String Quartet Helps Us ‘Hear’ Climate Change

May 27, 2015
A student plays his cello.

U of M geography student Daniel Crawford has created a new composition for string quartet that’s featured in the popular video, "Planetary Bands, Warming World." The music and video provide a visceral encounter with more than a century’s worth of weather data from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, enabling us to hear climate change as gradually rising pitches.

Crawford partnered with Professor Scott St. George of the U’s Department of Geography, Environment and Society. The video features students Julian Maddox, Jason Shu, Alastair Witherspoon, and Nygel Witherspoon from the U of M’s School of Music.

“Each instrument represents a specific part of the Northern Hemisphere,” says Crawford. “The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid latitudes. The two violins separately follow temperatures in the high latitudes and in the Arctic.”

Each note is tuned to the average annual temperature in that region.

“The most compelling aspect of the composition may be its ability to bridge the divide between logic and emotion; or in this case, climate data and music,” says St. George. “We often think of the sciences and the arts as completely separate—almost like opposites, but using music to share these data is just as scientifically valid as plotting lines on a graph.”

Crawford’s earlier solo cello performance, “A Song of Our Warming Planet”, went viral in summer 2013.