in our nature

sounds of nature

tasland | 1 April 2019

Environmental conservation organisations often place a heavy emphasis on what can be seen. In Tasmania we need only look at how a single photograph by Peter Dombrovskis mobilised an entire generation to stand up for the Franklin River. Or how iconic images from Olegas Truchanas helped raise the public awareness of Tasmania’s south-west wilderness areas.

For the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), our fundraising campaigns embrace evocative imagery to trigger proactive responses, while ecological monitoring techniques using motion sensor cameras remain at the core of our conservation work. Hence, images can deeply connect us to a place, while also stirring feelings of intrigue, hope and action. Yet sound is also a critical element of natural systems, and it is one that the TLC is excited to be exploring in greater detail than ever before.

From a scientific perspective, sound is a powerful indicator of environmental degradation and an effective tool for developing more sustainable ecosystems. For example, we can often hear changes in the environment, such as in bird calls, before we see them. From an artistic perspective, sound has long been connected to our everyday experience of the world and musical works composed using only the sounds of the environment are acclaimed for their soothing psychological effects.

Without the arts we would not be asking perceptual questions. Without science we would not have sophisticated tools to undertake analysis and build predictive models. And without neighbouring communities we would not have data, local observations or historical knowledge of patterns of change.

— Associate Professor of Digital Sound and Interactive Media, Arizona State University, Garth Paine

In March 2019, the University of Tasmania held a workshop at the TLC’s Daisy Dell Reserve and Vale of Belvoir Reserve. The workshop - attended by TLC scientists, artists, teachers, musicians and internationally acclaimed composer and sound designer, professor Douglas Quin - explored how sound informs ecological understanding and creativity.

We respond to sound with our entire bodies not just our ears. Sound, hearing and active listening animate all of our senses and help to inform a visceral and holistic connection to the world around us. This animation of the senses is key not only to a perceptual reckoning but to developing empathy and intellectual curiosity. Where the heart is open, the mind will follow,” Doug explained, while also giving rise to the inextricable nature of science and the arts.

The arts and sciences represent different yet complementary modalities of knowing; processes, practices and avenues of inquiry that reveal as much about our own condition as that which we endeavor to understand as ‘nature’. After all, nature is not an abstract other; it is us.”

While rigorous, long-term scientific ecological monitoring continues to be performed on each of the TLC’s reserves, the monitoring program has only recently been facilitated to include collecting acoustic data. Accordingly, the TLC’s Head of Science, Dr Sally Bryant, explained that the science team is deploying song meters to collect acoustic information in a systemic way, and was encouraged by the sound workshop held in March.

“The acoustic workshop validated that you can’t study or understand nature without listening to it.” Dr Bryant said.

Embracing sound is suitably being utilised by the TLC in various facets of the organisation - from our science programs to our supporter events (some of which will soon place a great emphasis on showcasing the sounds of nature on our reserves!) and we look forward to sharing these with you in the future!