Environmental Sound Lab - Full Spectrum Acoustic Portrait of an Ecosystem

This is an ongoing interdisciplinary project I'm involved with at UC Santa Cruz through the Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Mechatronics program.


Led by composer and bioacoustic researcher David Dunn, our project involves the creation of multi-channel audio recordings by building and utilizing various audio transducers (hydrophones, microphones, etc.) to record sounds underwater, inside trees, underground, and in the air for field recording and acoustic ecology studies.  We then present the resulting recordings in an experiential and educational sound installation exhibition.


Our project research creates diverse opportunities to investigate new ways of increasing the necessary monitoring of our environment through sound, facilitates an increase in our collective environmental sensitivity and the discovery of unknown natural and human-made sound phenomena, provides novel inexpensive audio tools for artists and scientists, and contributes towards practical environmental problem solving.

Rationale (in the words of project director David Dunn):


"Having our aural sense expanded through technology allows our ears to be more on par with other forms of life that surround us. The advent of digital audio has strengthened this potential as has never been previously possible. The focusing of such technology towards this expansion of consciousness, therefore, has an additional benefit: it gives us access to listening beyond the boundaries of our usual human perception. It applies current technological breakthroughs in digital sound recording and manipulation towards a nonhuman centered and environmentally relevant art practice. While most art making harvests the imaginative potential of the overlap between biological instinct and cultural values—both of which have co-evolved as intertwining genetic and epigenetic streams—my argument here has more to do with the historical necessity of where we currently stand in relationship to an earth in crises.


"Can art participate in the discovery of solutions that can accelerate or extend those of science? This requires a merger of art and science that places the human back into a measured position within the biotic world and encourages both to contribute to a collective environmental activism. This is an art requiring a dance between metaphor and mechanism. The art world needs to ground imagination in a deeper understanding of the natural world, and science needs to reach out beyond the desiccation of professional constraints in order to transform the epistemic errors of the world at large. Perhaps Gregory Bateson said it best: 'Rigor alone is paralytic death, but imagination alone is insanity.'


"Most attempted collaboration between science and art has occurred at an abstract level. Through this research agenda the hope is to provide an exemplar of how artists and scientists can collaborate towards real world problem solving. Traditional approaches have relied upon a familiar interpretive function where art provides a richness of metaphor for the communication of science to the broader public while science provides new tools and technical knowledge for the arts. One of the polemics that underlies this project is an intentionally subversive attitude towards these familiar relationships. Can artistic insight prove itself to be an effective participant in the framing of a scientific hypothesis? Can artistic creativity originate technical solutions that are useful to artists, scientists, and a broader public? What is the potential for art and science collaboration to not only interpret and communicate empirical scientific data as cultural product but also delineate a research agenda that is worthy of serious scientific investigation? Is it possible for art/science collaboration to fulfill the disciplinary criteria of both in a non-trivial manner?"




©2016 Scott Tooby