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River Listening: Freshwater biodiversity, digital technology, community engagement, aquatic bioacoustics and sound art 

River Listening is an interdisciplinary collaboration designed to explore the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the conservation of global river systems. The project is directed by Leah Barclay and was developed in collaboration with The Australian Rivers Institute across four Queensland river systems, two of which flow through the Noosa Biosphere Reserve and the Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve.

Leah Barclay and The Australian Rivers Institute were awarded a prestigious Synapse grant in 2014 to support the development of River Listening across the the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River. Synapse is an initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) that supports collaborations between artists and scientists in Australia.


 River Listening involves immersive community engagement through interactive listening labs, field recording, sound maps, performances and installations to experiment with digital technologies and creativity in understanding river health and aquatic biodiversity. The project recognises the critical value of river systems and offers a fresh alternative in inspiring local and global communities to engage in river conservation through accessible digital technologies, creativity, music and sound.

In our current state of environmental crisis, biodiversity assessment is critical to understanding the rapid ecological changes taking place across the globe. In the last ten years, there has been a strong emergence of non-invasive monitoring involving auditory recordings of the environment. This emerging field is commonly referred to as soundscape ecology and shares many parallels with other fields, including bioacoustics and acoustic ecology. These fields have an array of creative possibilities that have been deeply explored by practitioners including Bernie Krause, Ros Bandt and Garth Paine. There are now a growing number of international projects embracing auditory monitoring in aquatic environments.

3.LeahBarclay - Listening to the Thames

River Listening launched on the iconic River Thames in London during the 25th Anniversary of the EVA London International Conference in June 2014. It was developed as a pilot across four Queensland river systems: the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River through intensive community engagement resulting in a wide spectrum of partnerships with community organisations. The initial phase of the project has involved listening labs, field recording, sound maps, performances and installations to experiment with hydrophonic recording, virtual technologies and community engagement in understanding river health. In the first six months the River Listening team have expanded the project internationally with partnerships formed across Australia, New Zealand, India, Cambodia, USA and Mexico. Particular highlights include launching a new masterclass series with UNESCO, premiering the River Listening sound installation at the ASU Art Museum in the USA and launching the first version of a new interactive sound installation at the Mary River Festival in Queensland.    

2015 will see the launch of a customised River Listening digital platform and mobile applications for recording and listening to rivers across the world. The mobile application will facilitate creative collaborations and enable community members to become river custodians by monitoring river sounds and sharing their recordings with artists and scientists. The project team are also launching a touring exhibition and masterclass series that will explore rivers as the lifeblood of communities and draw on Leah Barclay’s ten years body of work collaborating with the communities of river systems across the world.

As the international interest in the emerging auditory fields of bioacoustics and acoustic ecology continues to expand, there are clear opportunities to harness virtual technologies to develop accessible community engagement around the creative and scientific possibilities of listening to the environment. River Listening provides a model to develop a truly interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on immersive community engagement. It is anticipated the future results will be beneficial to national ecosystem monitoring programs for river health. This project is a catalyst for interdisciplinary thinking at a time when the conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems is a critical priority. River Listening fundamentally explores the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the management and conservation of global river systems. River Listening is underpinned by inspiring environmental stewardship, revaluing river systems and connecting communities through sound and creative technology. 

The blog documenting the development of River Listening can be explored here www.riverlistening.com