River Listening is an interdisciplinary collaboration designed to explore the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the conservation of global river systems. The project is led by the Biosphere Soundscapes founding director Australian interdisciplinary artist Dr. Leah Barclay. It was developed in collaboration with The Australian Rivers Institute across four Queensland river systems, two of which flow through the Noosa Biosphere Reserve and the Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve. Dr. Leah Barclay was awarded a prestigious Synapse grant in 2014 to support the development of River Listening across the the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River.
Synapse is an initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) that supports collaborations between artists and scientists in Australia. River Listening involves immersive community engagement through interactive listening labs, field recording, sound maps, performances and installations to experiment with digital technologies and creativity in understanding river health and aquatic biodiversity. The project recognises the critical value of river systems and offers a fresh alternative in inspiring local and global communities to engage in river conservation through accessible digital technologies, creativity, music and sound.
In our current state of environmental crisis, biodiversity assessment is critical to understanding the rapid ecological changes taking place across the globe. In the last ten years, there has been a strong emergence of non-invasive monitoring involving auditory recordings of the environment. This emerging field is commonly referred to as soundscape ecology and shares many parallels with other fields, including bioacoustics and acoustic ecology. These fields have an array of creative possibilities that have been deeply explored by practitioners including Bernie Krause, Ros Bandt and Garth Paine. There are now a growing number of international projects embracing auditory monitoring in aquatic environments.
River Listening launched on the iconic River Thames in London during the 25th Anniversary of the EVA London International Conference in June 2014. It was developed as a pilot across four Queensland river systems: the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River through intensive community engagement resulting in a wide spectrum of partnerships with community organisations. The initial phase of the project has involved listening labs, field recording, sound maps, performances and installations to experiment with hydrophonic recording, virtual technologies and community engagement in understanding river health. In the first six months the River Listening team have expanded the project internationally with partnerships formed across Australia, New Zealand, India, Cambodia, USA and Mexico. Particular highlights include launching a new masterclass series with UNESCO, premiering the River Listening sound installation at the ASU Art Museum in the USA and launching the first version of a new interactive sound installation at the Mary River Festival in Queensland.
2015 will see the launch of a customised River Listening digital platform and mobile applications for recording and listening to rivers across the world. The mobile application will facilitate creative collaborations and enable community members to become river custodians by monitoring river sounds and sharing their recordings with artists and scientists. The project team are also launching a touring exhibition and masterclass series that will explore rivers as the lifeblood of communities and draw on ten years of collaborations with river systems across the world.
As the international interest in the emerging auditory fields of bioacoustics and acoustic ecology continues to expand, there are clear opportunities to harness virtual technologies to develop accessible community engagement around the creative and scientific possibilities of listening to the environment. River Listening provides a model to develop a truly interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on immersive community engagement. It is anticipated the future results will be beneficial to national ecosystem monitoring programs for river health. This project is a catalyst for interdisciplinary thinking at a time when the conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems is a critical priority. River Listening fundamentally explores the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the management and conservation of global river systems. River Listening is underpinned by inspiring environmental stewardship, revaluing urban river systems and connecting communities through music and sound.
Dr Leah Barclay is giving a keynote presentation featuring Biosphere Soundscapes during the 2014 EcoMusicologies Conference, 2-6 October, Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Dialogues — verbal, musical and ecological — are the keys to our interconnected world, offering up new meanings while infusing life with reciprocity. In the spirit of dialogue, Ecomusics and Ecomusicologies 2014 invites scholars, musicians and activists to trade ideas and disciplinary perspectives on the campus of UNC Asheville, at the heart of a musically and politically vibrant, environmentally conscious community. Asheville’s unique natural beauty and rich history makes it an ideal gathering spot for this conference: it is where Béla Bartók composed the sounds of local birds in his Piano Concerto No. 3, where John Cage conducted happenings, where sonic engineer Bob Moog pioneered new technologies, and where Buckminster Fuller created his geodesic dome. The multi-day event will include panel discussions, concerts, soundwalks, workshops, and outings.
Six internationally renowned keynote speakers, representing a range of interests and expertise, will convene panels responding to musical collaboration, improvisation, green industry practices, acoustic ecology, ecopoetics, soundscapes, sustainability, contemporary composition, musical activism and other fields. Exciting concerts, sound installations, and alternative format performances both on- and off-campus will round out the program. These include an appearance by seven-time Grammy® winner Paul Winter; a performance of Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Luther Adams’s “outdoor” composition Inuksuit; the Chicago-based Fry Street String Quartet’s multimedia Crossroads Project; a workshop led by Moog associate Dr. Wayne Kirby and Grammy® winning performer Roy “Futureman” Wooten; an installation by Greensboro’s Invisible; a performance by New York’s electronic duo The Mast; and a screening of the critically acclaimed film Musicwood.
