Sustainable Listening: It’s Time to Listen to the Oceans 

photo: Markus Braumann

A new event series at Staatsoper Berlin connects classic with electronic music and features thought-leading climate scientists for a new genre-bending format. 

Not everything we cook up in our iHeartBerlin-creative kitchen is always loud, bold, and edgy. Some projects are more about the fine details and the quiet sidenotes, yet turn out to be extremely powerful. 

So it happened that last week we premiered with our first creative and curational collaboration with Staatsoper Unter den Linden. The event series that we proudly call “Sustainable Listening” wants to connect science with music and bring scientists fighting climate justice for the next generations onto the stage of the opera house. 

The Sound of the Ocean is Changing 

Every session will be about a different topic concerning a specific ecosystem or a specific challenge for climate change. For the start of this series that will continue for the next three years, we choose the topic of the Ocean. All world oceans are connected and their cooling and atmospheric power is the only thing preventing climate change from already escalating on a catastrophic scale. The keynote speaker of the evening was Anja Engel. She is one of the leading professors and researchers at the Geomar Institute for Biological Oceanography. Her research examines the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans. 

In her keynote, she started with the powerful sound of the ocean. She spoke about the sound of the whales calling each other over many kilometers. Far away from quiet, the ocean is filled with sounds from the marine biosphere. Some are so incredibly loud that they can even intersphere with the ultrasound communication of submarines. The loudest animal in the ocean is the so-called pistol shrimp that with its voice can create deadly sonic bombs that are able to kill small fishes. Yet all the oceans’ biosphere is getting quieter, while the fishing industry is emptying the ocean more and more. Also, the ocean is losing its oxygen. More and more “dead” areas where there is basically no oxygen to survive for the animals are growing. This and many more interesting and alarming facts were connected during Engel’s speech that will stick with us for a long time. 


The Sound of the Ocean Translated in Music

After her keynote, a quartet of musicians from the Staatskapelle Berlin and the popular electronic music duo Gebrüder Teichmann performed an experimental music performance fusing famous aquatic melodies from classical composers like Smetana’s Moldau but also more avant-garde classic composers like Arvo Pärt. The Teichmann brothers experimented with the classical melodies with electronic distortions and reframed everything to a vivid web of sounds. On top of that, scientist Anja Engel was reading some of her thoughts on climate justice that felt like a mantra of a meditation. 

A new Space for an intimate dialogue

The audience did not have to sit stiffly on an opera chair at this event. Comfortable seat cushions were laid all over the Apollosaal which was the venue for this event. Set designer Valentin Köhler transformed the whole room into a walkable climate capsule with his stage design all made of recyclable material. This allowed the audience to feel the intimate atmosphere we wanted to create for this important topic and sensitive performance. After the performance, the opera director Matthias Schulz invited the audience to stay and to talk about the topic with Berlin local initiatives like Ocean Now which is invested in saving the ocean, and the startup Kaffeeform which wants to reduce plastic pollution through coffee cups made from used coffee powder. 

To refresh the conversation together with local Brewery BRLO we served climate-neutral beer that was brewed using old bread from Zeit für Brot. All in all, we tried to think about all the details to really give the audience food for thought and an impulse to act. It is not yet too late to change some of the effects of climate change and together with Staatsoper we want to live on a livable planet for many years from now. 

If you feel inspired then you can donate to Ocean Now or to Orchester des Wandels who are doing many concerts fundraising money for environmental causes. The next Sustainable Listening will be in January 2023. So stay tuned and we will let you know in advance when you will be able to buy tickets and what the program will be. 

From our side, we want to really say thank you to Staatsoper Berlin for involving us in this special project. Special thanks to Victoria Dietrich who is leading the press department and Jana Beckmann who is the artistic lead in this project. 

All Photos: Markus Braumann

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