Leah Barclay | Biosphere Soundscapes
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Biosphere Soundscapes

Biosphere Soundscapes: Exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves across the globe

Biosphere Soundscapes is a large-scale interdisciplinary project underpinned by the creative possibilities of acoustic ecology, bioacoustics and rapidly evolving fields of biology used to record environmental patterns and changes. This 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

There are currently 631 UNESCO biosphere reserves in 119 countries. As places that seek to reconcile conservation of biological and cultural diversity, they are ideal to test and demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development. The network of UNESCO biosphere reserves offers a unique opportunity for synthesizing experiences and sharing knowledge in response to the ramifications of climate change. The project involves masterclasses, labs, residencies and large-scale creative projects across the globe. It combines art, science, technology, and communities to highlight the changing soundscapes of biosphere reserves with the potential to engage a global audience online. The resulting soundscapes are providing valuable scientific information that can be used for biodiversity analysis while at the same time offering infinite possibilities for creative inspiration.

Biosphere Soundscapes was founded in Queensland, Australia by Dr Leah Barclay in 2012. The Biosphere Soundscapes artistic and scientific team now works across the Asia-Pacific region and in 2015 we are expanding Biosphere Soundscapes across Mexico in partnership with Fonoteca Nacional de Méxicoand Emmanuel Galvan Martinez. Our artistic collaborators include internationally acclaimed sound artists Dr Ros Bandt, Dr Daniel Blinkhorn and Dr Gerardo Dirie and our masterclasses and field labs have been delivered by some of the major figures of sonic art including Francisco Lopez (Netherlands) and Andrea Polli (USA). 

Biosphere Soundscapes is an example of combining passionate community engagement with the infinite possibilities of creative technology to inspire a culture of listening and environmental awareness. In the future it will provide a platform for artists and global communities to create, collaborate, engage and listen, and expose the creative and scientific possibilities of bioacoustics and the critical value of listening to the environment.  

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Project Overview

The global ecological crisis has become a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaborations at a time when a shift in thinking is urgently required. World leaders are now looking towards the validity and possibilities of creative methodologies as tools for change. This presents both a challenge and an unprecedented opportunity for creative practitioners to gain a critical understanding of the situation and devise new processes for a sustainable future. There is an urgent need to listen to the state of our environment and facilitate a sense of interconnection within communities globally. ‘Sound’ as a catalyst and creative medium is undoubtedly one of the most powerful means to stimulate this shift in consciousness.

Biosphere Soundscapes is a large-scale interdisciplinary project underpinned by the creative possibilities of acoustic ecology, bioacoustics, and rapidly evolving fields of biology used to record environmental patterns and changes through sound. This 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. 

Biosphere Soundscapes pivots on a network of site-specific electroacoustic music projects embedded in multi-layered community engagement processes within global biosphere reserves. This evolving process is implemented by sound artists, composers, field recordists, scientists and community leaders in the biosphere reserve. The content generated is embedded in a virtual network of global Biosphere Reserves via google earth technology and shared through the BioScapes community sound map on project website – www.biospheresoundscapes.org. The process and creative outcomes are delivered by a core team of artists and advisors who are ultimately acting as catalysts for a global participatory environmental project accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

The process of working with each Biosphere modifies depending on the collaborating artists and accessibility of the local community. In some instances the process involves sound labs, artist residencies and extensive community engagement, while in other cases the key community stakeholders of the Biosphere Reserve can generate content independently and engage via the website. The virtual platform, developed in collaboration with Australian cultural development agency Feral Arts, is built with three key systems in mind. The first is the BioScapes Residencies, the core activity in implementing this global project. All of the sound, text and imagery from the BioScapes Residencies is geo-located in the interactive Biosphere map and also available through a timeline feature to trace the history of the project and compare the soundscapes. The second system is the BioScapes Lab, which is a more specific structure with research questions revolving around an environmental issue within the proposed Biosphere Reserve. The final system is the BioScapes Community, an accessible platform for anyone to generate content, download educational resources and engage in the global possibilities of the project.

The first two systems are curated platforms, while the accessibility of the BioScapes Community provides real-time interaction and engagement for anyone with internet access. The three systems combine in theBiosphere Soundscapes map, which is a constantly evolving interface that will call attention to our changing sonic environments. The digital platforms will ultimately enable Biosphere networked performance, live streaming tools and the ability to mix soundscapes in real time. This will also provide access to soundscapes currently at risk, allowing virtual collaborators infinite possibilities to explore the sounds of central Australia, the Amazon Rainforest or Kenya’s Mount Elgon all within an accessible interface.

Biosphere Soundscapes was conceived in 2011 and received concept development funding from Arts Queensland (Regional Arts Development Fund) to deliver a pilot project in the Noosa Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere Soundscapes officially launched on World Listening Day 2012 (July 18) with an interactive field recording lab in the Noosa Biosphere Reserve, a symposium featuring international sound artists and a pilot sound map. The project has since involved multiple research labs and the development of specific interfaces and apps for global community engagement and collaboration. There are currently two international residencies in development in Australia and Mexico and six Biosphere Soundscapes labs under development across three continents.

Biosphere Soundscapes, although still in preliminary stages of development, highlights the potential role composers and sound artists could play in raising awareness and calling attention to the environmental crisis and the value of biosphere reserves. This project combines art, science, technology, and communities to highlight the changing soundscapes of biosphere reserves with the potential to engage a global audience online and  monitor environmental changes through sound. 

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Biosphere Soundscapes 2015: Mexico 

We are thrilled to announce a new partnership with Fonoteca Nacional de México to expand Biosphere Soundscapes through Mexico in 2015. Fonoteca is a leading international organisation renowned for protecting the sound heritage through conservation implementing a wide range of innovative projects that promote a culture of listening. Our first major project is hosting a Biosphere Soundscapes Lab launching in May 2015 leading into our first residency program in Mexico in October 2015. 

Mexico currently has over 40 biosphere reserves spanning across the country and includes some of the most critical environmental and cultural sites on earth. The Biosphere Soundscapes team are focussing the first phase of the project around the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. 

In the language of the Mayan peoples who once inhabited this region, Sian Ka’an means ‘Origin of the Sky’. Located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. It provides a habitat for a remarkably rich flora and a fauna comprising more than 300 species of birds, as well as a large number of the region’s characteristic terrestrial vertebrates, which cohabit in the diverse environment formed by its complex hydrological system. Home to some 80 recorded species of reef-building corals, the portion of the Mesoamerican Reef within the reserve is one of the most bio-diverse in Mexico. Jointly with neighbouring aquatic habitats it harbours more than 400 species of fish and a wealth of other marine life, including the whale sharks, a slow-moving filter feeding shark considered vulnerable by the IUCN. 

 

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