Further information: www.ecomusicologies.org
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.
By Leah Barclay, originally published by the World Listening Project
Floating Land is a biennial arts festival hosted in the UNESCO recognised Noosa Biosphere Reserve in Queensland, Australia. Conceived in 2001 as an outdoor sculpture exhibition, the festival has expanded into a dynamic interdisciplinary event commissioning innovative collaborations and hosting local, national and international artists. The festival is now renowned as a key contributor to the international conversation around art and the environment and it’s clear “the curation of experimental and new media art has provided important critical force to this expansion” (Zuvela, 2012).
The core of Floating Land is focused around encouraging environmental awareness through site-specific creative responses and community engagement. While the attention of past events has certainly been the visual arts, the last three iterations of the festival have seen the emergence of projects focused around music, sound and acoustic ecology. The 2013 Floating Land theme “Nature’s Dialogue” was drawn from ‘biomimicry’, bringing the science of nature deeply into the conversation and providing a powerful platform for interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations. This theme inspired a rich body of work and embraced a clear strand of projects focused on the value of listening in our current state of ecological crisis.
The installations and performances at Floating Land are focused on the foreshore of Lake Cootharaba, a shallow and expansive body of water on the Noosa River. One of the initial projects installed onsite in 2013 was Rainwire, a long-term collaboration between artist-scientist David Burraston and artist-curator Sarah Last. Burraston and Last have an international reputation for their work and have been actively pioneering interdisciplinary art practice in rural Australia through their organisation The Wired Lab. Rainwire is a sonification project that explores rain events and intercultural dialogues with this natural phenomenon as a means to better understand rainfall and societies’ relationship with water. The project draws deeply on Burraston’s scientific background and Last’s community practice to create a truly engaging experience that has both creative and scientific implications. Their long-term goal is to develop a functional acoustic rain gauge using a unique landscape scale long wire instrument, essentially a large-scale Aeolian Harp. At Floating Land, Rainwire was realised through the sounds of rainfall falling on long wire instruments as a medium for creative investigation. In addition to installing the wire across the lake, the audience could experience the Rainwire sonificiations from other locations in Australia via listening devices. While the visual appearance of this work offers minimal insight into this rich collaboration, the auditory layers prove this was undeniably one of the most innovative projects presented at Floating Land. It also highlighted the sophisticated progression of art-science collaborations in interdisciplinary practice.
Further along the lake, a captivating soundscape resonated from the tree branches in Lenni Semmelink’s Earthsong installation. Semmelink is an emerging artist who was the recipient of the Noosa Biosphere Art Prize (scholarship) to develop Earthsong for Floating Land 2013. While her practice is grounded in visual arts, her fascination with sound led her to focus around amplifying the bioacoustics of the natural environment. The result was a truly immersive space that allowed the audience to hear the internal soundscapes of the surrounding trees through speakers planted throughout the branches. Semmelink’s work is exemplary in its ability to deliver an accessible and engaging environmental experience aided by technology, a challenging feat for any artist. Interactive layers encouraging audience participation further enhanced the experience of Earthsong, this was facilitated through headphones placed through the trees that were connected directly to hydrophones submerged in the lake and contact microphones planted in the ground. Observing these interactions was in itself a fascinating insight into auditory perception, while some actively played the trees with percussive rhythms others stood in silence as if actively listening for the first time. It’s works such as Earthsong that exemplify the true value of Floating Land; they act as a catalyst for experimentation and push both artists and audiences into new territory to explore our relationship with the environment.
Linsey Pollack’s lakeside performance ‘Cries Across the Water’ was a highlight for many at Floating Land 2013. As the sun set across Lake Cootharaba, Pollack performed solo on his custom electronic wind instrument using live loops of endangered and extinct animals. These samples included the Crested Gibbon, the Black Rhino, Carnaby’s Cockatoo and the Kroombit Tinker Frog. While the sounds were transformed into abstract musical compositions, he introduced each piece with the natural call of the animal along with an explanation of the species and its deteriorating habitat. Pollack is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most innovative musicians and his diverse body of work crosses communities, cultures and disciplines. Pollack’s performances often see him playing unusual objects and assuming comedic characters, yet in contrast ‘Cries Across the Water’ had inherently tragic undertones. Listening to the sounds of extinction is both confronting and moving, yet the artistic integrity of the performance carried a sense of hope through his sensitive interpretations. This performance truly highlighted the value of creativity in gently making us aware and engaged in the catastrophic ecoside we are facing.
