Esmerine Discuss Climate Change, Cities and Riding an Upward Spiral of Hope on 'Mechanics of Dominion'

Photo: Aylin Gungor

BY Tom BeedhamPublished Nov 2, 2017

Speaking with Exclaim! over a conference call connection, from the Gatineau river valley and New York respectively, Esmerine's Bruce Cawdron and Rebecca Foon rattle off an overwhelming list of climate change-related questions and events that inspired their latest LP, Mechanics of Dominion.
"It seems like these days there's just a pile-on of events, right?" Cawdron exhales, alluding to the barrage of cataclysmic disasters that have inundated the warming earth. In 2017 alone, flooding, monsoon winds, hurricanes, avalanches and landslides have impacted nearly 50 million people around the world, claiming thousands of lives and displacing tens of millions. "Every week there's some other crazy thing that happens."
It's a heavy premise to confront, but Esmerine still manage to find hope in the details. Another elegant collection of powerful instrumental expression, their new album Mechanics of Dominion opens with a tumbling neoclassical lament reflecting a world spun out of control, and takes off from there into some of the most inspired dynamic configurations the band's ever explored, imbued with a zest that Foon characterizes as "optimism for a renewable planet," eventually closing the loop with a mournful coda as if to remind us what's at stake.
The Montreal ensemble have touched on themes of environmentalism and conservation before, but this new release is more firmly locked into the promise of the future; 2015's Lost Voices explored what's being lost in the ongoing march of modern industrialism, and A Common Truth, Foon's sophomore release under solo moniker Saltland, evolved out of concern over how things would pan out at the 2015 UN Climate Change conferences that resulted in the Paris accord.
Outside of music, Foon has dedicated a lot of her recent years to environmental efforts involving decarbonization, land conservation and renewable energy, notably co-founding the international concert series Pathway to Paris in 2014 as a platform for community-building and consciousness-raising surrounding climate action.
"The current reality is really tragic, but to get ourselves out of the problems that we've created for ourselves is also extremely exciting," Foon reflects. "It just seems insane to not be devoting much of your life to try and make positive contributions away from that reality."
"It's a theme that's still urgent," Cawdron blurts. "It's good to keep hammering the idea home, really."
The blunt honesty is appreciated in an atmosphere clouded by a fog of casual climate change denial and "fake news" declarations. Instead of lamenting the international zeitgeist, Cawdron and Foon are tuning into action happening on more local levels, suggesting that's where the real hope lies.
"It just seeds into the work that I'm doing outside of Esmerine," says Foon. "I think the exciting work is coming from a municipal level — a city level. Cities and communities doing innovative urban planning, urban design, urban agriculture, going off of fossil fuels into renewables."
Building on Foon's point, Cawdron recalls Donald Trump's decision to "cancel" U.S. involvement in the Paris accord in June, and points out that that reversal is "being repudiated on a state-wide and municipal level," referencing the many American city leaders amongst the 7,400 cities represented by the "global covenant of mayors" that have since pledged to keep the commitments made by Barack Obama two years ago, regardless of Congress or the White House's stance. "All those other bodies are still going forward with their goals."
But if Mechanics of Dominion imagines a world renewed from near-environmental collapse, what happens to that narrative if it becomes a part of a loop cycle?
Pondering the question, Cawdron invokes a metaphor about the gradual upward spirals large-winged birds glide to achieve lift in thermal columns, suggesting the record might offer listeners another kind of renewable energy.
"You know the word gyre?" he asks. "It's what birds of prey or large-winged birds do when they're riding thermals when they're going up and up so they can actually soar. It's kind of like that. So each loop is a gyre. Let's say the first loop might inspire hope, and the second, let's say it inspires you to some kind of activism. And then you actually do something, and then something gets done — instead of just everybody hoping things will get better, let's actually put boots on."
Mechanics of Dominion is out now on Constellation Records.

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