By Nick Morrish Rarity

Ecology is not just ‘global warming, doing the recycling and solar power’ (Morton 2010:2). Neither is ecology the preserve of the sciences, social policy or environmental activism. The ecological thought is thinking about the radical co-existence of all things, the ‘relationships between organisms and environment’ (Clarke 2005:132). It is thinking of environments (physical, virtual, musical) as ‘a negotiation between human and nonhuman dynamics' (Herzogenrath 2008:2). It is an engagement with enmeshed objects, stratified temporalities and the ‘weird paradoxes of subjectivity’ (Herzogenrath 2008:2). It means exploring the ‘shadowy underworld’ (Harman 2011:37) of objects and the locus of aesthetic experience.


In sonfiying the ecological thought, I am positioning musical composition as (ecological) thought in action, (Manning and Massumi 2014:viii) a praxis that is the result of a series of encounters with disciplines that privilege the diffuse and relational nature of experience (such as systems ecology, speculative realism, music psychology, somatechnics). Accordingly, my attitude to compositional materials is demonstrably interdisciplinary, with a variety of approaches being taken to explore the mechanisms and conditions of ecological, and acoustic, phenomena. I will also be seeking to establish an aesthetic position that explores what it means to live and make at a time when humans are having an increasing impact on our environment, where we are aware of massively distributed entities such as global warming and radiation, and where the body has become an alienated and alienating entity. This will be marked in equal measure by the melancholic, withdrawn, playful and ironic.


For Morton, the ecological thought goes beyond scientific study and is ‘a virus that infects all other areas of thinking’. Ecology has to do with,


Love, loss, despair and compassion. It has to do with depression and psychosis…it has to do with amazement, open-mindedness and wonder. It has to do with doubt, confusion and skepticism. It has to do with concepts of space and time. It has to do with delight, beauty, ugliness, disgust, irony and pain. It has to do with consciousness and awareness…. It has to do with ideas of self. (Morton 2010:2)


Ecological thinking means delving into the ineffable, and the innate strangeness of all things. For Morton, writing about music (or anything for that matter) would be an attempt at translating the essence of something that is withdrawn, in that objects (such as music) are ‘beyond any kind of access, any kind of perception or map or plot or test or extrapolation’ (Morton 2013:54). This type of object-oriented thinking is derived from Heidegger’s tool analysis in Being and Time. Objects are ‘locked into a global dualism’ of being present-at-hand (vorhanden) in consciousness-objective, analyzable and measurable and ready-to-hand (zurhanden) - where objects are not theorized and only presented to us when they fail (Harman 2011:35). According to Heidegger (via Harman), objects exist ‘in an occluded underground realm that is a unified system rather than a collection of autonomous objects’ (Harman 2011:37). As such, we can never grasp the totality of an object’s reality. There is always something beyond reach. Art, when powerfully rendered, seems to me to gesture towards this ‘cryptic background’ (Harman 2011:37), a veiled and elusive place in which aesthesis is of singular power. Compositional practice can be conceived of as the creation of environments in which the withdrawal of objects can be explored through human/nonhuman dynamics, how the materiality of an object ‘behaves, interacts, develops, manifests and translates through other objects’ (Højlund and Riis 2015:20(02)) and how the fragile materiality of the performing body and any mediating instruments can be tested through inflammation and hyperextension.

Clarke, E. Ways of Listening (2005) Oxford University Press

Harman, G. The Quadruple Object (2011) Zero Books

Herzogenrath, B. An Unlikely Alliance: Thinking Environments with Deleuze/Guattari (2008) Cambridge

Højlund, M and Riis, M. Wavefront Aesthetics: Attuning to a Dark Ecology (2015) Organised Sound

Manning, E and Massumi, B. Thought in the Act (2014) University of Minnessota Press

Morton, T. Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013) Open Humanities Press

Morton, T. The Ecological Thought (2010) Harvard University Press


Nick Morrish Rarity is a composer, and Phd candidate at the Royal College of Music.


His music is often made with acoustic instruments, which are increasingly found alongside scavenged objects, discarded cultural artefacts, junk materials and found recordings. His research interests include the materiality of the performing body, ecological approaches to compositional practice, philosophies of mind, and object-oriented ontologies.



Listen to more of his music here.

© Anthropocene Magazine 2016