Biosphere Soundscapes director Leah Barclay is collaborating with Dr Garth Paine, Associate Professor and Associate Director, School of Arts Media + Engineering, Arizona State University on an interdisciplinary collaborative project that explores remote embodied landscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves through sound. The Listen(n) project focuses on community awareness, sustainability, environmental engagement, critical enquiry and interpretative discourse around questions of how digital technology and rich media environments can be used to create experiences of being present in remote environments.
Specifically it engages with notions of community place making through the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, sites recognised by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts. Composed of 621 sites in 117 countries, Biosphere Reserves seek to reunite the conservation of biological and cultural diversity and test and implement innovative approaches to sustainability. The Listen(n) project focuses specifically on six Biosphere Reserves in Arizona, New Mexico and California representative of the richness and diversity of the southwest desert ecosystem. Through extensive field work in each location, Listen(n) explores how a notion of belonging to landscape/environment can develop environment stewardship and engagement. In our current state of ecological crisis, Listen(n) will explore how these notions of immersive environmental engagement could be extended to national and international communities through new internet based technologies.
Capitalising on the Biosphere Reserve status within each location, this project seeks to extend the existing efforts and build the capacity of the community to engage new technologies in understanding the environment. The community engagement strategies will involve extensive consultation with key stakeholders in the Biosphere Reserve prior to hosting a series of workshops and sound walks. The sound walks will facilitate the process of identifying locations, which will be followed by ambisonic field recording labs directed by the Listen(n) team. Ambisonics is a surround sound technique that enables the recording and diffusion of sound sources above and below the listener in addition to the horizontal plane. This enables the opportunity when playing back these recordings, to recreate soundscapes as they are experienced in the natural environment and deliver embodied sonic experiences remotely.
Upon completion of the initial stage, strategies will be put in place to enable the communities to remain actively involved in the ongoing project. These strategies will be developed in response to the needs and accessibility of the community, but will likely involve providing a series of low cost digital recorders with ambisonic capabilities, developing an accessible digital platform and ongoing access to capacity building workshops and forums in community spaces. The ongoing outcomes from the community will be made available via the internet as immersive listening experiences for these remote landscapes in a way that engenders a deep embodied and individual enquiry into the criticality of their preservation for sustainable long term global well-being. This endeavor is utilising these specialist practices in surround sound recording with the intention to deliver immersive, embodied sonic experiences remotely and cultivate environmental engagement through sound.
Listen(n) questions what constitutes attention in sound (a bird or animal call or a ‘silent’ landscape) and through the proposed embodied experience will actively engage participants in consideration of the question: what is listening and how central is the sonic environment to our communal, social and global health? It asks if acoustic ecology, the critical examination and creative representation of sonic environments, can focus communities on their local environment whilst simultaneously building national and international communities for stewardship and sustainability.
The Listen(n) project will offer creative answers to these questions by utilising innovative surround sound recording techniques, multimodal sensing and data fusion and new Internet streaming technologies that will allow individuals to undertake virtual, immersive sound walks through the remote wilderness of the Southwest deserts of the USA from anywhere in the world.
At its core the Listen(n) project explores a range of research questions about the role and function of sound and the perception of sound for a deeper understanding of questions pertaining to place, presence, belonging and sustainability. As a perceptive mode that inherently engages an intermedial relationship to the world, sound both conveys and withholds knowledge, adopting and adapting the realms of the vocal, the textual, the spatial, and the affective to be mediated for reception and parsing aurally, and by extension epistemologically, in the mind of the listener. Sound's ability to capture and convey movement, spatiality, and emotion in very distinct ways works synergistically with the human mind's ability to unify within consciousness a number of perceptual inputs, such that a cognitive picture of the world and one's position within it comes to light. The immersive sonic productions, which form the foundation of Listen(n), provide a palpable framework within which such a phenomenology of human experience of the world can be experienced, shared, examined and understood.