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WAYS TO LISTEN TO A RIVER
A performative concert on ecological grief
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Rivers are particularly complex and dynamic systems: in infinite interactions they shape and are shaped by the land they flow through, while shaping and being shaped by human visions, fears and needs. Rivers are also incredibly powerful metaphors and spiritual forces, valuable and coveted economic assets, witnesses and bearers of history. What opens up by being attentive to the transformations and traces present in its sonic landscapes? Which are the stories and histories that a river carries? What can we learn from them?
In this work, Nahuel Cano researches the history and meaning of rivers: the Limay and Salado in Argentina and the Vecht in the Netherlands. He translated the research into music and poems, to later build an audiovisual performance in collaboration with filmmaker Juan Fernández Gebauer. Ways to listen to a river is a “performative concert”: It consists of live music, video projection, spoken word and actions on stage.
Following those rivers' traits, in the piece the historical, the political and the ecological, but also the inner, intimate territories are threads that contribute to a particular form of storytelling. It not only involves what happened, the facts and data, but also the feelings, the dreams and potentialities together with silences and gaps: what we don’t know, what we cannot hear. Ways to listen to a river embraces ecological grief in an attempt to understand and exorcise it, for to listen to the whispers of a history of colonisation and violence from a present on the verge of collapse.
About the rivers and the compositions:
During one year, Nahuel embarked on a comprehensive exploration of the Vecht river region in response to a commission from the province of Utrecht and the Gaudeamus Festival. This tranquil river belied a complex tapestry of conflicting interests, ranging from environmental issues such as the sewage water management to historical narratives encompassing colonialism, military fortifications, and processes of gentrification dating back centuries. Amidst this intricate web of factors, the Vecht held a deeply emotional and personal connection for many, providing a shelter for recreation and intimacy in a natural setting. The piece works with the multifaceted nature of the Vecht, revealing the river as a cosmos of diverse themes.
Located in the southernmost region of Patagonia, the Limay River area was one of the last territories to be incorporated into Argentina. Although the conquest campaign officially ended around 1885, violence and exploitation of the region and its inhabitants persist to this day. The area is presented as a flagship for gas, oil and green energy exploitation, promoted also as an important benchmark for ecotourism and water management. However, behind this façade of progress lie episodes of corruption, pollution and the grim legacy of a genocide that paved the way for these developments.
Nahuel, born on the banks of the Limay, spent three years researching its history. He contacted local residents, dug through archives, listened carefully and contributed his own personal memories to this piece.
The Salado River is located in central Argentina. This river was from ancient times a border area and a disputed territory, while at the same time being one of the most productive agricultural regions. Since around 1865, there has been a constant policy of water management to control and tame the natural dynamics of the river. The environmental and social consequences of these policies have been profound. Intensified by climate change and deforestation to expand the agricultural frontier, the region suffers intense flooding followed by deep and long droughts.
Nahuel's father was born in the region 85 years ago, and his grandfather worked on the construction of the water management canal system.For the research Nahuel travelled the river with his father during the 2022-2023 drought, the deepest in history. During this trip they listened to the music his grandfather used to listen to and sing, original music from that region: Milonga Campera. This rhythm structured the composition