Wednesday 21 April | Olivia Tomasovic

For her #100DaysOfGreenNevis project, oboe player Olivia Tomasovic is making daily improvisations based on endangered species.

We first heard from Olivia on day thirty-one of the campaign. You can read her post here.

Today is also your chance to join Nevis Ensemble for World Creativity & Innovation Day and have your own endangered species graphic scores turned into music!

Along with organisations and artists in more than 90 countries, Nevis Ensemble is taking part in World Creativity & Innovation Week (15 – 21 April 2021), and we’d love you to join us! Click here for more information.

Participating in the Green Nevis Project has inspired me to respond to the threats facing our natural world. The best way I knew was to raise awareness through music, specifically through improvisation which gives me a channel to record my emotional and very personal response to the environment. 

My approach is to first look at pictures of endangered species. While looking at the images, I sometimes hear a clear melody and sound that instantly pops into my head, other times I envisage shapes or colours. In all cases, I am almost instantly drawn to a specific instrument to represent a particular species. Then, while visualising colours and shapes, I record the sounds which instantaneously come into my head. Immediately afterwards, I document my musical response visually on paper using a variety of techniques and materials.

On one improvisation inspired by the Eurasian Beaver, on top of the clarinet’s sounds, I wanted to incorporate sounds that resembled wood. So, sitting on a chair by a wooden table, I wedged two sticks between my toes, clicking them together to create a wood-on-wood sound and then with my knuckles knocked on the table to generate a lower sound. To finish, I added a reverb to amplify the sound so creating the sense of open space. The corresponding graphic score documents this musical response.

On representing the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, I looked to use sounds generated by indigenous instruments, so I wedged cha chas between my toes, shaking them to give a sense of rustling trees while playing a mischievous melody on the ocarina. When seeing the Florida Manatee, a cumbersome and almost comical looking creature, I could easily imagine it slowly bobbing along quite carefree in the water and instantly I decided to use the saxophone. I again used some reverb to mimic the serenity of these gentle giants.

While improvising a response to the magnificent Sumatran Tiger, I was eager to convey the creature’s stealth and precision, so I selected the flute. In contrast, my response to the Atlantic Puffin saw me use the penny whistle to create a light airy sound as I imagined the birds perching on the sheer cliffs of St. Kilda before skimming across the surface of the waters below. 

Animals were not my only focus but plants too. One improvisation was inspired by the endangered Red Helleborine. I chose the oboe to covey the flower’s majesty while simultaneously creating a sense of melancholy with a touch of reverb for this rare but almost forgotten orchid.

Over the weeks, I have found graphic scores to be a wonderful way to create a very personal collection of musical maps to take me across these 100 Days of Green Nevis.

From 1 February 2021, Nevis is running #100DaysOfGreenNevis, where our musicians, staff and trustees will each take on a task for 100 days linked to Sustainability. We’d love you to join us, either by following the campaign online to get ideas of what you can do, or to show us you own actions for us to share. If you would like to know more, do get in touch at georgina@nevisensemble.org 

Nevis Ensemble’s #GreenNevis campaign in 2019 won the Environmental Sustainability award at the 2020 Scottish Awards for New Music, and was shortlisted for Best Campaign by Julie’s Bicycle.