Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' Is Updated for a World in Climate Crisis

AKQA, JvM recompose the classical masterpiece

By 2050, climate change could drastically alter the world's weather patterns and permanently transform our planet. Will wildfires, floods and storms of all sorts rage out of control? Would we even recognize the passing seasons as they take on strange, frightening aspects that threaten to make some regions uninhabitable?
 
Creative agencies AKQA and Jung van Matt joined with data scientists, composers and musicians to explore such themes in a project based on one of classical music's most beloved and enduring works.

The team chose to reimagine "The Four Seasons," Antonio Vivaldi's series of violin concertos. Composed around 1723, sections of the masterpiece interpret spring, summer, winter and fall. Musical passages represent birdsong, balmy breezes, rainfall and even human activity, such as napping in a dappled field on a sultry afternoon.

Using algorithms to predict the impact of global warming 30 years hence and interpret those changes in sonic terms, AKQA and its partners created "The (Uncertain) Four Seasons." The Sydney Symphony Orchestra introduced the 30-minute suite this week on a multimedia livestream as part of SYDFEST 2021.

Click the images to enlarge:

Actually, the creative team generated hundreds of "Four Seasons" variations for different cities based on regional weather models from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They took shifts in temperature, precipitation, greenhouse emissions and species extinction into account to create concertos for specific geographies.

Understandably, the results move Vivaldi's vision in disturbing directions. What was bright and nuanced in the original becomes menacing in the revise. Seasonal showers morph into ranging hurricanes, while previously peaceful passages, though still recognizable to those familiar with the work, now bristle with discord and anxiety, warning of troubled times to come.

Here's an autumnal excerpt from "The (Uncertain) Four Seasons" in Sydney:

For comparison, here's a version of the calmer, more contemplative original.

The reboot delivers an aural assault that serves as an echo from the future, foretelling disaster if we don't step up efforts to stem the tide. (Speaking of tides, some climate experts say Shanghai will wind up submerged by 2050, so the composition for that city consists entirely of silence.)

For the show in Sydney, A.I.-generated animations enhanced the sensory experience.

"We wanted to anchor people in the music by giving them an idea of what they were listening to," Tim Devine, executive creative director at AKQA Australia and New Zealand, tells Muse. "The original came with a series of sonnets for each movement. So, we'll be displaying the original sonnets juxtaposed with the new music," as well as A.I.-generated animations. For example, the "Autumn" section boasts a bedeviling hunter/harvest motif.

"They move at an imperceptible speed sometimes and are changed before you realize," says Devine. "We loved this parallel with climate change."

See the four animations here:

Moving forward, as pandemic conditions permit, the team plans to stage performances of each localized "Four Seasons" variation by orchestras around the world.

"Vivaldi's visceral translation of nature into music continues to capture the imagination of audiences today," says composer Hugh Crosthwaite, who contributed to the project along wth data experts at the Monash University Climate Change Communications Research Hub in Melbourne, Australia. "In that way, it's the perfect canvas for us to communicate an urgent message about the environment. If we do nothing now, the harmonious environment we rely on for inspiration and nourishment will be forever changed."

The work builds on a performance in Hamburg last year by the NDR Elbphilharmonie. That program dealt specifically with 2019 climate trends. This expansion adds global scope and the notion of looking three decades ahead.

AKQA has leveraged music in unexpected ways before. A year ago, the agency streamed a video of Criolo and Milton Nascimento's "Love Doesn't Exist in São Paulo" across the sides of high-rise buildings in Brazil to help raise funds for the homeless. More recently, that same AKQA office teamed up with Beck's to show how different sound frequencies can change the taste of beer.

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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