Planetary Boundaries – Human Needs by Tywi John Hywel Roberts

Premiered as part of Changing Music in a Changing Climate

15 October 2020

On 10th June this year Professor Julia Steinberger remotely delivered a lecture titled “What Wellbeing Can Teach Us About Sustainability” to our PRiSM project group. What I took from the lecture was an extremely careful, wide-ranging and especially humanist approach to researching the complex relationship between human activities and their impact on the planet and its climate, and what can be done in terms of decreasing consumption to ensure this relationship is kept healthy and sustainable.

For my musical composition Planetary Boundaries – Human Needs I have sampled sections of speech from the lecture, and used them as a source of inspiration for composing musical phrases which can be paired with the rhythm, cadence and pattern of Dr Steinberger’s voice.

I was very struck by Professor Steinberger’s emphasis on: “preserving or enhancing human wellbeing” while investigating how consumption can be reduced, and also looking at each country and how this model might be applied in each case. As such: with this piece I wished to bring these positive, humanist elements to the fore. In this way, my aim is to point towards the spirit of Dr Steinberger’s project, and make it accessible to whomever might hear the music and take in interest in it.

In general, I have attempted to apply minimal amounts of processing to the voice audio – partially as I intend the words to be audible and understandable as part of the overall musical package, and partially as I wish to avoid any sense that I am intending to colour or twist the meaning of what Dr Steinberger is saying. Rather: my intention would be to support or highlight any meaning which is already present in the statements, and explore the emotions around them.

We’re not talking about happiness, we’re not talking about consumption. We’re not talking about a utility function, we’re talking about this very pragmatic view of wellbeing underpinned by human needs satisfaction. Professor Julia Steinberger

Click below to listen to an introduction to the piece by the composer, followed by the performance.


Clarinet parts performed by Johanna Leung

Guitar, synthesiser, drum programming, additional electronics & processing by Tywi Roberts

Voice recordings used with permission, sourced from Professor Julia Steinberger lecture “What Wellbeing Can Teach Us About Sustainability”, delivered to PRiSM CMCC project group on Wednesday 10th June 2020

Clarinet multiphonics collaboration associated with Dr Scott McLaughlin’s Garden of Forking Paths project, University of Leeds