How do you use music to address the climate crisis? If you’re Colin Malloy, you fuse your current status as a PhD candidate with both the School of Music and UVic’s Computer Science with your background as a percussionist and apply to become the latest Artist-in-Residence with Ocean Networks Canada.

An award-winning percussionist, composer and audio programmer specializing in contemporary solo and chamber percussion and music technology, Malloy is also a multi-instrumentalist who performs on steelpan, guitar, bass and the Japanese koto.

Update: Hear works created during his 2022 artistic residency when Colin performs on January 26, 2023, at UVic’s School of Music

He also appeared as part of the Art and Science” webinar with Science and Society Dialogues in July 2022, where he joined Sara Black (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) in discussing their work at the intersection of art and science.

Data sonification

As the third Artist-in-Residence with Ocean Networks Canada, part of a continuing partnership with Fine Arts, Malloy frequently incorporates nature sounds into his practice as a composer, so it’s a natural step for him to tap into ONC’s vast hydrophone arrays of underwater microphones to create “data sonification” during his residency.

“We’re all familiar with data visualizationwhere you take data and turn it into a visual image that can be interpreted,” says Malloy. “Data sonification is when you take data and turn it into a musical aspect.”

And while most people only hear the steelpan as part of their summer soundtrack, Malloy is looking further back to its origins from actual steel drums used by the oil industry in the early 20th century. “People think of it as a really bright happy instrument from the Caribbean, one that everyone associates with very fun, festive music,” he says. “But a lot of the music I perform on it really subverts that image.”

The arts and the climate crisis

Much like previous ONC Artists-in-Residence Dennis Gupa and Colton Hash, Malloy is passionate about using his artistic practice to make change in the world. “Hearing things that represent what’s going on in our environment can really create a different level of engagement for people, because it’s not just an abstract musical sound it,” he says.

Back in May 2022, Malloy was one of four faculty members who participated in the Fine Arts Creative Futures webinar “Documenting the Climate Crisis” (which you can watch via this YouTube link).

“It’s important to get your message out to people who need to hear it,” says Malloy. “For me, I want my music to go out to people who are either uninspired or a little skeptical . . . you want the listener to have an emotional reaction that makes them want to do something.”

Malloy actively seeks ways to incorporate environmental concerns into his creative practice.  “We can all sit around and agree that climate change is an issue but, if we’re not doing anything about it, then we’re not actually helping or making a change,” he says.  

“I’m a very action-oriented person. Small steps can really add up to a long journey, but if we’re not taking those steps, then we’re not actually helping or making a change.”