Meet ONC Artist-in-Residence for 2022, musician Colin Malloy
August 2, 2022

“My goal is to create a work that immerses the audience in the world of the ocean and then through data sonification, the use of hydrophone audio, and various compositional techniques expose to the listener to the beauty of the ocean and also the disastrous effects that the oil and other industries can have on it.” Colin Malloy

Musician, percussionist, composer and audio programmer, Colin Malloy, began his four-month term in April 2022 as ONC’s third Artist-in-Residence; a program that was co-launched by the University of Victoria Faculty of Fine Arts and ONC in 2019.

Malloy plans to create an eco-acoustical work for steelpan and electronics that uses the steelpan—which originated from leftover oil drums being used as an instrument—as a lens to examine the relationship between the ocean ecosystem, the oil industry and our role within that dynamic. The 20–30-minute composition will use ONC’s hydrophone recordings and interpret ocean data into soundscapes.

The residency will conclude with a premiere performance in fall 2022 at the University of Victoria. After, the score will be made available so that other performers can program the piece as well.

The following article was written by John Threlfall, School of Music, University of Victoria, and republished with permission.

Latest ONC collaboration focuses on data sonification

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.

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 visualization—where 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.”

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