Ecotones: Soundscapes of Trees

Lead Research Organisation: Bath Spa University
Department Name: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts


The Ecotones network comprises a programme of activity that raises awareness of environmental issues through forest ecosystems with the aim of building long-term, international, transdisciplinary collaborations. Artists, researchers and cultural organisations from the UK and South Korea will bring insights and practice from music, ecology, conservation, social science, health and wellbeing, and education to address issues of environmentally sustainable growth and urban development in new ways. Different disciplinary perspectives and practices from both countries will be shared and combined regarding the relationship between forests and human health, the psychological benefits from forest and nature spaces, especially deep listening (Oliveros 2005, 2010) to sounds of nature, and the connections to be made between traditional music and nature. Listening to sounds in nature will help to develop ecoliteracy essential for environmentally sustainable growth and 'deep ecological urbanism' (Griffith 2014).

Our increasingly globalized world bombarded by anthropogenic noise creates an incentive for finding new models for practice-led research to cultivate 'arts of attentiveness' (van Dooren, Kirksey, Münster 2016). The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of nature to people, with sounds becoming part of the public discourse during the initial lockdown in 2020, as people talked about their areas being less busy with traffic. Hearing bird song became a key way in which people started to connect and reconnect with nature. Drawing attention to these biophonies and anthropophonies will expand our understanding of the ways trees, woods and forests contribute to quality of life. The Ecotones network will address the global challenges of urban development and environmentally sustainable growth by focusing on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land, and its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Workshops will include a pilot study to quantify soundscapes by involving listening walks and field recordings in both urban and rural environments in South Korea and the UK.

A participatory soundscape mapping exercise will be developed as a tool for encouraging community participation in soundscapes of trees, through biodiversity monitoring at sites across the UK and South Korea. Furthermore, through the repeated Ecotones activities an open access soundbank will be released consisting of recordings from each of the Ecotones workshop locations, and uploaded to the international open source library, Sounds of the Forest, used for the annual Timber Festival. These recordings will benefit those interested in the fields of bioacoustics and natural soundscapes.

A socio-cultural response to ecological and climate emergencies needs to involve interactions between nature, culture and education. What can educational engagements with nature and culture, specifically trees and music, offer these intertwined crises? The Ecotones network will explore ways in which nature-culture relations can bring an environmental focus to music pedagogy. In the context of both music and science education, nature sounds bring an awareness of habitats, and of place, cultivating interspecies knowledge as a route to sustaining environments and cultures. A focus on listening will help to evaluate trees and ecosystem services, climate change, biodiversity values and human health improvement as a major consideration in urban development plans.

The impact of climate change and increased risk of pest and pathogens on the services provided by trees, and their environmental, social and cultural benefits will be evaluated in the context of urban development and environmentally sustainable growth. Understanding a range of interactions of humans with trees and forests, will help us to evaluate possible strategies to develop valuable insight into successful forest-human relationships.


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Description Ecotones at Timber Festival 2023 
Organisation The National Forest Company
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Three separate artistic projects from the 'Ecotones: Soundscapes of Trees' research network will be included in the Timber Festival programme, 7-9 July 2023, as participatory public engagement activities. Each is ca 40 mins in length and will be reiterated at different points in the programme: 1. Timber Timbre: Hyelim Kim (daegeum - Korean bamboo flute) and Stevie Wishart (composer, violin and hurdy-gurdy) play music composed with Timber Festival participants and trees. Participants will learn and explore music techniques for listening and tuning in to the natural noise-floor of the forest. This is a chance to play and express connections with nature through musical interactions and sensitivities. One of the performances will involve children from Leicester City in the Community (see below). 2. Hakoto: The Collins + Goto studio will perform, twice daily, a new and unique 'carbon duet' with twin Hakoto, built as a body instrument with its own amplified voice. From a handheld tree leaf, sensors monitor sunlight, carbon dioxide and humidity, measuring photosynthesis and transpiration. Data is the basis for a sound experience that has its origin in ancient Japanese Shinto music. The sound of atmospheric change amongst birch, alder and willow will be heard in recently restored Feanedock, The National Forest. Technology is used for empathic exchange with more than human others to see and hear things that are invisible and silent to 'our' ears and eyes. 3. Drawing and Dancing with Trees: This fun and practical workshop will explore human engagements with tree spaces through drawing, movement, games, wriggling, dancing and tree bathing (no previous movement or drawing experience necessary). Using the trees as a stimulus their shape and form will be explored through our moving bodies which will learn how to respond to the sounds and rhythms of the surrounding woodlands. Simple tasks, group, and solo exercises will involve movement improvisation and explore how bodies, sites and their materials can dialogue with one another. Through human-non-human entanglements participants will engage in embodied and imaginative exploration where body-environment relations are fostered and expressed through movement.
Collaborator Contribution The Timber Festival has provided time within the programme (7-9 July 2023) to engage the public in workshop activities and research arising from the Ecotones network. For the 'Timber Timbre' project, the National Forest has contributed funds from an Arts grant for musicians and the PI, Amanda Bayley, to work with Leicester City in the Community on four separate days in May and June 2023 to give the participants multiple opportunities to visit the forest to connect with music and nature. Timber Timbre will engage a group of 12-15 participants currently accessing Leicester City in the Community's (LCC) Targeted Intervention Programmes which focus on two core groups: 1) Young Carers- all the children have a caring responsibility for either a parent or a sibling; 2) children who find mainstream education challenging due to social, emotional and mental health needs. Working with the children encourages multi-sensory engagement, learning about new ways of knowing, doing, being and living with others and nature through music. The workshop activities encourage a cyclical learning and musicking process, beginning with their personal listening journeys inside nature. The young learners will be guided in how to express and shape their ideas musically, and through complementary artistic and verbal means. The project will generate attachments to nature, e.g. 'thinking like a tree/worm', etc. through exploring a wide repertoire of sounds. Beginning with the timbres of the musicians' instruments, they will learn new ways to connect to music through sounds of nature. Young learners will also have a chance to reflect on their multiple senses, and feelings relating to wellbeing, as they communicate their experiences. The culmination of these ideas will be manifested in a participatory performance at the Timber Festival with the aim of producing a podcast and other audio-visual documentation (subject to the consent of participants), that will help to develop future artistic education projects involving connections between music and nature.
Impact In progress. The disciplines involved are: music, dance, art, education, science and technology, nature, health and wellbeing.
Start Year 2023