Dr. Douglas Tewksbury, environmental researcher and associate professor of communication and media studies at Niagara University, released his second solo album of ambient compositions, “Brutes,” July 15, 2022. A follow-up to his 2021 solo release, “Paths,” “Brutes” is composed of two long-form works, “Banda Mountain” and “COP26,” 20-minute ambient pieces that were built by combining sonically altered 16th century choral arrangements and recordings of human voices. The compositions were spliced together on long analog tape loops using reel-to-reel machines, and then performed live in studio into an array of eight guitar amplifiers in a semicircle, with Dr. Tewksbury as the conductor of a tape-based “amplifier orchestra” of these voices.
“I've always been a musician in some form or another since I was a child,” Dr. Tewksbury said. “Today, much of my creative practice is focused on using obsolete music technologies in new ways, especially old reel-to-reel machines, splicing analog tape, odd studio gear, synthesizers, and combining theses with software and field recordings. I find it endlessly exciting to experiment with old sound technologies, to use them in ways that they were not designed for.”
The instrumental album addresses themes of climate change and mass extinction. “In ‘Brutes,’ I knew that I wanted the album to focus on humans, the beauty that we’re able to create, to bring into the world, and the terrible things that we’re able to do, both to each other and to the planet,” he explained. “And so I built the album around looking for and manipulating and splicing together some of the most beautiful human voices I could find, even though the message is not a terribly optimistic one.”
His belief that art, creativity, and media shape how we make sense of our world, motivated him to share, musically, his deep concern about climate change and mass extinction. The music is inspired by his research on climate change denial and pro-fossil-fuel cultures and in the role culture plays in shaping human action and inaction, especially in terms of environmental issues.
“I think that as academics, we have a mandate to put new ideas, new theoretically informed ways of thinking, into the world, and in ways that are public-facing and accessible,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to do that, but for me, scholarly theories on environment and culture are a great jumping-off point for embedding these ideas into my creative practice.”