Leah Barclay | Atmospheres (Earth, Itself, 2016) Brown University
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Atmospheres (Earth, Itself, 2016) Brown University

Atmospheres (Earth, Itself, 2016) Brown University

Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Granoff Center, John Carter Brown Library

Each year, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) sponsors an interdisciplinary program under the title of “Earth, Itself,” designed to stimulate conversations and collaborations across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts.

On April 28-30, 2016, IBES presents Atmospheres, on air, climate and the environment. We will explore such topics as atmospheric circulation and weather; air as habitat—insects and birds; air pollution and quality of air; and legislating, governing and controlling air.

The arts practice, curated by Brown scholar and artist Ed Osborn, includes sound art, installations, and music, involving both visiting artists and Brown students.

Concurrently, the John Carter Brown Library will mount an exhibition on air and climate in the early modern world, part of its four-year series on The Four Elements that explores new ways of engaging—through environmental history—with its renowned collection of books, maps, and prints.

Presenters include Kenyan Dr Mwangi Githiru, an ornithologist and Director of Biodiversity and Social Monitoring at Wildlife Works, Kenya; Michael J. Hathaway (University of British Columbia), author ofEnvironmental Winds; Cymene Howe (Rice University), who works on the politics of wind in Yucatan; sound artists and acoustic ecologists Leah Barclay (Griffith University, Australia), Lawrence English (Australia), and Garth Paine (Arizona State University); Bina Venkataraman, Director, Global Policy Initiatives, Broad Institute; Tongzhang Zheng, Center for Environmental Health and Technology atBrown; Scott Turner, Director of Web Communications at Brown, and weekly nature commentator for the Providence Journal; and Wendy Woodson, Professor of Theatre and Dance at Amherst College.

Lenore Manderson, a visiting professor of environmental studies at Brown and the event’s convener, says Atmospheres aims to reflect IBES’s interdisciplinary approach to questions surrounding Earth and environment.

“The idea is to engage people in different ways in relation to the environment and to showcase how different people at the University think about these questions,” said Manderson, who is also a professor of public health and medical anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. “If we took a conventional route, we might only look at what’s happening in the natural, physical and policy sciences. But other people engage in different ways, and they have profound things to say — that’s our starting point.”

Leah Barclay has been invited to participate in this event through presentations, performances, and a sound installation showcasing her current postdoctoral research in acoustic ecology at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre in Australia.  Explore her featured presentation and creative projects below. 

Changing Soundscapes and the Biosphere

Featured Presentation

The Paris Agreement achieved at COP21 was just the first step in what needs to be a global cultural shift in how people think and act. In our visually dominant society, listening to the state of the environment can reconnect us with nature. Sound can transport us to a place and time and elicit an empathetic response that can be extremely powerful in climate action.

Biosphere Soundscapes is a large-scale interdisciplinary project underpinned by the creative possibilities of acoustic ecology and rapidly emerging fields of biology concerned with the study of environmental patterns and changes through sound. The project is designed to inspire communities across the world to listen to the environment and explore the value of sound as a measure for environmental health in UNESCO biosphere reserves. It is delivered through immersive residencies with artists and scientists, research laboratories, intensive masterclasses and a diversity of creative projects spanning four continents.

Biosphere Soundscapes facilitates local and global partnerships and acts as a catalyst to explore the inherently interdisciplinary nature of sound. It sits at the intersection of art and science, with the recordings providing valuable scientific data for biodiversity analysis and incredible source material for creative works that bring awareness to these environments. Biosphere Soundscapes explores the possibilities of emerging mobile technologies and demonstrates the opportunities for interdisciplinary creativity, the value of environmental listening and the critical importance of community engagement in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Ultimately the project examines the creative possibilities of acoustic ecology in understanding place and rapidly changing environments across the world. This presentation explores recent creative outcomes from Biosphere Soundscapes that showcase the possibilities of augmented reality and mobile technologies for ecological engagement.



Augmented Reality Sound Installation

Rainforest Listening is an augmented reality installation that layers rainforest soundscapes in urban environments to inspire ecological engagement. Listeners access the sounds via mobile devices and sculpt their own experience by triggering geolocated soundscapes as they walk through iconic locations across the world.

Rainforest Listening launched during Climate Week 2015 in Times Square, New York City and has since featured at global events, including COP21 in Paris where the Eiffel Tower was transformed into a sonic rainforest. Listeners can hear the rich biodiversity of insects and birdlife and those who venture deeper into the global sound maps can discover the endangered Amazon River dolphins or elusive howler monkeys hidden throughout cities.

Rainforest Listening is not just an artwork, but a long-term research project that will see recording devices and live streaming networks installed in remote rainforests throughout the world. In the coming years, we hope you will be able to walk through international landmarks, from London Bridge to the Sydney Opera House, and listen to the changing soundscapes of the rainforest.

At Atmospheres 2016, the sounds of the Amazon Rainforest are growing across Brown University and connecting the conference venues through augmented reality sound. Listeners can explore dense sound walks throughout the campus or just listen for five minutes between sessions. To experience Rainforest Listening download the free app Recho to your mobile device and connect your headphones, your phone will act as a compass and guide you through Rainforest Listening.

Temporal Encounters (2016)

Live performance

Temporal Encounters explores a series of in situ field recordings from UNESCO biosphere reserves across the world. Biosphere reserves are sites recognised under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) to reconcile the conservation of biological and cultural diversity and act as learning laboratories for sustainability. There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. This piece draws on the inherently interdisciplinary nature of sound to explore the art and science of listening and the role of sound in biosphere reserves. Temporal Encounters traverses multiple ecosystems bringing ordinarily inaudible voices to the surface and delving deeper into unheard acoustic ecologies. In the words of bioacoustician Christopher Clark “the whole world is signing, but we’ve stopped listening”

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