up with ideas. But also, I would feel
like a less whole human if I didn’t go out
into nature, and learn about nature in whatever way. So I think they’re
both equal for me– science and music. SPEAKER 1: Another question? AUDIENCE: My voice
is pretty loud. Hi, Lisa. Thank you so much. My name is Lilyanne. I work here in the
University of Chicago, and I’m really astounded
by the level of creativity that you bring to
these projects. I really value creativity
maybe even more than I value critical thinking. I wanted to– I’m a primate
ecologist by training, and I continue to do
some of my science. I work in CeRNA right now. So I’m very tuned
into everything that you were talking about,
but you mentioned at some point with the UAU project,
the Wow project, you said something
about encouraging bio-centric thinking. Talk to us a little
bit about that. How do we encourage
bio-centric thinking? Elaborate a little bit
more on that if you can. LISA SCHONBERG:
Some of the effects with the recording
ants that I’ve had, I feel like humans are
more likely to feel a connection with, and a
concern for other organisms if we can see human qualities
in them in some way. I feel like that’s a pattern. Or if you could see a human
quality in an animal’s space or something, but
these things are really hard to see in insects. And I think people,
just like most people, they just write off
insects as unintelligent, or just as not having the
kinds of organization, and communication that we have. So I’m just really interested
in this idea of being like hey, look, ants talk. They have these evolved
systems going on. We should have
respect for them just as we would any other
species, and that’s what biocentrism–
bio-centric thought calls to. The most common rational
that I see in the news, and in the discussion of
environmental issues for taking care of the environment is for
future generations of humans to have, and I think
that’s extremely important, but there’s never another
part of that sentence, and because these animals
all have an intrinsic right to exist, and that’s where
bio-centric thought comes in. So I see things in common
between those ants talking, and ideas that I have. SPEAKER 1: I think we have
one more question right here. AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I just wanted to
see, if you tried to reproduce the sounds of what
you learned of in [INAUDIBLE] LISA SCHONBERG: Yeah,
so how do we use it? AUDIENCE: Yeah. LISA SCHONBERG:
In different ways. So Allen has– or sometimes
I use it– this SPDX. It’s this machine right
here that Roland makes. It’s a drum pad, basically, and
so we can just play these pads, and then they play
samples, and so there’s some field recordings
that are played through that. And then Sam has a
sampling pad over there, and then also a synthesizer
called an organelle. It’s really cool, and you
can build your own synths. So there’s an ant
synthesizer that I made that he’s going to use. So there’s field
recordings mixed in, and then there’s
also interpretations of field recordings. So there was a recording
of a logging truck, and that became an
oscillator playing a sound that sounded
like the logging truck, and so that’s the
sound that you’ll hear. So there’s sometimes a process. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
living creatures. LISA SCHONBERG: Thank you. SPEAKER 1: Great. Thank you. We have one more question here? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] SPEAKER 1: Great,
any other questions? Well, I’ll just finish
with one last question. So for our students here
that were exhibiting their work today, who may be
studying environmental studies, or are double majoring in
visual arts, or other things, as far as I know,
this is the first time there’s been an exhibit like
this here at this university. That may not be true, but
that’s as far as I know. What’s your advice
to these students to get their work out there? To get people to
see their work too? LISA SCHONBERG:
One of the projects I saw when I walked around,
and saw most of them, and they’re really
cool, and inspiring. So thanks for making the
work, and being here. But how to get your work out? Putting it on the internet
always helps, and then just presenting it. Creating your own opportunities
to present it, I guess, and just telling people
that you want to present it. I’ve learned, and it’s
really scary to ask, and I’ll just be
like I do this thing. Can we present it at your space? Or do you want to do this
creative project with me? Just ask. People will say– you’ll get a
bunch of no’s, but then people will say yes, and then
that’s all you need is those opportunities. So just ask, and tell
people what you’re doing. That’s been the best plan,
I think, in my experience. SPEAKER 1: Great. Well, thank you so much, Lisa. We really look forward to your
performance, and the Secret Drum Band. [APPLAUSE]

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