🌳 Ways of Listening to Forests
How can we sense and make sense of forests with devices, techniques and our bodies? How might we cultivate an interdisciplinary “arts of noticing” (Tsing) for attending to forests and their role in critical zones?
Engaging with themes in the Critical Zones exhibition and catalogue curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, this project explores different ways of listening to forests, drawing on different traditions, techniques, methods, media and approaches – from “Shinrin Yoku” (forest bathing) to sensing devices, data sonification to sound walks and storytelling.
The project includes a public workshop with ZKM as part of the Critical Zones exhibition to explore and compare different approaches and the possibilities and limits of forest experiences under current sensing conditions between immediacy and mediation.
For more on the use of digital data and devices to cultivate sensibilities towards trees and forests, see the Critical Zones field book and catalogue, including this chapter on “The Datafication of Forests”.
Sound Sketch - Forest Rain - Liz K. Miller
🎧 Four Modes of Forest Listening
⚠️ The following audio sequences are part of a prototype for testing and feedback that will be further refined, developed and produced after the workshop with ZKM.
We have curated a series of audio sequences exploring four different modes:
Each sequence contains a brief introduction followed by several exercises, practices or projects for you to explore.
These are intended to be listened to in a forest, park or garden, and can be done individually or in a group. Our aim was to produce an audio piece which could be either undertaken in one listening session (of around 90-120 minutes) or in a series of separate listening sessions.
These four sequences are intended as an entry-point to begin exploring forest listening. They are intended to be illustrative, not comprehensive. We're keen to include other kinds of projects and practices in future phases of the project beyond these approaches (and if you have suggestions they'd be very welcome).
📦 What are the four sequences?
❓ How can I provide thoughts, feedback or suggestions?
We're very interested in hearing about your experiences of forest listening, these sequences and how we might further develop and improve the project.
On thinking along with these modes of forest listening you may consider:
- What does it mean to listen to forests?
- What is forest listening according to these projects and practices?
- How do different practices guide and shape your attention to trees and forests in different ways?
- What do you notice?
- What is missing or absent?
- What new or unfamiliar perspectives do they bring?
- What can you learn from comparing or combining them?
- How and to what ends might these listening practices be re-specified, modified and re-assembled?
On the project, we’re interested in feedback on things like:
- How did you find the sound segments?
- What other projects or practices we could add (whether to audio sequences or to the forest listening index below)?
- Would you consider doing this again? Would you be willing to explore and try out future things from this project?
You can share your thoughts with this form or send us an email (and suggest new projects to add here).
📲 How can I get them onto my device?
For outdoor listening excursions you may wish to load the audio sequences onto your phone or other device (e.g. MP3 player).
- On iOS devices you could download and play using a music app of your choice (e.g. the default "Music" player), a podcast player (e.g. Pocket Casts) or you could use an audiobook app like the free/open-source BookPlayer which enables files to be imported.
- On Android devices you could download the files onto your phone and play using your default music app (as configured in "Settings" > "Apps") or you could use a podcast player (e.g. Pocket Casts).
🗂 Forest Listening Index
Further projects, practices, readings and resources on forest listening. If you have a suggestion for a project to add, you can fill in this form.
🏊🏼♀️ Forest Bathing
- A Shinrin-yoku Virtual Forest Bathing Walk on The High Line by Brooke Mellen - "The episode starts us off by leaving Brooke’s apartment in a busy high rise mid-town neighborhood, full of construction noises and stress and when it ends, we’ll be feeling relaxed and in touch with the sounds of birdsong amongst the birch trees down in the historic meatpacking district at the south end of the High Line."
- Forest bathing 360 videos - "360-degree forest bathing video playlist from Forestry England"
🎙 Field Recording
- Autumn Walk Soundscape Generator - "This invigorating ambiance was recorded in the Geographic Arboretum of Tervuren, a Belgian botanical garden composed of trees from the temperate climate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. The sounds of wind are created and shaped by its obstacles, and – on a windy day – the Arboretum is a great place to record a variety of sounds."
- Ecosounds from QUT Ecoacoustics Research Group - "Ecosounds is a repository of environmental audio recordings. This website facilitates the management, access, visualization, and analysis of environmental acoustic data."
- Edge of the Forest - "Antoine Bertin weaves together field recordings and sonifications of data he collects around the world. Wandering in its own meditative way on the edge of science, technology and sound, the radio show explores where forests begin and when they end."
- Field Recordings in the forest of Colombia by Lucrecia Dalt & Aaron Dilloway - "This is a selection of field recordings realized during the artist residency in Guachalito located on the pacific coast of Colombia hosted by Más Arte Más Acción with the support of Goethe Institut Colombia."
