Leah Barclay | SONIC ECOLOGIES (2013)
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Sonic Ecologies is a documentary film designed to support Leah Barclay’s practice-led research doctorate. The documentary premiered in 2012 at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Festival, Griffith University. Sonic Ecologies was directed and produced by Leah Barclay and was her first feature length documentary.


Leah Barclay’s Statement at the film premiere

This documentary recounts my journey into the creative development and dissemination of a portfolio of original electroacoustic music compositions in different locations across the world. I have witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change in my lifetime, and strongly believe creative practitioners need to contribute towards environmental awareness and engagement. I believe there is a critical need to listen to the environment and create projects that inspire communities to engage with their sonic environment. I believe electroacoustic music using natural sounds, which may expose the state of the environment, could be a valuable device in exploring and understanding the ramifications of climate change. Through practice-led research and autoethnographic commentaries this doctoral research asks the question: How can environmental electroacoustic music contribute towards environmental awareness and engagement?

This varied portfolio of compositions has been created in cultural immersion, by travelling to the locations that inspired the projects, and by working intensively within communities and the environment. The social and cultural context was a vital element in the realisation of each project. For me, working in a cultural context provides first-hand experience and insight into the layers of tradition that are otherwise impossible to access. The locations ranged from sonic explorations in the centre of the Amazon rainforest to exploring significant rivers in India, Korea, China, and Australia. Throughout the research, it became clear that my creative process was influenced and inspired by engaging with the community in which I was composing. Experimenting with different methods of dissemination and community engagement became extremely valuable in formulating preliminary responses to my research question. The findings and observations from each project led me through a process that contributed towards my research aspirations. As a result, I developed the Sonic Ecologies framework that documents and presents a number of procedures that have structured my doctoral projects and, in turn, have become integral to my creative practice.

Throughout these projects, it became evident that the environmental interconnectedness I was seeking was still prevalent in many indigenous cultures, globally. Many of these ancient knowledge systems argue that the process of simply listening to the environment can contribute towards resolving many of the world’s environmental problems. A profusion of research suggests that humanity needs to combine intelligence and knowledge systems from western and non-western traditions in order to move forward. My personal approach to listening has been transformed by spending time understanding the value of sound in some of the indigenous cultures with which I had the opportunity to engage with throughout this research. Experiences including working with Lyndon Davis, a Gubbi Gubbi traditional custodian in Australia, as he listened to the river to decide where to fish, or working with Jo Tito, a Maori artist, as she explores the process of interconnection through the sounds of the ocean, have been profoundly influential.

One of the most satisfying outcomes is the evolving intention at the core of this research; what began as an exploration of the value of electroacoustic music evolved into a complex web of projects harnessing electroacoustic music composition to raise cultural, social and environmental awareness. Through the process of embedding myself in each project I discovered strategies that provided me with a gratifying language of creative expression, and inspired others to engage in practices of listening, field recording and composition. Each composition is a stand-alone creative artefact that is embedded in the exploration of my research question. The portfolio of compositions is the core of this doctorate, and the supporting exegesis and documentary serves to articulate the intentions and discoveries from each project, and offer extended layers of discourse into the development and dissemination of the creative works.


Thesis Abstract:

This thesis comprises of a body of creative work and an exegesis that articulates the intentions and findings from each project. The creative portfolio is specifically focused on the development and dissemination of original electroacoustic music compositions that draw on environmental field recordings from various parts of the world. These original works seek to investigate the possibilities of electroacoustic music in contributing towards environmental awareness and engagement.

This research adopts a practice-led methodology, resulting in 24 new works presented as the major component of this study. The research has been conducted in cultural immersion, ranging from the centre of the Amazon rainforest to exploring significant rivers in India, Korea, China, and Australia. The findings and observations from each project led to preliminary results that highlighted the value of creating electroacoustic music in community engagement and using multi-platform dissemination of the resulting experiences. These results gradually led to the development of the Sonic Ecologies framework, a production model that the author introduces in this dissertation that underpins the creative portfolio and articulates the practice-led outcomes.

In addition to the creative works and exegesis, a documentary film was produced over the duration of this research. This audio-visual documentation provides insight into the thematic inspiration and creative development of each project by delving into personal experiences in cultural immersion and connecting the works into one linear exploration of environmental electroacoustic music composition. The exegesis and supporting film provide clear correlation between each musical project and frame the compositions in a distinctive cultural context. The creative portfolio and supporting documentation trace the escalating significance of the natural environment on the author’s creative practice.

Each project featured in this doctorate explored metaphorical and actual territories new to the author, and produced pivotal experiences for the collaborating communities. The resulting compositions have been performed and exhibited internationally and have been featured at many forums for electroacoustic music and acoustic ecology. The Sonic Ecologies framework informed the development of large-scale interdisciplinary projects including Biosphere Soundscapes, which is presented in the final chapter of this exegesis. This highlights the intrinsic influence of this research, where creative outcomes have become milestones in broader creative visions. After having conceived and completed these projects, my creative vision has gained more integration to social and cultural purposes within a community and its environment.

This practice-led research set out to explore the possibilities of electroacoustic music composition in cultural immersion. By examining the creative development of this body of work, this study explored how electroacoustic music composition could contribute towards environmental awareness and engagement. As the world experiences the ramifications of a changing climate, this research has demonstrated the value of creativity, the importance of environmental listening, and the possibilities of electroacoustic music composition in contributing to the broader discourse about sustainability.