Floating Land’s virtual program allowed the curation of projects that were delivered both onsite and online, these included activities that encouraged local and global participation. One example is Biosphere Soundscapes, a large-scale interdisciplinary art project underpinned by the creative possibilities of acoustic ecology. This art-science project is designed to inspire communities across the world to listen to the environment and reimagine the potential of International UNESCO Biosphere Reserves as learning laboratories for a sustainable future. For Floating Land, Biosphere Soundscapes invited a diversity of artists to engage with the soundscapes of Noosa Biosphere through various activities. These included field recording, sound mapping and a barefoot soundwalk led by Anthony Magen from the Australian Forum of Acoustic Ecology. The sound walk guided participants in silence along the lake and through to the surrounding bush land where they were greeted with a live performance from the West Head Project. This extraordinary performance featured acclaimed Australian musicians Jim Denley, Monica Brooks and Dale Gorfinkel weaving sonic responses with the natural soundscapes of Boreen Point.
Biosphere Soundscapes also invited American digital media artist Andrea Polli to facilitate a masterclass with visiting artists and the local community. As a pioneer in the acoustic ecology field, Polli guided her participants through an introduction to acoustic ecology, the aesthetics of field recording and the core theories of her practice. She was accompanied by members of her research lab at the University of New Mexico, who were instrumental in capturing field recordings throughout Noosa Biosphere Reserve to be published on the Biosphere Soundscapes sound map.
Floating Land wouldn’t be complete without the evocative sounds of Lyndon Davis playing didgeridoo, a soundscape that has become synonymous with Floating Land in recent years. Davis is an indigenous artist raised on the Sunshine Coast and is a direct descendant of the local Gubbi Gubbi people, traditional custodians of the land. He is the director of Gubbi Gubbi Dance, who also featured at Floating Land 2013, performing traditional songs and facilitating workshops throughout the ten-day event. Floating Land 2013 also hosted the Leweton Cultural Group from the remote northern tropical islands of Vanuatu who performed traditional songs from Na Mao and Nelang (men’s and women’s kastom dances). The joyful songs of the Leweton group, particularly their transfixing harmonies, provided firsthand insight into a rich culture that still has music and sound engrained in everyday life.
Many of the other performances and installations at Floating Land had strong sonic components, ranging from the evocative soundscapes of Michel Tuffery and James Muller’s installation to the DAM(N) Project, an interdisciplinary dance performance with a score composed entirely of environmental field recordings from India. The rich tapestry of creative responses allowed the community to engage in a truly immersive experience. The auditory focus of many of the projects allowed for an embodied engagement with the artwork, enhancing the overall experience of the program.
Floating Land 2013 provided a powerful platform for creative responses, provocations and interactive experiences that underpin new ways of thinking and inspire change. The intention is not just to deliver engaging experiences for the local community, but also to harness the energy of these conversations and ideas across virtual platforms and engage a global community. The true legacy of events such as Floating Land is in igniting these visions that expand beyond the event and contribute to greater environmental awareness and our ability to reimagine a sustainable future.
Zuvela, D. (2012). Floating Land – Water Culture. Art Monthly Australia, 249 May 2012, pp. 38-41.
Join internationally renowned sound artist and ecosystems biologist Francisco López for an exclusive masterclass in the Noosa Biosphere Reserve on September 15th 2013
Francisco López is internationally recognized as one of the major figures of the experimental music and sound art scene. He is also a Ph.D. ecosystem biologist, with more than twenty years of teaching experience in Spain and Latin America. His experience in the field of sound creation and work with environmental recordings spans over a period of over thirty years. He has collaborated internationally with 150 artists and his work has been released by more than 300 record labels worldwide. He has been awarded four times with honorary mentions at the competition of Ars Electronica Festival and is the recipient of the Qwartz Award 2010 for best sound anthology. He has realized hundreds of field recording projects, commissions, live performances, sound installations and workshops, as well as research in entomology and ecosystem dynamics, in over sixty countries in the five continents, with a particular emphasis on tropical and sub-tropical areas in the Americas, Africa and Australasia. www.franciscolopez.net
This masterclass will include an introduction to Francisco's practice and a guided field recording trip in the Noosa Biosphere Reserve.
Date: Sunday, September 15, 2013
Time: 9am – 12pm
Location: Noosa Biosphere Reserve, Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Field recording will take place in the upper Noosa River; participants will travel by boat to the entrance of the Everglades.
Meeting Point: 8:45am at the Big Pelican on Noosa River (222 Gympie Terrace, Noosaville QLD 4566)
Please bring your own field recording equipment and sun protection. Field recording kits are available for hire if you do not have access to your own equipment.
Cost: This event is free of charge supported by Biosphere Soundscapes and Noosa Biosphere Ltd.
Optional: 12pm – 3pm – Visit Noosa Biosphere Festival
Join the local community to celebrate Noosa Biosphere Reserve and enjoy a relaxed lunch by Noosa River after the Masterclass with Francisco López. The festival is a 5min walk from the location where the boat will drop you off after the masterclass.
Please register via the form here, while the masterclass is free of charge, places are very limited.