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03 April 2023

Listening to forests: new project explores soundscapes as method for ecological research

A new collaboration between the Departments of Geography and Digital Humanities explores how soundscapes can be used as a way to 'attend' to forest life.


The forestscapes project, led by Dr Jonathan Gray and Dr Maud Borie, aims to explore and document arts-based methods for recomposing collections of sound materials to support “collective inquiry” into forests as living cultural landscapes.

We’re exploring how collections of forest-related sounds can be assembled with software scripts to support collective inquiry into living landscapes. While sound has long been used as a way to providing individual immersion into a particular place at a particular moment - for example through field recordings - we’re interested in how collections of sound can be recomposed with arts- and humanities-based methods to support group listening sessions - and different ways of collectively noticing, experiencing and knowing forest life.

Dr Jonathan Gray, Senior Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies and co-director for the Centre for Digital Culture

With research already underway in the visual space, the project will focus on sound as a medium for sensory immersion as way of experiencing forests.

With Forestscapes we are exploring alternative ways of knowing and experiencing forests, using sounds and listening as an entry point. Although the significance of sounds in relation to ecological crises was already manifest in the title of Silent Spring (1962), and accompanied by the development of bioacoustics in Ecology, less attention has been directed to the ways in which sounds, and combination of sounds (soundscapes) may be used to bring different people and disciplines together to attend to environmental concerns.

Dr Maud Borie - Lecturer in Environment, Science & Society and co-convenor of the Political Ecology, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services group

The project will also explore and co-create methods alongside British-Mexican philosopher, researcher and artist Andrés Saenz de Sicilia, and artist, curator and research consultant Angela YT Chan.

In this project we are using sound to challenge idealised constructions of forests (and nature more broadly) as pristine, untouched environments, instead recognising their complex character as spaces in which many different socio-ecological histories and conflicts overlap. We are experimenting with new methods for soundscape composition and collective listening which can allow collections of forest sounds to speak to us in ways that reflect this complexity.

Andrés Saenz de Sicilia

In this story

Jonathan W. Y. Gray

Senior Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies

Maud Borie

Lecturer in Environment, Science & Society