Sounds of a Changing Climate


At a time when the world is experiencing unprecedented ecological threats, the Balance-Unbalance International Conference is a global initiative designed to harness the talents of innovators working at the forefront of the arts, science and technology to explore transdisciplinary approaches to sustainability. The 2013 Balance-Unbalance Conference recently took place from 31 May to 2 June within the UNESCO Noosa Biosphere Reserve on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. The three-day event brought together a dynamic and diverse range of participants from 24 countries, including artists, scientists, activists, philosophers, sociologists, architects and engineers.

Balance-Unbalance was founded by Argentinean/Canadian artist and academic Dr. Ricardo Dal Farra in 2010 with the main goal to develop the role of the arts and artists in dealing with environmental challenges. After successful events in Montreal and South America, this was the first time the conference was hosted in the Asia-Pacific region. Features of the program included over 120 presenters, three keynote panels, 12 Pecha Kucha presentations, 60 papers, 25 performances and installations and 30 panels and trans-disciplinary activities. Although the program covered a wide spectrum of disciplines, there was a strong representation of both creative works and academic presentations that explored sonic art, listening and acoustic ecology.

The goal of Balance-Unbalance is not just in hosting events, but bringing like-minded individuals together to collaborate and take action. Ricardo Dal Farra is an acclaimed composer, so it’s not surprising that one of the first major outcomes from Balance-Unbalance was related to music. Dal Farra is particularly drawn to the work of Jacques Attali and his seminal book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, where he explores music as not just simply a reflection of culture but a “harbinger of change”.  The ‘Art!⋈Climate’ competition was initiated at Balance-Unbalance 2011 in Montreal and is devoted to the power of organised sound. Developed in partnership with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, ‘Art!⋈Climate’ is a competition for sound art related to “the effects of climate change and the world environmental crisis”.

The 2013 competition called for entries addressing two themes; one broad category including anything related to climate change and extreme weather events, and another concentrating on mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, which are affected by climate factors. The Red Cross was interested in functional creative resources to publish on the Climate Centre’s website and use for workshops, training materials and educational games. Therefore the winners of the competition would become part of a catalogue at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Action Centre.

There was 72 compositions submitted from across the world and the inaugural winners were announced at Balance-Unbalance 2013. The winning works were selected by a jury of internationally recognized electroacoustic music composers and new media artists including Joel Chadabe (USA) and Leigh Landy (UK). In addition to the official ceremony, the winning compositions were programmed in a multi-channel listening space at Balance-Unbalance that allowed delegates to experience the works throughout the conference. The winning artists included Ian Clothier (New Zealand), Damián Paúl Espina (Argentina) Nigel Helyer (Australia), Una Lee (South Korea), Katharina Vogt (Austria) and Richard Garrett (UK).

The ‘Art!⋈Climate’ project showcased the possibilities of combining a large-scale humanitarian organisation with artistic practice. In addition to creating a database of functional creative resources, ‘Art!⋈Climate’ attracted global attention and encouraged a dialogue around the role of sound and creativity in responding to climate change. This project highlights the role of Balance-Unbalance and certainly sets a high standard for initiatives to follow.

Balance-Unbalance 2013 explored how artists can participate in the challenges of our ecological crisis. The event inspired creative thinking and transdisciplinary action to create perceptual, intellectual and pragmatic changes. Balance-Unbalance is not just a conference, but the catalyst for new ideas, collaborations and most importantly actions in shaping our collective futures.

Leah Barclay, Tony Fry, Fee Plumley, Nina Czegledy, Ricardo Dal Farra, Ramon Guardans and Andrea Polli at Balance-Unbalance 2013

Leah Barclay, Tony Fry, Fee Plumley, Nina Czegledy, Ricardo Dal Farra, Ramon Guardans and Andrea Polli at Balance-Unbalance 2013

“Places and traces” by Viv Corringham

Reading Aimilia’s fascinating writings based on Spaces Speak, Are You Listening – a book I found very interesting – I thought I’d write a little bit about the work that I do.

I am particularly interested in people’s sense of place and their relationship with very familiar places.  Much of my work has developed in response to this, especially my ongoing sound project Shadow-walks. This began in 2003 and has occurred in 19 places in USA, Canada, Asia and Europe. It involves three main elements: walking with others, listening to environmental sound, and my own improvised singing.

