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Grimes, Bon Iver and others want music to shock you awake to climate crisis

A new platform called Undercurrent aims to spark activism through interactive art.

Canadian DJ and music producer Jayda G invites viewers into an 8-bit-style video game where their choices have an impact. 

Imagine a world without nature. In an immersive 3D music video called Aluna's Magical Forest, Aluna Francis does just that. The British singer-songwriter invites viewers into a digital experience where verdant landscapes only exist in the mind of the trees and flowers that once populated them.  

"I'm taking you into a kind of dystopian future, a world without forests, where the only plants you have are in your house, and they have a longing about them for the world that they used to live in," Aluna says. "They're calling to you to go into their memory of this beautiful forest." 

Aluna's Magic Forest takes you inside the memory of plants and trees. 

GIF by Leslie Katz/CNET

At first you scroll and mouse around a dismal, apocalyptic-feeling apartment. Then, underscored by Aluna's soundtrack and narration, an orchid transports you outside to a surreal rainforest full of vibrant, whimsical plant life and birds soaring over treetops. The contrasting spaces -- black vs. sundrenched, static vs. growing -- make for a jarring juxtaposition.      

This is just one of the interactive music videos for Undercurrent, a new experiential art and music platform aimed at inspiring social change. Its first live event runs in Brooklyn from Sept. 9 through Sept. 26, with 60,000 square feet of immersive audiovisual art installations that want to waken the world to the climate crisis and organizations working to combat it. These include Global Forest Generation, Ocean Conservancy and Kiss The Ground, which advocates for regenerative agriculture, a system of farming principles and practices that increase biodiversity. 

The show, whose headliners include Grimes, Bon Iver and The 1975, opens a few weeks after a landmark report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the scientific basis for the climate crisis and the unprecedented changes observed in the Earth's climate system due to human activity. It's a grim warning from leading experts around the world. 

The Undercurrent event sounds its own alarm through the more visceral, emotional pull of art. Those who can't visit the New York space in person can experience five virtual installations, including Aluna's, now.  


Click the image to watch Nosaj Thing's interactive music video Waves, which raises awareness of ocean pollution. 


One highlights the impact of habitat loss on native bee colonies by turning viewers into a bee flying through urban landscapes seeking a flower to pollinate. "It can be hard to contextualize or understand how small creatures such as bees can have such an integral role on the health of our planet, and we thought it important to consider the city from another point of view," says Brooklyn-based electronic duo Mount Kimbie, which scores the piece.  

Another experience goes underwater, as the British electronica musician known as Actress provides the urgent original soundscape for a tour of the Pacific Ocean. The audio reacts to the plastic trash that floats by. And another, from Canadian DJ and music producer Jayda G, invites viewers to scale a mountain in an 8-bit-style video game, with two paths to choose from, each with a different agricultural impact. 

"We need to be aware, because if we don't choose to live harmoniously with nature, all that will be left is a barren wasteland," says Jayda G, who has a background in biology, ecology and environmental toxicology. 

Artists continue to add their voices to the chorus of concern over humans' impact on the environment. At New York MOMA, for example, a recent exhibit called Broken Nature offered strategies to help humans repair their relationship to the environments they share with other species.