Counting Down to MISSION EARTH: Musicologist Dr. John Pippen

Welcome back to Counting Down to Off the Hook Arts: MISSION EARTH. This week we meet with Colorado State’s own Assistant Professor of Musicology, Dr. John Pippen. Dr. Pippen holds hefty degrees in schools from Tennessee and Ontario, and is now researching the experimental music scene of Chicago. He will present at MISSION EARTH on Sunday July 8th from 12:00 – 1:00 pm at Gilded Goat Brewery, addressing musical works about climate change, and how musicians have “endeavored to describe and engage nature” throughout history.
To this end, Dr. Pippen will be exploring a piece so unique that he himself had a difficult time calling it “music.” Inuksuit, named after a stone landmark used by the Inuit, was composed by John Luther Adams, and is said to entrance the audience in the sensation of nature. Musicians break ranks, spreading out in the sparseness of nature to place themselves around and within the audience. Percussionists are handed instructions on what they are to play, rather than a much-too-planned sheet music. Despite its many anomalies, this piece was described as “one of the most rapturous experiences of my listening life” by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross.
Dr. Pippen hopes that Inuksuit takes listeners to a place where one thinks about the ‘sounds we take for granted’, and to experience the charismatic ‘sonic organization.’ He also hopes to explain John Luther Adams’ work within a context of class systems. Many people have written about music and the environment, but composers of art music have only recently considered the issue in the context of man-made climate change.

It’s the kind of piece that will change the way you think about sound.” – Dr. John Pippen

Dr. Pippen doesn’t sugar coat his view of how much American music’s shift in tone has impacted climate politics thus far. “Not a whole lot.” He recognizes that our new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, is in a position to do more damage to our climate infrastructure than any musician could repair. “On the other hand, most politics is local. There is a lot we can do at the local level.” It is this sentiment that Dr. Pippen hopes will come to fruition via works like Inuksuit and the festival as a whole – to make the community aware of what needs to be done, and that we truly can do it.
Dr. Pippen’s own inspiration to address a changing climate came soon after he and his wife moved to Colorado. While driving down I-70 past Idaho Springs, he reflected upon seeing scars in the mountains left by decades of mining. It insulted him to think that as a species, we think we have the privilege to inflict such a change to the world itself.
If you missed last week’s Off the Hook Arts: MISSION EARTH article, make sure to check it out here. For more information on Dr. John Pippen and his contributions to Colorado State’s music program, you may visit his staff page here. Stay up to date with what is happening and when, so when June rolls around you’ll already know what events speak loudest to you.

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