Sampling the sound of climate action with Madame Gandhi

“The more we fall in love with this planet, the more we feel motivated to do something,” Madame Gandhi tells us.

On an expedition to Antarctica in 2022 with dozens of other musicians, activists, and creators, Madame Gandhi was awe-struck by the vast yet tragically fleeting beauty of our southernmost continent. The harsh reality is that Antarctica is one of the most threatened places by climate change, and Madame Gandhi sought to capture the delicate and increasingly rare sounds of its precious ecosystem.

“Listening to natural soundscapes has always proven effective to calm the mind,” she shares. “And many people are listening to the sounds in their original form. But pushing this a step further, what if the actual raw audio material of a stream, a pond, the wind, or birds chirping could actually be re-sculpted into hi-hats, kicks, snares, bass tones, synthesizers, and other things that you would traditionally find in the electronic music production world?”

The resulting project was her sample pack made in partnership with Sound MANA, which consists of samples derived from the field recordings she captured in Antartica. Below, Madame Gandhi discusses the process of creating some of these sounds, as well as the intersection between music and environmentalism.

From a penguin squawking to a synth lead

Hear how Madame Gandhi, Sound MANA, and engineer and producer Kevin McCann transformed a penguin squawking into a chilling synth lead here.

“This one brilliant,” Madame Gandhi says. “You can immediately see yourself in a dance club context. It’s very Calvin Harris. It’s very Europe. It’s very Ibiza. And yet, it’s made from the squawking of a penguin.”

“The sample is something that the modern musician can understand as a synth loop. But it’s actually not so far off from the way that penguins are genuinely communicating with each other—there was very much a natural rhythm in the way they would interact with each other. One would speak and another would seem to reply. And it makes you so curious—like, what is it that they’re saying?”

“So, we just took the original context that may not be snapped to a grid, and we re-contextualized it into an electronic dance music sound—but it’s absolutely inspired from the cadence of nature.”

A drum groove crafted with ice and pebbles

Hear how Madame Gandhi and her collaborators crafted a grooving drum arrangement out of some pebble and ice sounds here.

“I’ve always been a drummer, first and foremost,” Madame Gandhi tell us. “Then I was a DJ, and then I started producing my own music, and then I started singing and having my own project—but drums have always been what comes the most effortlessly to me. So, the process of taking ice and sculpting a snare or taking some higher pebble sounds and turning them into hi-hats came very naturally. From there, I’m just playing drum pads in Ableton and creating these loops with my collaborators.”

“The idea is that the organic sound material already sounds amazing. We don’t have to do too much to doctor it up. It’s already gorgeous. It’s well-recorded, high-fidelity audio that’s hard to get. We’ve done the work for you, and we also have this cool beat to get you going.”

The beautiful but tragic sound of melting glaciers

Last but certainly not least, hear the delicate ambience of melting glaciers here.

“For me, this is the culminating sound of the whole pack,” Madame Gandhi shares. “It’s the sound of glaciers melting. It’s the sound of the planet melting. It’s the sound of global warming. It’s the sound that so many people want to refuse even exists. It’s so beautiful because it’s the planet alive—it’s time, it’s the elements, it’s real, it’s honest, it’s beautiful, it’s effortless, and it’s musical. It’s also a tragedy, and it’s the sort of thing that we want to use to inspire climate action.”

It can be hard for each of us to witness climate change on a day-to-day basis. It’s very difficult to touch and feel, or to see the climate slowly evolving around you. However, this sound represents climate change in a truly tangible form—one that you can hear. While tragic, these sounds tell a story, and can be a powerful source of inspiration for art and music.

A unique opportunity in empathy

When it comes to how making music connects and brings awareness to the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica, Madame Gandhi believes the opportunity lies in empathy. “If you’re dating somebody and fall in love with them, you want to understand them—you seek connection, you seek sameness, you seek seeing yourself in them, and therefore your ability to empathize expands,” she says. “When we dehumanize something, it’s much easier to lessen our capacity for empathy. So when we dehumanize the planet and we fill up trash bags with waste, it’s easy for us to participate in unconscious and mindless action because we don’t have an emotional connection to nature.”

“The second that we start to break down those walls and actually develop the ability to connect—and the ability to find joy from the connection—then the opportunity for empathy and awareness rises, and therefore the opportunity for us to act with a conservation mentality also rises.”

“So, my intention with creating this pack was to enhance the empathy that we have for the planet by falling in love with its sounds, and by benefiting directly from its sounds. Then, we’re immediately incentivized to do something to protect the planet, to change our everyday behaviors. This is what’s interesting to me, and this is why I chose to use my capabilities as a musician to make this pack.”

Music as a vehicle for motivation and inspiration

“To motivate or change a behavior, there’s either the carrot, which is the reward, or the stick, which is the pain,” Madame Gandhi continues. “So much of the conversation around eco-action and eco-activism has been fear-based—if we don’t do this by X date, then by 20XX, some terrible thing is going to happen. Those stats are all very true, but us humans—especially given the culture of immediate gratification with things like Instagram and online shopping—are completely immediate in our behaviors. We’re oriented to immediate response and reaction.”

“And so that fear doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t feel joyful. It doesn’t feel inspiring. It feels upsetting. It makes you feel bad. It makes you feel shame, actually. And it probably makes many people continue their behaviors. For me, when someone says something like, ‘Hey, did you know that you can make this choice that’s actually helping the planet rather than buying plastic water bottles at the airport all the time? You can make this one change and it’s going to make a world of difference.’ That feels empowering. That feels encouraging, rather than, ‘I can’t believe you just bought that plastic water bottle. You’re part of the problem.’ That doesn’t make me feel motivated. That makes me feel small. And now I’m just going to hide my water bottle purchases. Do you know what I mean? I’m unlikely to be motivated by somebody who’s trying to create shame.”

“So I think nature-based music is that carrot for positivity and inspiration. Using music, art, and creativity, you’re actually pushing forward the understanding of what’s possible. And you’re bringing people back to nature in a way that they probably would have never experienced. When we play the penguin synthesizer or the ice beats, it sounds fresh, it sounds yummy, and it sounds interesting. It’s like, ‘Wow, what music sounds like that?’ And the answer is it’s made from nature! So, it has to be something that’s aspirational and desirable.”

Get the sounds

If this conversation inspired you to explore these sounds yourself, you can find them below—and what’s more, a portion of the proceeds from the pack will go directly to the 2041 Foundation, which engages businesses and communities on topics including climate science, personal leadership, and sustainable practices to combat the effects of climate change and preserve Antarctica.

“It’s so fun to be part of a music community in this day and age where we’re all approaching electronic music production with such creativity and awareness,” Madame Gandhi reflects. “Personally, I have always used my music as an opportunity to deliver a message. And ten years ago, I would’ve never thought that this is the way I would be able to do this, even in my wildest dreams. So thank you, thank you.”

Explore the breathtaking sounds of Antarctica:

April 24, 2024