Leah Barclay | SOUND FUTURES (2014)
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Sound Futures: Sustaining music cultures around the world

While we often take the rich diversity of music we have at our fingertips for granted, the sustainability of many forms of music is in danger. Meanwhile, others blossom for a variety of reasons.

Sound Futures aims to support and celebrate the cultural diversity of our planet in line with calls from organisations like UNESCO. It does so by identifying ways to ensure vibrant musical futures, with the support of music lovers around the world.

The Sound Futures website (www.soundfutures.org) is a key outcome of a project called Sustainable Futures for Music Cultures, funded by the Australian Research Council (2009-2014). Sound Futures responds to the call of UNESCO, the International Music Council, the International Council for Traditional Music and other organisations to urgently develop ways to support music cultures across the world.

The project:

  • Looks at the dynamics of music traditions
  • Considers how they might be re-positioned in the modern world
  • Highlights some of the challenges for music cultures in the current global environment, such as changing values and attitudes, and political and market force
  • Generates practical tools to assist communities in forging their own musical futures

Leah Barclay worked on the project to assist in creating accessible audio-visual documentation for the Sound Futures website including the sound material for the following video


Music Sustainability

With massive developments in migration, travel, and technology over the past fifty years, musical diversity has simultaneously flourished and come under threat. Almost anywhere in the world, music from many backgrounds is accessible live in concert or in community settings, through radio and television, on CDs and cassettes, by downloads and streaming.

At the same time, many music genres are in danger of disappearing. This is happening well beyond the dynamics of musical styles and genres emerging and declining ‘organically’ as a result of changing tastes or circumstances.

In terms of the discourse on sustainability across disciplines, we can say that the ecosystem of many music genres has changed drastically, particularly since the middle of the 20th century. And just like in nature, we see that some organisms (and music genres) adapt quickly and thrive, while others struggle to maintain the conditions crucial for their survival.

What Can Be Done?

Now that the threat to music (and other expressions of culture) is widely recognised, many initiatives support specific music cultures, from one-off festivals to education projects running for a number of years. These initiatives can be very positive for the cultures in question, but they are often only of a limited scope and over a limited period of time. Another way to counteract decline in musical diversity is to document traditions in danger of disappearing. Documentation is stored in various formats and locations, from local repositories to large international centres. In this way, the sound of many traditions is preserved. This allows future generations to reconstruct (at least to some extent) music genres that have disappeared. These efforts are valuable, but they do not always directly support the survival of music genres as part of an unbroken, living tradition. Many will argue this is a key condition for keeping the essence of a genre. A fruitful way to approach this is to regard every music culture as an ecosystem, with many forces influencing its vibrancy.