To kick off the third year of our monthly renewable energy series, I’m delighted to introduce our readers to Port Mone Trio, the award-winning Belarusian instrumental trio whose upcoming third album Whisper was recorded entirely onsite of two utility-scale renewable energy projects in Belarus: a 9 MW wind farm near the village of Pudovnya and a 6 MW solar farm built on top of a former landfill in Rudashany.
To the best of my knowledge, Port Mone Trio is the first musical ensemble in the world to have recorded an entire album powered 100% by clean electrons drawn directly from wind turbines and solar panels (rather than indirectly from the grid or storage batteries).
Members of the Minsk-based trio include: Alexsey Vorsoba, accordion; Sergey Kravchenko, percussion; and Aleksey Vanchuk, bass guitar. They have been called “one of the most original collectives in the post-Soviet alternative scene.” According to The Guardian, the trio has “forged their own voice from a mix of influences, including jazz, minimalism and ambient music.” Others have described Port Mone’s sensual and complex soundscapes as minimalistic folk, extraavantgarde, and post-rock.
Port Mone aims to “appeal to the natural, pure and primordial in the human soul; to something that exists beyond social regulations and codes.”
Whisper is part of a joint art project with the Belarus Green Network to raise awareness of the potential of renewable energy to diversify Belarus’ energy supply and increase its energy independence.
In an email exchange, Port Mone explained: “We continue to use music to talk about issues that are important to us. For Whisper, we wanted to develop the idea of independence in a wide sense and at different levels. For example, a country’s energy independence as a metaphor of independence of personality. Our main message to the people is to be independent, which requires being honest with oneself and not to lie. In Belarus, the main ecological issue is ignorance and indifference.”
The album’s title refers to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear tragedy, the memory of which has become an inaudible whisper in Belarus today. Located north of Ukraine, Belarus received the majority – nearly 70% – of the radioactive fallout from the explosion six kilometers (four miles) south of its border. More than two million Belarusians were affected by radiation; one-fifth of Belarus’ agricultural land was heavily contaminated. The full social, economic, environmental and psychological costs of the disaster may never be known; it is estimated to be 20% of Belarus’ annual budget since 1986, or approximately US$235 billion over the past three decades. Despite the risks, the government of Belarus continues to promote nuclear energy as the “single best way” to secure the country’s energy independence. But critics of Belarus’ first multi-reactor nuclear power plant, currently under construction in a seismically-active zone near the Lithuanian border, suggest that Russian construction and financing (US$10 billion) of the 2,4 GW Astravets nuclear power plant will ultimately increase – not decrease – Belarus’ energy dependence on Russia.
Renewable energy makes up only 5% of Belarus’ current energy mix. With technical and financial support from the UN and the EU, Belarus is taking baby steps towards the clean energy transition. A 2018 study by the French company Tractebel estimated that Belarus could install up to 1.2 GW of solar in regions affected by Chernobyl, despite the high radiation levels. For example, construction has begun on Belarus’ largest solar project to date, a 109 MW solar power plant on land irradiated by Chernobyl fallout near the village of Blizhnyaya Rechitsa in Cherikov District.
Prior to recording Whisper, Port Mone Trio embarked on a 3,000 kilometer scouting trip across Belarus in search of wind and solar locations with the best acoustics (i.e., minimum noise) for an outdoor recording studio. This week-long expedition sharpened the musicians understanding of renewable energy technology, but perhaps more importantly, it allowed them to rediscover the beauty of their country – even in former exclusion zones – while meeting passionate individuals experimenting with wind and solar throughout Belarus. The Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Vadim Ilkov accompanied Port Mone throughout the road trip, and documented the two outdoor recording sessions. In partnership with Green Network, a documentary film about Whisper will be released later this year.
Free electricity for the outdoor recording sessions was provided by the owners of the two wind and solar power plants mentioned in the first paragraph. Electricians working for these power plants supplied the necessary cables and sockets that connected Port Mone Trio’s rolling studio directly to the wind turbines and solar panels. Dozens of microphones were used to record not only the musicians, but also birds, rustling leaves and grass, spinning turbine blades, blasts of wind and other ambient sounds. Although challenging, outdoor recording can enrich the music in unexpected ways. Port Mone’s website describes it this way: “Everything that happened to and around us turned into colors and semitones in the music, into shades and intonations of Whisper.”
Nota bene: This is the second time that Port Mone has opted to step away from the laboratory-like conditions of a studio to record in a natural acoustic environment. Port Mone Trio’s second album Thou (2014) was recorded in a forest, resulting in a “loose and enchanting” sound. Thou is available on Apple Music and Soundcloud.
Port Mone Trio hopes to release Whisper in 2019, along with Vadim Ulkov’s documentary film. In the coming months, Port Mone’s main focus is to find an international label to release Whisper. Interested individuals should contact Port Mone here.
Addendum: Could this be a trend? A growing number of musicians are inspired by wind energy: in 2017, I profiled three musicians from Québec, Canada, who climbed to the top of a Senvion wind turbine (80 meters above the ground) for a live performance of an original composition by Justin Garneau, a former wind technician.
(Top image: Screen shot from the Port Mone Trio website.)
This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.
Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to help others visualize – to imagine – what a post-carbon world will look like. Joan is currently working on a photo book about Canada’s energy transition. She also collaborates with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on Ello, Twitter and Instagram.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.
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