International House to host Secret Drum Band

By Renee Wehrle,
Global Voices Metcalf Intern

On Thursday, March 29th, International House at the University of Chicago (UChicago) will host Secret Drum Band, a noise ensemble dedicated to exploring “the intersection of art and ecology” with soundscapes and percussion music. Secret Drum Band is the creation of Lisa Schonberg, a renowned author, composer, performer, and entomologist. This event will also feature student projects completed through the UChicago Program on the Global Environment, which seeks to raise awareness about environmental issues through public outreach, collaboration with student and community organizations, and a diverse range of public events.

Lisa Schonberg, creator of Secret Drum Band, holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and focuses on ecology and entomology. By documenting and recording her experiences in field research, Schonberg constructs soundscapes representative of the environmental and ecological atmospheres she encounters. Through this process, Schonberg integrates artistic and ecological areas of study. Schonberg is a published author and has presented her academic and artistic work at numerous events and conferences. The event at International House is part of Secret Drum Band’s 2018 National Tour. The ensemble aims to work “more directly with biologists, ecologists, and in particular, entomologists… to foster conversation among artists and scientists” to change how people think about the environment.

Schonberg’s presentation at International House will feature musicians Zanny Geffel, Allan Wilson, Anthony Brisson, and Sam Humans and will incorporate videos produced by Jodie Cavller, Lelf Lee, Jodi Darbi, and Seth Nehil. In her presentation, Schonberg will explain her creative process by offering audio and visual samples and will discuss the mission of her work. Featured works will include songs that Schonberg wrote based on her experiences working with ants and bees. She describes her compositions as ambient music, in which players create a musical atmosphere with a “highly composed and articulate, specific and intentional” percussion nested in the synthesized soundscapes.

In collaboration with Secret Drum Band, the Program on the Global Environment will feature student exhibits which share a similar cross-disciplinary concept. Director Sabina Shaikh believes it is especially important to have a strong relationship between environmental science and the arts because the arts provide a way for students to “give back to the environment.” Similar to Schonberg, who stresses the impact of travel on her work, Shaikh states that her program aims to approach all of its work from a global perspective. Schonberg reminds us all that “at the heart of it, we’re all on the same page [despite our different locations] as far as having passion for speaking up for these forests [and the environment].”

Shaikh states that the International House event will be “really exciting and different,” as it unites many groups which are forging new academic and artistic relationships. She hopes that individuals in attendance will gain a new perspective on the environment and encourages anybody who is interested in the field to seek out the Program on the Global Environment for more information. This sentiment is echoed by Schonberg, who notes that awareness about endangered insects, such as ants, is important because of the global importance that regions like Hawaii and the Amazon hold. She also hopes that attendees will feel encouraged to continue learning about the environment after attending the event.

This event will take place on Thursday, March 29th in the International House Assembly Hall. Student presentations and a reception will begin at 5:00 pm, with a multimedia lecture beginning afterward at 6:00pm. A moderated Q+A session featuring Lisa Schonberg and Sabina Shaikh will follow at 6:45pm. After a brief intermission, Secret Drum Band will perform at 7:30pm.

The Secret Drum Band and Program on the Global Environment Event is presented by the International House Global Voices Program, the Program on the Global Environment, the Arts Science + Culture Initiative, the Phoenix Sustainability Initiative, and the Frizell Speaker and Learning Series. This program is made possible in part by the generous support of Bart Lazar, AB ‘82. For more information about other Global Voices Events and co-sponsorship opportunities, or for persons with disabilities who may require assistance, please contact Mary Beth DeStefano at (773)753-2274 or