Practise the Art of Listening

“The seemingly simple act of listening to the environment often leads to unexpected complexities of thoughts, sensations and emotions that are not quantifiable or measurable. When we listen… we simultaneously take in the current conditions of the acoustic environment and those of our innermost sound world, our thoughts and emotions. [This] is both highly personal and at the same time universal. It is here where the real journey of listening starts.” — Hildegard Westercamp

Following last week’s post on equality as sameness, we suggested that practising the art of listening could be one way to resist a world of sameness and begin mending our lost connections.

In order to help us in our practice, for this week, we offer you a list of soulful soundscapes we collected from around the world - from India, to Nigeria, to First Nations territories via the Persian Gulf.

In case you want to skip reading and go straight to listening, you can listen to the playlist on either SoundCloud or Spotify. Please be aware that there are variations due to availability of tracks. 

But, we suggest you keep reading to discover the stories of the sounds and the artists who created them and then listen to the playlist while walking or sitting in nature.

Central African Republic: Women Gathering Mushrooms

Musicologist Louis Sarno recorded the music of the Aka people, living in the forests of the Central African Republic. As the women wander around collecting mushrooms, their steps tracing the underground form of a mycelial network, the women sing amid the sounds of the animal forest. Each woman sings a different melody; each voice tells a different musical story. Many melodies intertwine without ceasing to be many. Voices flow around other voices, twisting and beside one another. Listen here.  (Source, An Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake)

Brazil and Delhi: Inside the Soundscape

"Soundscapes of Cities" was created by Hildegard Westercamp and presented at the Symposium From Bauhaus to Soundscape, Goethe Institut Tokyo, in 1994. Brasilia is a place of sharply contrasting soundscapes: traffic noise and natural sounds. There is very little in between. Listen to an extract. In Delhi, on the other hand, every neighborhood has its own signals and soundmarks, where temple bells or the call of the muezzin signal times of worship. Here is the call of one muezzin calling for prayer in the Muslim area of Nizamuddin. More about the project here.

United Kingdom: Wake Up Calls

Wake Up Calls was created by Cosmo Sheldrake (brother of Merlin), over a nine year period, using recordings of bird song featured on the red and amber lists of endangered British birds (with the exception of a Robin and a Blackbird, which aren't endangered – yet). The album starts at night with a Nightjar and a Nightingale. Listen to the Owl song and the Nightingale. Visit Cosmo’s website here. (Source, Bandcamp)

Nigeria and Greece: The Way Earthly Things Are Going 

Emeka Ogboh is a Nigerian artist, whose works contemplate broad notions of listening and hearing as its main focus. This installation was designed for Documenta 14 in Athens in 2017. It arose in the course of his examination of the effects of the international financial crisis, especially the Greek economic crisis. The title of the work comes from the lyrics "So Much Trouble in the World" by Bob Marley. Ogboh puts the ongoing reports from the capital markets - such as the reaction of stock exchange prices to the corona crisis - in dialogue with the poignant chant about forced migration and the search for a better life. Watch and Listen here. (Source: African Artists’ Foundation)

United States: One Square Inch of Silence

The Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park is the least noise-polluted place in the lower 48 states–an acoustic haven for both park visitors and wildlife that depend on a pristine acoustic environment to communicate. Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. This was created by Gordon Hempton, known as The Sound Tracker. Listen here

The Persian Gulf: The immersive music of the Gulf’s pearl divers

Beginning in the first century BCE, natural pearl diving was the economic, social, and cultural backbone of the Persian Gulf. Well into the 1930s, over 100,000 men—enslaved Africans, indentured workers, and career divers from Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar—still took to the sea each season, diving hundreds of times a day to the oyster beds, only 1 percent of which would produce a pearl. It was exhausting and perilous work descending twenty fathoms down to the seafloor, and music lifted their spirits. Nahma: A Gulf Polyphony, the latest transmedia compilation from FLEE, explores the histories that shaped the music of Persian pearl divers alongside the capricious gulfs they traversed. Read more here and listen here.

Tahltan and inland Tlingit, Canada: What Does Nation Mean

The artist Edzi’u is a mixed race Tahltan and inland Tlingit artist, songwriter and composer. Her songs are an incarnation of her family’s ancient tradition of storytelling, realised by designing sound through vintage and current audio recordings, electronic instruments and the voice. She talks to us about her perspective on the “colonialism of sound”; and how just as we perceive the environment and its history in every other sense, there are stories to be heard through the changing characteristics of how a place sounds. “Her songs are vessels of history, tradition, and adaptation; a record of Indigenous experience through a contemporary Indigenous lens.” Listen to What Does Nation Mean here and watch a video of her at work.

India: Share your Quiet

At a time when we found ourselves physically isolated from one another, Pallavi Paul began Share Your Quiet where she invited people to send an audio clip of silence in their confined environments, and from their new every day, during the Covid pandemic in 2020. The contributions she received from all over the world were compiled into a collective soundscape; from the sounds of waves crashing and birds chirping to those of hospital equipment, her soundscapes capture the sounds of lockdown. Read a an article about the project in Vice, and listen to a few samples here: Share your quiet I and Share your quiet II.

Ethiopia: Spell Against Ethnic Hatred

Ethiopian-American urbanist, designer and artist, Olani Ewunnet, presents an engaging account of the role of flowers in Ethiopian music and culture entitled ‘Ye Deji Abeba Negn: Sonic Floral Imaginaries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’. Ewunnet suggests that listening to Ethiopia’s flowers can help drive ecological preservation. Listen here.

Palestine, Israel and Syria: The Shouting Border

The Shouting Valley, created by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, is an audiovisual installation about the politics of language and the conditions of voice faced by the Druze community living between Palestine/Israel and Syria. Recordings of the Druze Soldiers working as interpreters in the Israeli Military Court system in the West Bank and Gaza are contrasted that with recordings from the Shouting Valley, Golan Heights, where the Druze population gather on both sides of the Israeli/ Syrian Border and shout across the jurisdictions to family and friends on the other-side. If we listen closely to the oral border produced by this transnational community, in one voice we can simultaneously hear the collaborator and the traitor; the translator and the transgressor. Watch and listen here. Explore the project in more detail here.

Latin America: Acciones Sonores por los Derechos de las Mujeres y Disidencias

Sound Actions for the Rights of Women and Non-Binary People is a collection of sound recordings of marches and demonstrations for women’s and non-binary people’s rights, all sounding simultaneously from different speakers, generating a collective soundscape of struggle and emancipation. The cities presented in this work are Arequipa, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Concepción, Juárez, Lima, Oaxaca, Montevideo, San Pablo and Valparaíso. In this sense, sound becomes a tool of empowerment, of communication of what we denounce, demand, and need, cries of anger, of complaint and of support and taking up of the cause.  Watch the video by Lucía Chamorro, Ingrid Palacios, Laura Rodríguez and Elena Solis. 

Nov 19, 2021

Working with Impossible

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." — Alice in Wonderland

Dec 15, 2023

Joy as Fuel

"I’m aware, you know, that I and the people I love may perish in the morning. I know that. But there’s light on our faces now." — James Baldwin

Jul 23, 2021

The Spell of the Status Quo

“The true force of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors’ tactics, the oppressor’s relationships.” — Audre Lorde

Apr 28, 2023

Equality as Sameness

“To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” — E.E. Cummings

Mar 19, 2021

The Art of Listening

“Everything that needed to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” — Erich Fromm

Jul 22, 2022

What Does Education Sound Like?