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  • Listening to and Composing with the Soundscapes of Climate Change
  • Kate Galloway (bio)

Climate change and the soundscapes of the contemporary energy industries, including their environmental impact, are audible. The public, however, is still learning how to listen to, perceive, and express this audible environmental information. Since the early 2000s, Canadian composer Derek Charke has combined electroacoustic elements, field recordings, and acoustic instruments to comment on environmental issues and ecological relationships. Fascinated by recording and composing with the sounds of the environment, Charke's compositions use the sounds of the environment to express his personal affinity for the soundscapes of Northern Canada and concern for the environment. His personal connection to this region and his observations of environmental change shape how his field recorder and his ears listen to these places as he records how climate change irreversibly alters the landscape and social life of Northern Canada. His embodied knowledge of the location influences where he places his field recorder for long durational recordings and how he moves through the environment recording with his handheld field recorder. Field-recording paraphernalia—including omnidirectional condensers, binaural in-ear microphones, hydrophones, contact microphones, and handheld solid-state recorders—provide a means of archiving and listening back to long-form uninterrupted recordings of a location and how its conditions change over time.

Field recording enhances human listening, providing sonic information and knowledge gathered through this form of mobile hearing enhancement and recording. Hydrophones, for instance, are submerged deep below the water's surface, listening to aquatic ecologies the human ear is unable to adequately listen to. Field recording and composing [End Page 81] with these recordings can amplify the sonic environment; and by crafting an interpretive sonic document that is rich in sonic detail and nuance, listeners are provided with a sonic space where they can embody an individualized sound world in flux. Charke's extended personal experience in the Arctic and his ongoing concern for the state of the environment are highlighted in this work through his spatial explorations using an array of field-recording techniques and his compositional treatment of his sound materials and subject matter. By listening to the Canadian Arctic and other remote environs, listening with both his ears as well as with his field-recording equipment, Charke provides a sensory experience of environmentally harmful human activity, such as oil refining and industrial-scale production.

In the age of climate change awareness, how should composers use sonic materials to address the scope of human impact on the nonhuman environment? This is a question that Charke and other composers, sound artists, acoustic ecologists, and field recordists who create music using environmental sound are attempting to answer through their creative activity that witnesses, archives, and circulates physical and audible environmental change.1 The ecological crisis demands dialogue and collaboration across disciplines and modes of sensory perception. My analysis contributes to the conversation about how expressive culture—particularly music and sound—conveys information and knowledge about environmental issues, taking an alternative format to the sciences in order to disseminate information concerning interactions among human and nonhuman systems, environmental science, and climate change discourse.

In this article, I discuss some ways that music and environmental sound are used to listen to the aurality of climate change. Field recording is used by Charke as a creative mechanism for listening to expressive climate change. Through Charke's thoughtful studio manipulation and composition, the field recordings in his music imitate environmental phenomena. Drawing from the interdisciplinary field of acoustic ecology, I sketch out some of the ways that Charke interprets sonic and ecological experiences of live places and environments into his compositions. Acoustic ecology sets out to analyze soundscapes and examine the sonic relationships among human and nonhuman actors in their environment. One of the central motivations of acoustic ecology is to raise public awareness concerning the ways human society [End Page 82] participates in composing, shaping, and revising the soundscape. Following a generation of composers in the 1960s and 1970s who integrated the sonic aesthetics and ecological politics of acoustic ecology into their creative work, Charke similarly uses field recording and modes of intimate listening to environments to depict different types of environmental change. I use...


Additional Information

pp. 81-105
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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