- Forest Listening Blog by Liz K. Miller - "This blog is dedicated to the sounds of forests and woodlands in the UK, and the visual artwork generated from this listening and field recording practice. I am using listening as a method for re-connection with the woodland environment, and field recording to gather an audio archive of vibrations and resonances from within forest processes such as transpiration, decomposition and water saturation."
- Forest Mixer - "create your own forest audio background with birds, creeks and rivers, trees waving in the wind, soft rain falling on the leafy canopy, and all kinds of forest and rainforest related sounds."
- Fragments of Extinction - "Fragments of Extinction is an environmental sound-art project, which explores the eco-acoustic complexity of the remaining intact equatorial forests."
- Instruments in Trees by Cheryl E. Leonard - "Instruments in Trees is a semi-composed/semi-improvised work for arboreal materials and upside-down string quartet (two cellos, viola, and violin). Sticks, twigs, leaves, needles, pinecones, bark, and lichen are cultivated as sound sources in a performance that investigates cycles and processes inherent to trees."
- Listening to Forests - "Led by WWF in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico, the study employed a technique called acoustic monitoring to analyse the impacts of timber harvesting on biodiversity. Researchers placed cell phones in the forest to pick up the calls and other sounds made by hundreds of species – including birds, monkeys, amphibians and insects. By analysing the recordings using computer algorithms and expert knowledge, they were able to assess the richness and abundance of species across different sites."
- Lookout Creek: Eighth Notes by Lisa Ann Schonberg - "Modeled after Leah Wilson's work, Ambient (2014). Leah had examined and represented the reflections of light and color in and around a small stone placed in the stream. I became excited about this idea of looking at one physical space and taking readings/documentation of the myriad of sonic textures, pitches and combinations that can occur in that one point - and thus making a tangible representation of what might ordinarily seem like a indecipherable stream of noise. Through this work I have thought about the immense musicality of stream acoustics, how we might grow more familiar with each stream site's acoustic details through isolation and repetition."
- Macaulay Library from Cornell Lab of Ornithology - "Your wildlife media archive since 1929"
- Macrophones by Brian House - "If a microphone is a device used to amplify small sounds, what I call a “macrophone” brings very large sounds—aka infrasound—into our perceptual range. Normally too low-frequency to hear, infrasound travels vast distances through the atmosphere, even across the globe. It comes from brewing storms, heavy industry, calving icebergs, crumbling infrastructure, avalanches, HVAC systems at massive data centers, and even police weaponry. Big phenomena like these are entangled with the climate crisis, which can be difficult to directly perceive by virtue of its scale. And yet this crisis makes sound that flows around our bodies all the time. With macrophones, we can listen."
- Nature Soundmap - from "professional nature recordists from around the globe"
- One Tree in a Forest by Jay-Dea Lopez - "By placing contact microphones directly near the split it was possible to hear every creak and groan emitted by the tree as it moved helplessly with the wind"
- Rainforest Connection - "Rainforest Connection (RFCx) creates acoustic monitoring systems for those who wish to end illegal deforestation in real-time."
- Sonic Art Research Unit - "RADAR is an Oxford Brookes research repository. We have a large collection of recordings and images available for free, ranging from documentation of the audiograft festival Max Eastley’s Archive (collated during his time as research fellow), Patrick Farmer’s Field Recording Archive, a collection of Sound Diaries recordings, and much more."
- Sound Forest Lab at University of Wisconsin Madison - "From protected forests, like national parks and community protected areas, to forests for human use, like logging and hunting, we are looking for the best ways to preserve the variety of life within an ecosystem. We use sounds that animals make to investigate how tropical forests can stay safe and sound."
- Sounding Nature - "Sounding Nature is the biggest ever global exploration of the beautiful sounds of nature, covering 55 countries with almost 500 sounds. The sounds have been reimagined by 250 artists to reflect upon the damage being done to our natural world by human-generated sounds."
- Sounds of the Forest sound map from Timber Festival - "We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands. The sounds form an open source library, to be used by anyone to listen to and create from."
- Swedish Forest Textures by melissa pons - "Swedish Forest Textures began its life with the purpose of illustrating Ghabe - a feature film that portrays a young Syrian refugee in the dark, overwhelming forests of Sweden."
- tree.fm - "Tune Into Forests From Around The World"
- The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists (UVA) - "Combining aesthetics and technology, the installation The Great Animal Orchestra simultaneously offers an immersion into the heart of the sounds of nature, and a sound and visual meditation on the necessity of preserving the beauty of the animal world."
- The Tree Listening Project by Alex Metcalf - "The Tree Listening Project uses highly sensitive microphones to make audible the 'rumble' of tree movement and the 'popping' of ascending water mixing with cavitated air in the xylem - the very life of the tree surging up from the roots towards the leaves."
