Leah Barclay | ECO SONUS (2009)
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ECO SONUS (2009)

Eco Sonus is a multi-platform, environmental sound installation commissioned for Floating Land 2009, an art and environment event that has gained international visibility since its inception in 2001. The project involved a 10-day residency in the heart of the Noosa Biosphere working with the local community, and was delivered as a live performance and interactive website.

Floating Land began as a biennial outdoor sculpture event and has grown to become one of the most significant ‘green art’ events in Australia. The event was conceived by Kevin Wilson, the Director of Noosa Regional Galley, who has since relocated, and is delivered by the local government. The fifth iteration of Floating Land was in 2009; visual artists, writers, performance artists, musicians, photographers, academics and scientists were engaged to explore the theme of climate change and the impact of rising sea levels on coastal and island communities of the Pacific Ocean. Visitors to Floating Land are encouraged to engage with artists as they develop work on the foreshore of Lake Cootharaba over the 10-day residency. The audience could also participate in workshops, attend forums, experience performances and become immersed in the residency location in Boreen Point at the centre of the biosphere reserve.

Barclay worked with hydrophones (underwater microphones) capturing unique and abstract textures that formed the sound bed for the work. Eco Sonus has evolved into a series of other projects, including a score for the Floating Land documentary, collaborations with Sonic Babylon and live performances. 

Artist Notes during Floating Land

“The provocative Floating Land theme, Climate Change and Rising Seas, allowed artists to deeply consider methods of translating the complexities of the climate change debate into art. I was commissioned to create a site-specific sound installation and capture the essence of the event in a series of fixed electroacoustic works that would be performed on site and published online. I was aware it was a very ambitious project for the 10-day time frame, but I was inspired by the possibilities of working in the community and being culturally immersed. The compositions are all sonic responses to the environment ranging from abstract explorations of Lake Cootharaba to sonic portraits of artists working on site. I facilitated field recording workshops, sound walks, and collaborative composition activities. All of the content was uploaded each day to an interactive website that I created. Eco Sonus was the first opportunity for me to work directly with environmental themes, both collaboratively and while engaged with the host community. I wanted to use this project to experiment with field recordings from the given site, and to explore ways of disseminating the resulting electroacoustic works online through a virtual performance and installation.

Prior to Floating Land, I spent two months developing the community engagement methods I would use on site for Eco Sonus. Through a series of small experiments with five participants, I decided that the most useful strategies were community field-recording workshops, and sound walks, where I guided participants in silence through the environment. The community of Boreen Point was a particularly interesting location for a project such as Eco Sonus, because the population of only 300 people is relatively isolated and, generally, they had not been exposed to electroacoustic music. This reason alone made the recording process somewhat challenging, as the community had limited exposure to audio-recording technology, and were not accustomed to the practice of field recording. One of my core intentions was to use this project to explore other ways to generate a wider environmental awareness and engagement by disseminating the electroacoustic compositions online. My research led me to explore sustainable funding models. Some models that were already being employed by film industry funding agencies, such as Screen Australia, resonated with my intentions. These agencies were encouraging multi-platform outcomes, such as a websites and smart phone apps and stronger audience engagement strategies, such as social media platforms. This wasn’t just about marketing a film for wider exposure but creating an ongoing engagement with an audience that could continue evolving on various platforms.

While I had limited interest in the commercial aspects of the film industry and was not intending to develop an absorbing marketing strategy I could see value in the multi-platform process. The concept of multi-platform dissemination is something that I have, in fact, adopted to some degree in my creative practice. For example, a composition for solo cello and live electronics might form part of a documentary film soundtrack and also exist as an acousmatic work. While this could easily be interpreted as recycling compositional ideas, the underlying intention has always been about the maximum exposure and accessibility for those ideas. Publishing compositions in multiple formats, across different platforms, could reach a wider audience and consequently have a greater impact. I realised that understanding and experimenting with these processes would be very important for my research, as they would strengthen the dissemination, relevance, and impact of the resulting works.

Many of the compositions featured the voices of local people; some were recorded in an interview format discussing the Floating Land theme, while others were recorded during informal moments capturing the highlights of the event. Many of these evolved into sonic portraits of the artists and their projects, which became an absorbing process. I followed the development of many of the projects, sonically documenting the artists’ interpretations and surrounding soundscapes. I was particularly drawn to work with Eric Natuoivi, an installation and ceramic artist from Vanuatu. His Floating Land project, ‘Ailan I Draun Long Solwarra’ (Islands drowning in the Sea), was an immersive installation revolving around hand-carved totem poles and sculptured palm fronds that drew its inspiration from Vanuatu’s traditional cultures. On the first day, Eric waited on the shores of Lake Cootharaba in the wind and rain listening to the land to contemplate what he would create. While other artists frantically gathered materials and identified sites, he was very calm and didn’t want to begin until he was sure it was in response to the surrounding environment. After the Welcome to Country by Gubbi Gubbi Elder Dr Eve Fesl, Eric felt connected with the natural and spiritual environment of Lake Cootharaba and began work. It felt inappropriate and disruptive to install microphones at his site, so instead I observed his process and, with his permission, recorded short interviews. He was equally curious about my project, and when he understood my intentions he welcomed me onto his site to document his process through sound.”

Over the four-week period, 4570 people viewed the Eco Sonus website, with an average engagement of eight minutes. Considering the regional location of this project it would have been physically impossible to have an audience anywhere near that amount, unless I had made a significant investment in marketing and rationalised the impact of having a large audience in Boreen Point. The on-site data is certainly very different but still valuable in contrasting the experience. There was an average of 15 people interacting with the work on site every day. Overall, there were about 25 participants in the workshops, which were designed for five participants per workshop. The final weekend featured the main performances of this project during the Firings, Floating Land’s signature fire event. The Eco Sonus installation was installed in a tent in an accessible location for the audience to visit after or during the fire event. There were about 700 people at the Firings, with about 100 people experiencing the sound installation after the fire event. I mixed the soundscapes live, and the event lasted for approximately four hours. This was designed as a non-linear performance, allowing the audience to move in and out of the experience. To allow the physical audience access to the virtual elements of the project I also printed Eco Sonus cards, which had information about the project and included the website address. The comparison between the real and virtual suggests that this was a very effective way to generate a wider audience for an environmental art project.”