nexCafé – Voicing Marshlands with Rahel Kraft

Rereading the potential of an undervalued ecosystem

It has been a resounding success and a pleasure to host the fifth edition of our nexCafé art-science talk series, a performative event with artist and composer Rahel Kraft, who presented her sonic works of the marshes in Taiki, Hokkaido. Co-organized with Yu Morishita from Memu Earth Lab, we invited Professor Toshiya Okuro, landscape ecology conservation and restoration specialist at The University of Tokyo, to share his insight on the marshlands. An amazing Shakuhachi (Japanese flute) performance by Prof. Okuro and a guest performance by Hajime Sakita with his musical saw rounded off the evening at the Komaba Research Campus of The University of Tokyo.

Memu Earth Lab prototypes new forms of experimental infrastructure for ground-based research. Based in Taiki, Hokkaido, it invites multidisciplinary researchers to re-read the characteristics of the place, gathering different views on the Memu site and surrounding area. Artist and composer Rahel Kraft focused on the sonic perspective of the surrounding wetlands through embodied practices such as boating, sounding, walking, and listening during two residencies in autumn 2022 and spring 2023.

“Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, compose-with—the earth-bound,” writes Donna Haraway in “Staying with the Trouble”. How can we become-with and compose-with? Rahel Kraft chose the method of listening-with, sampling hours of above and underwater sounds in her tiny floating recording studio in a kayak. Search for rare perspectives, not in the form of images that represent them, but by listening from within to make invisible biological processes and communities audible. Her performative listening was not intended to provide answers but to raise questions: Can listening foster empathy for non-human beings? What can we learn from the complex coexistence of different life forms in the marshlands?

The following discussion between Professor Okuro and Rahel Kraft, led by Lab Director Yu Morishita, focused on the different forms of sampling. Sampling the earth to create information and sampling sound. They also discussed the potential of marshlands, how to find the correct scale or new forms of agriculture, how to involve people to create understanding, and what we can learn from different disciplines.

“It was a very surprising event with unexpected outcomes. Surprised to hear that underuse of land reduces diversity.” – Daniel Maumary, Database Administrator, SBI Security Solutions