- Underneath the Forest Soundscape by Nikki Lindt - "A soundscape made with recordings from underground at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (in collaboration with scientist Lindsey Rustad) in the summer of 2019. This piece explores the movement in the navigation system under the forest floor."
- Wild Sanctuary by Bernie Krause - "Since 1968, Wild Sanctuary has traveled the globe to record, archive, research, and express the voice of the natural world - its soundscape. These increasingly rare sounds of the wild inform and enrich our specialized efforts from the field to public performance."
- 蛙蛙哇 ! Songs of the Frogs of Taiwan vol.1 by Yannick Dauby - "This 68 minutes long Compact-Disc contains the songs of 16 amongst the 32 species of frogs that inhabit the island."
- ASU Acoustic Ecology Lab - "a forum for interdisciplinary collaboration to examine sonic environments through intersections between the arts, sciences, humanities and new technologies"
- Listening to a Tree - "the recorded audio ... places us in the sonic space of the tree"
- Salvaging Birds by Maya Livio - By examining sites such as natural history specimen collections, as well as by speculatively queering birdsong datasets, the work complicates datafied approaches to conserving what and who is left of our world.
- An empty stream, a great silence, and impenetrable forest by Sara Lenzi, Stefano Silvestri and Giosué Grassia - "This is a data sonification project developed during the art residency “Liminaria 2017” in the Fortore area, in Campania, Italy. The sonification aurally simulates possible scenarios of the uncontrolled growth of forests, a key problem in the management of central and Southern Italy’s territory also due to the concurrent emergences of ‘ghost’ villages in the same area. Data on existing flora were collected during the art residency and mapped to sound ‘micro-samples’ recorded in the area." From the Data Sonification Archive.
- BOTSOT - "BOTSOT is the Botanical Sonification Toolbox – a series of tools and instruments made for Max that explore invisible communications, information and structures within plant species, all through the sonification of data and plants’ environments."
- Ecodata – Ecomedia – Ecoaesthetics by Marcus Maeder - "Ecodata–Ecomedia–Ecoaesthetics investigates new media, technologies and technoscientific methods (registering, collecting and interpreting data) in the arts in view of understanding their role and significance for the perception and awareness of the ecological."
- FOREST (for a thousand years...) by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller - "28-minute sound installation by renowned Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller ... outdoors in the redwood grove of UC Santa Cruz's Arboretum and Botanic Garden."
- Forest Listening Rooms (2018–present) by Brian Harnetty - "Forest Listening Rooms is a social practice sound, performance, and video project in the Wayne National Forest in Appalachian Ohio (USA). The region has undergone two centuries of fossil fuel extraction, environmental degradation, and economic booms and busts. The project invites local communities to gather in outdoor spaces and critically listen to the forest, archival recordings of past residents, sounds of extraction, and to each other. This project contends that listening to the forest’s past and present can transform its future. Its goals are to understand differences between rural and urban communities, foster a sense of stewardship toward land use, and end hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on the forest’s contested public lands."
- Forest Music Clip by Lauren Oakes and Nik Sawe - "Project to translate Lauren Oakes's ecological fieldwork on the decline of Alaskan yellow cedars due to climate change into an orchestral arrangement."
- Future Forest Space (2017) by Ilpo Jauhiainen - "Future Forest Space (2017) is an interdisciplinary public artwork created for the Radio Forest pavilion in the Klankenbos forest in Neerpelt, Belgium. Its objective has been to develop a new musical aesthetic and function by transforming sounds from the forest into an abstract musical environment that would correspond to and elevate its architectural, environmental and social surroundings..."
- Living Symphonies by James Bulley and Daniel Jones - "A generative artwork based on woodland ecosystems has launched in Thetford Forest, Suffolk.."
- plants FM - "Plants FM is an online streaming service delivering live music generated by plants."
- PlantWave - "PlantWave turns a plants' biorhythms into music. "
- Rainforest IV (1973, realized 2001) by David Tudor - "Instruments, sculpturally constructed from resonant physical materials, are suspended in free space; each instrument is set into sonic vibration through the use of electromagnetic transducers . . . The sound materials used to program the instruments are collected from natural scientific sources and are specific to each instrument, exciting their unique resonant characteristics. The excited resonances are routed to a conventional audio system by the use of one or more pick-ups attached to each instrument."
- Secret sound of spores by Yann Seznec - "Hidden under every mushroom, invisible to the naked eye, thousands of spores fall and are blown away by the tiniest current of wind. The project is a musical installation that uses custom built software and hardware to make a system that reacts in real time to make sounds to represent the natural processes inherent in the mushroom." From the Data Sonification Archive.
