Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

What Is Acoustic Ecology? We Have 5 Questions

Popular

The sound of ants communicating with each other by scraping their legs on their bodies.

The echoes under the surface of a small freshwater pond.

The sound of a pine forest dying.


These are just a few of the sounds David Dunn has investigated in his decades as a composer, musician, acoustic ecologist and audio engineer. His compositions, soundscapes and other projects fuse art and science, inviting us to pay close attention to nonhuman activities and environments that usually pass beneath our notice.

Recently Dunn has applied his bioacoustical research to the problem of dying pine forests. For almost two decades, pine trees across the American west have been decimated by bark beetles, whose populations have exploded due to warming temperatures. The beetles have destroyed over 45 millions of acres of pine trees, disrupting ecosystems and altering landscapes—and they show no signs of stopping. Dunn and his collaborators have been awarded a patent for technology and protocol that uses sound to disrupt key behaviors and life stages of bark beetles to slow the devastation of pine forests.

The Revelator asked him about his approach to the art and science of acoustical ecology.

What are you listening to today?

It probably sounds odd for a composer to say that as I've gotten older, my listening habits have moved away from intentionally listening to music. Obviously, I listen to my own work when I'm working on it but beyond that I don't find listening to other music as useful or as interesting as I used to. I still enjoy it but it doesn't fulfill the kind of purpose, for myself, that it seems to for other people: emotional/intellectual stimulation, setting a mood, background ambience, etc. It's mostly become too familiar to have that kind of effect upon me. Instead I spend more time seeking out complex soundscapes and auditory phenomena in the world that are novel or in constructing sounds that are unfamiliar and unpredictable.

What came first for you, music or the sounds of nature? Or are they the same thing?

I believe that the sounds of nature come first for all of us and that music is something that we learn to differentiate from those natural sounds through cultural influence. We are all very sensitive to the vibratory substrate of our mother's womb, and that is, most likely, the initial patterning that allows us to make sense of both the sounds of the natural world and what we later come to regard as music. The sounds and rhythms of our mother's physiology are so similar to those of the other living things around us and to those of musical expressions in many traditional cultures. What also seems possible is that we learn to perceive these patterns in utero as we revisit the evolutionary stages of life that we pass through: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

What do you hope listeners learn or take away from your compositions?

It is probably different for every composition or project. However, they may all share the aspect that, aside from the plethora of other cultural uses that music has been put to, music exhibits a few critical epigenetic characteristics. It is obviously an important force for creating social identity and cohesion, but I also think it's a primary way that we actually evolve the sensitivity and capacities of our aural sense. Furthermore, it may be a strategy for conserving ways of communicating with the nonhuman world that we share with other forms of life. One aspect of that is my belief that music (and dance) is one of the only ways in which we can express our experience of "time" in a manner that is not purely abstract.

How do your artistic sensibilities help you to approach things from a scientific perspective?

Artists and scientists bring something significant to each other when they take the time to truly understand how the jobs of art and science are different and that we usually need to admit that they are each much larger than our prosaic assumptions tell us. Science seeks to understand and describe essential mechanisms in nature through a rigorous rational process. Art seeks to understand and describe the world through perceptual processes and a greater reliance upon the human gift of imagination. Serious problems arise when these two domains lose sight of each other. Gregory Bateson said it best: "Rigor alone is paralytic death, imagination alone is insanity."

What advice would you give to other artists and scientists to help them collaborate?

Too often the attempt to create a substantial interdisciplinary collaboration between art and science has been stuck in an abstract and largely philosophical discourse. My experience has been that this problem can be transcended by involving practitioners who are willing to get into the trenches together and try to address real-world problems. However, this is only possible when each side of this process has realistic expectations, remains open to discovery, and maintains true respect for how these processes are both distinct and complementary.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Women walk from Santa Monica beach after a social media workout on the sand on May 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.

Read More Show Less
Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans and others who suffer from PTSD. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Arash Javanbakht

For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.

Read More Show Less
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs. Mathias Appel / Flickr

Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.

Read More Show Less
NASA is advancing tools like this supercomputer model that created this simulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to better understand what will happen to Earth's climate if the land and ocean can no longer absorb nearly half of all climate-warming CO2 emissions. NASA/GSFC

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

Read More Show Less
A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less