"We have the power to enrich our own lives with depth and meaning via so many endangered experiences."
As art and technology continue to converge, it’s giving rise to a new class of creatives—and Beatie Wolfe is one artist who’s leading the pack. Named as one of “22 people changing the world” byWired, Wolfe is a visionary digital artist and musician pioneering new art forms at the intersection of technology, art and music. In her latest project, ‘From Green to Red,’ she set NASA data to music to visualize how atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased over the past 800,000 years.
Below, Wolfe catches up with us about how technology can bring back lost elements of storytelling, the importance of tangibility and what she predicts for the future of music.
How did your love for music start? And how did you come to blend that with art and technology?
I’ve always loved the stories of albums, the tangibility of records and the ceremony of listening. From the time I started writing songs (at age seven to eight) and discovered my parents’ record collection, I saw records as musical books, with the artwork providing the perfect backdrop for the story, and I loved opening them up and entering into the world of the album. There was also a ritual to the whole experience. I started imagining what my album could look like, what it could feel like, what worlds I could create. When it was time for my first album to be released, it was a very different era with the digital replacing the physical. So I thought about how to connect the two and that’s what my work became centered around: reimagining the vinyl experience, but for today.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by imagining what can be. In the words of William Blake, “what is now proved was once only imagined.” That is a philosophy I live by.
What does music mean to you today?
Everything. Music—and art—will always be core to our humanity. But today, music and art have become part of the constant background noise and we have forgotten why they are so much more. This is why I do what I do. To remind people of the magic of music and art and to demonstrate how they can still have deeper, more ceremonial experiences around music.
You’ve spoken before about how technology can bring back components of music that are perhaps lost today—storytelling, ceremony and tangibility, to be precise. What it so important about those three elements? What do we lose as humans if some or any of these disappear from music? And why is this is so important to you?
I believe that these three things—storytelling, ceremony and tangibility—set the stage for the music and allow it to imprint, so that every one of these experiences becomes a part of who we are and what we carry with us. This doesn’t just apply to music but to everything and anything that helps to reconnect us with ourselves and one another. It’s these experiences that keep us alive inside. So the danger with the intangible (and everything bombarding us at this same frequency) is that nothing imprints.
Your essay ‘The Art of Imprinting in the Digital Age’ touches on how music can help people in difficult times. How do you think it can help us navigate these strange times we are in?
Hopefully by highlighting that there is so much around us (and at our fingertips) that offers inspiration, meaning, wonderment and that this is the perfect time to redefine what actually matters in our lives. So much external stimuli has been pulled away and, as difficult as it may be, I believe it’s an opportunity to reclaim our humanity and remember what may have gotten lost along the way. We have the power to enrich our own lives with depth and meaning via so many endangered experiences that help to keep us alive inside. It’s our choice.
Your work ‘From Green to Red’ will premiere at the London Biennale in June 2021. What are you hoping to achieve with this piece?
‘From Green to Red’ is an environmental protest piece built using 800,000 years of NASA’s historic data to create a stirring visualization of the CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere that is simultaneously a protest song, timeline of the planet and reimagining of the music video format. ‘From Green to Red’ uses the power of art, and music, to represent data in a way that people can relate to. So I’m hoping to make intangible and incomprehensive data accessible via the power of art so that people can really get a sense of where we are right now at this vital point in time.
Are there any aspects of the work you’ve done that you see becoming mainstream in the music industry?
Well I know that live 360 [augmented reality] has become more mainstream since Raw Space and there was a lot of industry interest around my album Deck of Cards and how that could be rolled out to other artists. But I’m not interested in that. Unlike the record industry, it was never about coming up with one definitive format that could be sold and replicated with the intention of making money. It was always about the exploration itself, creating work that existed in its own time and space, and having people see music in ways that captured their imaginations and reminded them of its value today. The music industry is remarkably opposed to the longview and cultivating original art for art’s sake. So this has always been about my own curiosity and exploration and my hope is that it encourages others to follow their vision and what they’re excited by.
What do you predict for the future of music? What changes can we expect to see in the next decade?
I think it will be a totally different landscape in the future and that streaming platforms will not exist in the way they currently do, perhaps not at all. So I have always felt that it’s crazy to create art solely for a platform, especially when it serves to devalue the art. The platform can service the art but not the other way around. Despite the music industry becoming more calculated and algorithmic than it’s ever been, I believe that art that moves us and makes us feel will never go out of fashion. We’ll always keep coming back to the things that remind us of our humanity and empathy, that allow us to connect with one another. And that to me is timeless. So I hope that the future of music will be a reclaiming of timeless art.