Listening to the Temporal Complexities of Changing Environments


Leah Barclay (Griffith University, Australia)


The world is undergoing unprecedented changes rippling throughout political, cultural and ecological spheres. Climate change is arguably the most critical issue humanity faces in the 21st century. However, climate change is not simply a scientific concern, it is a cultural crisis that requires interdisciplinary action and integration with social and political systems to mobilise collective action. The critical steps towards a sustainable future have been clearly outlined by scientists, yet public engagement and the required paradigm shift remains to be a challenge. Nisbet (2009) advocates for creative examples to trigger personal relevance, Hoffman (2012) believes greater inclusion of the social sciences will assist in navigating public engagement, and Boulton (2016) suggests that the scientific framing of climate change has not accounted for the importance of cultural, ontological and psychological dimensions.

The value of our auditory perception is often neglected when investigating humanities connection to place. Listening has a profound ability to make us feel present and deeply connected to our surrounding environment. Our auditory perception constantly processes complex information and provides a rapid understanding of our social, cultural and ecological contexts. From a dawn chorus deep in the Amazon Rainforest to traditional ceremonies in the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve of Cambodia, sound offers an inherently interdisciplinary medium to understand place. Immersive sonic experiences can evoke empathetic responses to climate change, both in situ and through virtual experiences.

Composers and sound artists drawing on environmental field recordings have an opportunity to respond to climate change through immersive experiences revealing the temporal complexities of changing sonic environments. In parallel to these artistic possibilities, the last decade has seen a rapid emergence of fields of biology concerned with environmental patterns and changes through sound. These scientific disciplines involve non-invasive monitoring through auditory recordings of the environment. The impetus for developing these fields has been increased by accessible and affordable audio recorders and advances in computing technology for automated analysis of recordings over long durations. While these emerging fields of biology have identified as new disciplines, including soundscape ecology and ecoacoustics (Sueur & Farina 2015), the foundations and intentions are core to the field of acoustic ecology, founded by R. Murray Schafer in the late 1960s in Canada (Schafer 1977).

This paper draws on three case studies from interdisciplinary research projects conducted in Australia designed to engage communities in acoustic ecology and sound art. This research calls for greater collaboration between artists, scientists, technologist and communities to reinvigorate the possibilities of acoustic ecology. The featured projects – including Biosphere Soundscapes with UNESCO and a sonic expedition on the Great Barrier Reef – are working at the intersection of art, science, technology, activism and education to inspire connection and engagement with major ecosystems across our planet through sound. This paper draws on emerging science, indigenous knowledge systems, deep listening and responsive community engagement to position acoustic ecology as a critical interdisciplinary field to understand the temporal complexities of changing environments and respond to the greatest challenges of our time.


acoustic ecology, ecoacoustics, sound art. climate change, community engagement


Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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