- Sonic Succulents by Adrienne Adar - "Adar amplifies familiar plants with handmade sensors so that visitors can interact with plant life through gentle touch and sound. This playful and surprising exhibition explores concepts around plant growth, communication, ecology, and sustainability. "
- Sounding Soil by Marcus Maeder - "With Sounding Soil, we bring the sounds from below ground to the surface to let you experience soil life."
- Trees: Pinus sylvestris by Marcus Maeder - "How can processes that are beyond our normal perception be made directly perceptible, creating new experiences and opening a new window on nature for scientists, artists and the general public? To what extent is our sense of hearing of use? The product of our research project, the installation 'trees: Pinus sylvestris' replays sonifications of ecophysiological measurement data as well as recordings of acoustic emissions of a tree from early summer 2015 – the peak of the growth period of our experimentation plant, a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) located in the central Swiss Alps in Salgesch in the canton of Valais."
- "w h i s p e r i n g g r a s s" by Kate Donovan - ""taking a look and a listen at how the vegetal world murmers""
- Years by Bartholomäus Traubeck - "A record player that plays slices of wood in order to ‘audify’ the voice of the tree and its age." From the Data Sonification Archive.
- All Gone from Visual Methodologies Collective - "a series of experiments with AI that build on existing collections of climate fiction to create new climate imaginaries. ... Using collections of ‘cli-fi’ novels, in which science fiction meets natural disaster or heavy weather, algorithms are trained until they are able to render new climate imaginaries in textual and visual form. The edited texts and curated images are further developed into audio stories and a tarot deck as tools for reflection on present and future living with a changing climate."
- Becoming Planetary by Jennifer Gabrys - "The forest, carbon, and media imaginaries that are captured in these different images tell diverse stories that span the remote, the durational, the extractive, the accumulative, the inhabited, and the contested"
- Forest 404 - "Forest 404 is an immersive sci-fi thriller set in the 24th Century in a world where forests have been erased from history."
- Forest Talk Radio by David Merleau - "Forest Talk Radio, the Laurier Woods edition, weaves together folktales and forest science to produce an Ol’fashion radio comedy experience. This GPS triggered app translates into English the conversations that trees in this forest are having. As well, the demeure radio-host fungus waxes philosophical on the stunning similarities between trees and humans. A truly wild ride!"
- Intelligent Trees - "Trees talk, know family ties and care for their young? Is this too fantastic to be true? Scientist Suzanne Simard (The University of British Columbia, Canada) and German forester and author Peter Wohlleben have been investigating and observing the communication between trees over decades. And their findings are most astounding."
- Messages to a Post Human Earth from Anagram - ""The online version of Messages to a Post Human Earth sees you and your partner embark on a futuristic journey that invites you to encounter the natural world, and your place in it from a radically new perspective. The story is inspired by an essay written by the celebrated Polish thinker Stanislaw Lem in the early 1980s."
- The Intelligence of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer - "As a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer joins science’s ability to “polish the art of seeing” with her personal, civilizational lineage of listening to plant life and heeding the languages of the natural world." Drawing on Kimmerer's work in Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass.
- Symbiotic Earth - "A film about Lynn Margulis, a scientific rebel who challenged entrenched theories of evolution to present a new narrative: life evolves through collaboration"
- The Overstory by Richard Powers - "A story of a vast, unknown and interconnected world above the one we know, Richard Powers' thirteenth book brings together the lives of strangers, each summoned by trees."
- The Susurrations of Trees by BBC Radio - "Thomas Hardy wrote that people could identify a tree by its susurration, the sound of leaves in the wind. Writer Bob Gilbert listens and hears how poets and musicians capture this."
- The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin - "The story focuses on a military logging colony set up on the fictional planet of Athshe by people from Earth (referred to as "Terra")."
- Thus Spoke the Plant by Monica Gagliano - "An accessible and compelling story of a scientist’s discovery of plant communication and how it influenced her research and changed her life."
- Voice of Trees by Giovanna Iorio - "Welcome to "Voice of Trees", sound installations in the landscape by sound artist Giovanna Iorio."
This project was initiated by Jonathan Gray and Birgit Schneider with the Public Data Lab to coincide with a workshop at the Critical Zones exhibition at ZKM, Karlsruhe. The audio sequences are narrated by Renee-Marie Pizzardi and produced by Andrés Saenz de Sicilia. The forest listening sequences and the index were developed with input and contributions from Anagram, Andrés Saenz de Sicilia, Brian Harnetty, Brian House, Carlo De Gaetano, Ginevra Terenghi, Kate Donovan, Lauren Oakes, Liliana Bounegru, Liz K. Miller, Marcus Maeder, Martin Howse, Maya Livio, Natalia Sánchez-Querubín, Nik Sawe, Rina Tsubaki, Sabine Niederer, Sara Lenzi and the Visual Methodologies Collective. The sonification examples in the index draw on Sara Lenzi's research for the Data Sonification Archive.