After three years of climate research and patient self-discovery, Bangkok-born singer, producer and multimodal artist Sirintip releases her second album, carbon. Tired of preaching and scolding headlines, the internationally acclaimed Swedish-Thai composer sought a new method of engagement. carbon, out today via Ropeadope, features thirteen pieces of original music as a gesture of invitation, a call for a new kind of conversation around climate action.
“I didn’t want the project to preach, ‘You’re not good enough,'” the Manhattan-based artist says. “That’s what the news does. So I thought, ‘What if I don’t put the message in the lyrics? What if I compose it in the music? Then maybe people – including me – might become more curious about learning new ways for us to interact with our planet.'”
carbon would emerge as an ambitious and interdisciplinary work, linking visual art and moving image, as well as audiovisual installation. For the release of the music video for “plastic bird”, Sirintip received funding from the New York Foundation for the Arts, in addition to project support it received from the Swedish Arts Council, STEM, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Borrowing from the tradition of hip hop, the record features a number of found instruments, including plastic water jugs turned into percussion, processed recordings of backyard wildlife, even sand. “I’ve always been interested in nature and science,” says the 2015 Monk Competition finalist, who ultimately chose to pursue music over neurosurgery. “I think I’ve been working on this project subconsciously for a very long time.”
Communicating urgent messages in such a subtle way would require musical contributions from empathetic and visionary artists. Sirintip, who toured with Snarky Puppy and played with ABBA’s Benny Andersson, assembled a group of new voices, including Michael League on bass; Chris McQueen (“aqi”, “hydrogen”, “can’t escape”, “red-eye”, “unspoken gold”) and GRAMMY award-winning engineer and producer Nic Hard (“hydrogen”) on the guitar; Nolan Byrd on drums, plastic waste and programming; Daniel Migdal on violin and viola (“hostage”); Alex Hahn on flute (“plastic bird”); Owen Broder on baritone saxophone (“tacit gold”); and pianist Kengchakaj Kengkarnka who helped incorporate elements of Sirintip’s Thai heritage into the music. “During the pandemic, he figured out how to incorporate the traditional Thai 14-tone tuning into the Moog synthesizer,” she says.
The artists spent nine days at Manifold Recording Studios in North Carolina, taking full advantage of its carbon-neutral atmosphere and solar-powered location. “I love when I can live in a studio,” says Sirintip. “At Manifold, we lived in a guest house and worked from 9 or 10 a.m. until 2 or 3 a.m..” Meanwhile, they repurposed a container of Parmesan cheese as a bass drum and shaker, collected handfuls of sand from a nearby construction site, and outfitted the studio’s backyard with recording devices to capture crickets at dusk. “You can turn anything into music. It doesn’t have to be a musical instrument for you to make music with it.”
Music heavily influenced by research often features mathematical expression as a vehicle for artists to develop ideas and improvise. But carbon presents a suite of music through which science elevates Sirintip’s lyrical musicality. His compositions breathe. With purpose, they intensify. Her ability to communicate through mood-changing chambers and crystalline soundscapes transports listeners to sensory and emotional points that are both vast and intimate.
Two of carbon’s data-driven songs, “1.5” and “aqi,” weave stats into flourishing, melodious gestures. Inspired by information from the sonic data app Twotone, “1.5” expresses the planet’s steady temperature increase, drawing NASA data from 1880 to 2012,” Sirintip says. Instead of dialing in the linear increase, she identified different years that seemed important to her, exploring what each “looked like” and anchoring her composition around these selections. “aqi” engages an entirely different system for sonifying the data: “I decided to look at the data from another angle: the worse the air pollution, the more dissonant the interval; the better, the more harmonious.” The song features Kengkarnka’s Thai scale Moog, along with samples of traditional หมอลำ (Mor lam) chanting. Ending in a cloud of “reverb fog”, the music pays homage to many Thai women whom Sirintip sees as circumscribed and eager to break free from the norms that society imposes on them. “It’s as if they’re living their lives in the smog hanging over the city,” says “They can only see what those in power allow them to see; when you can’t see what else is, how can you free yourself from where you are?”
Throughout the album, figurative language serves up moments of tension and contemplation. Sirintip’s voice inhabits endangered tigers, man-made birds, even Mother Earth, giving an urgent voice to biodiversity. “red eyes” incorporates Thai drumming into distinct patterns and a towering groove that engages Sirintip’s dynamic expression. Hahn’s flute flies over sections of “the plastic bird,” which incorporates recyclables as well as rhythms from the Black Sicklebill’s courtship dance in the vocal loop up front. With locusts chirping outside the studio, “hostage” shines a light on Sirintip’s exposed vulnerability and serves as a solemn call for climate action. Composed for the dire aftermath of drought, “oasis” includes iterations of hard-hitting sand, while “unspoken gold” samples frogs singing after rain in Sirintip’s childhood yard in Bangkok.
Because she sees carbon as a call to action for herself as much as her listeners, Sirintip centers self-disclosure throughout the recording. The lyrics of “it’s okay” come from SMS between the artist and his best friend who died tragically at 28 years old. “The song’s connection to climate change is in the plastic instrumentation,” says Sirintip, “but the message is more universal: we don’t have to be perfect.”
That message, in part, is what the artist-songwriter hopes listeners will receive by engaging with carbon. “Climate change is something that affects everyone. It shouldn’t have to be ‘activist’ work,” says Sirintip, who seeks to unleash the project while creating as little impact as possible. She recently performed a solar-powered concert this summer and is currently researching strategies to tour more sustainably: “It’s hard to be perfect. We don’t currently have the infrastructure for all of us to live like Greta. But trying is so much better It all counts – understanding our personal carbon footprint so we can limit it, even something as simple as deleting 10 emails and unloading servers from powering information we don’t need. That’s what I try to capture every day, and what I hope to inspire others to consider when they hear this recording.”
carbon is now available on all streaming platforms.