the first idea

The sun rises above the Atlantic Ocean and illuminates the steep hillsides of Brazil’s famous metropolis Rio de Janeiro. Two little kids witness their friend playing a cheery Samba on his weary guitar. One of the boys has just uttered a request to his young fellow: “Play and make the sun rise!” (video)

The French director Marcel Camus decided to stage the setting of the ancient myth Orpheus and Eurydice at the buzzing atmosphere of 1959 carnival happenings among the poor of Rio’s favelas. Music plays the role of a protagonist in the film Orfeu Negro. It literally fills up the roads and houses with dancing parades and a colorful spectrum of human ecstasy. It’s a powerful tool of exoticism. Prejudice and veneration. Why do we love to hear music being performed in open spaces? What does the unique power of music festivals amount to? I think there is more about the spatial character of music than the criticism of popular Western consumer culture in modern times could possibly explain. Is it just about gathering a huge crowd of people longing for some sort of collective experience that drives people to enjoy a pop concert outside their homes? For sure, it seems to be a persuading narrative. On the one side, the modern consumer that possesses all means of listening to his or her own music. The sound of individual style he or she wishes to emanate from the ear-phones. Music has become ubiquitous, affordable, always repeatable. At stand-by, paused and ever more designed by complex market forces. On the other side, there are the sold-out concert halls, the unbound and frenetic masses at open-air festivals celebrating themselves and their exposed and devoted heroes above.

Is this a good narrative? I ask this because I guess we have to look for another face of modern music festival culture. Straightforward, this project should be an attempt to overcome the binary structure of argumentation I was all about to sketch before. For this sake, I want to shift the perspective from the crawling masses and the musicians towards the green, the stony – the muddy side of music festivals. What role does “nature” play in those events? Is it purely accidental where festivals take place and what music is performed? This approach refers to only recent developments in Environmental Humanities of how to understand and portray the intertwined relationships between human societies and their surroundings. At this point, plants, animals and climate processes raise again the question about the quality of their agency and how we humans come to judge those respectively.

Art is caught up in between: what does it mean to play music at festivals in the Age of the Anthropocene? Do we need a closer look at the interactions that happen in between the stage, the booking-rooms, the tents and the underground beneath the twisting feet? Of what kind is Orpheus in the mud?

Adrian Franco, gradual student at the LMU München, Environmental Studies Certificate Program/Rachel Carson Center

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