There are well-known traditional links between walking, singing and the sense of place, such as the Aboriginal song-lines or the Kaluli song paths. Anthropologist Steven Feld studied the Kaluli people of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea and has described their practice of song paths, the poetic song texts that take listeners on a journey through a local area. The philosophy of song paths is that knowing where you are is knowing who you are. Feld’s writings were an important influence in the development of my work.

I became very interested in everyday sounds, inspired by working with composer Pauline Oliveros and learning her method of “Deep Listening”. My fascination with environmental sounds and musical improvisation led me to consider methods of exploring places and interacting with them vocally. My first attempts, in 2002, were called “Vocal Strolls” and became a regular show on London’s Resonance FM radio for a time. Vocal Strolls consisted of wandering through the city while listening to the environment and responding with improvised singing.

Shadow-walks began with the intention of incorporating other people’s experience of place into my work. James Joyce wrote that places remember events and I found this idea very interesting—that everything that happens leaves traces that we might be able to sense. So that if a person walks through certain places repeatedly along the same route, perhaps the ground retains traces of that person’s history and memories. Shadow-walks is an attempt to make a person’s traces, their shadow, audible.

The process of a Shadow-walk is straightforward. I arrive in a new place and ask to be taken on a special walk, one that has been repeated many times and has meaning or significance for that person. While walking together, I record our conversations and environmental sounds. This is followed by a solo walk in which I attempt to sense my previous companion’s traces on the walk and to make them audible through improvised singing in the location. These recordings are then selected and edited to become the final work, the Shadow-walk. Shadow-walks have been shared in various ways: as audio-walks, radio pieces, at listening posts around a town and, most frequently, as sound installations in art galleries. It is very important to me that they are presented in some way in the place where they were made, to the people who shared their special walks with me.

Soundscapes and Architecture — a New Love Affair or a Long-Term Relationship? Part II

But do we tend to associate certain sounds with certain rooms? Do the spaces speak?

Hogarth webIt is a common knowledge that we experience places not only by seeing but also by listening. In Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?, Barry Blesser and Linda- Ruth Salter take advance of his long career in audio engineering and her experience regarding space, and they examine auditory spatial awareness. They introduce the notion of aural architecture, integrating contributions from a wide range of disciplines such as architecture, music, acoustics, psychology, art and many others. According to them, when we think of architecture, we tend to visualize the properties of space that can be seen, especially boundaries like walls and surfaces. In contrast, aural architecture has aural boundaries. Moreover, the aural and acoustic attributes of a space have an influence on the moods and feeling of those who inhabit it. Searching for a certain high-impact space is easier than trying to construct it, since it is impossible to auralize a space that has never been experienced. So, it is obvious that we tend to listen to the unique voice of certain spaces but without realizing it most of the times.

But what happens when we leave our home? How we tend to aurally experience the city? The French philosopher and phenomenologist Jean- Francois Augoyard at the Centre de researche sur l’espace sonore et l’ environment urbain (CRESSON) at the National School of Architecture of Grenoble and lead soundscape researcher, makes an innovative approach. In his book, Sonic experience, a guide on everyday sounds, he introduces the notion of sonic effect, and he provides a sourcebook full of auditory examples with a distinctive architectural and urban context. Nevertheless, he clearly uses the notion of R. Murray’s soundscape and Pierre Schaeffer’s sound object. Augoyard believes that never before has the everyday contemporary soundtrack of urban space been so cacophonous, and he hopes to enrich our understanding of what it is to listen and the role sound plays to our environment.

kentrikos stathmos tokxolmiFollowing the same path with CRESSON Bjorn Hellstrom, the writer of Noise Design: Architectural Modelling and the Aesthetics of Urban Acoustic Space, takes a structural approach to urban acoustic space. While most regulations adopt a defensive attitude towards noise, as unwanted sound, Hellstrom believes that urban noise, transient and immaterial as it is, makes public and private space less predictable and less monotonous, having a direct connection to transparent and fluid space, which is a central principle of contemporary architectural composition.

But is this transformboston-symphony-hallation of the contemporary urban soundscape in the Western World, the result of major cultural and technological changes that took place in the beginning of 20th century? Emily Thomson, in her book The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933, agrees that the dramatic transformations in what people heard and how they listened, were the result of the prevalence of a neradio-city-music-hallw aural culture. The new sound of the modern technology changed radically the experience of sonic space. This is a fact that you can visually notice for example when you experience the architecture of Boston’s Symphony Hall, which was built in 1900s and the architecture of Radio City Music Hall, which was built in the 1930’s. The architectural composition of these two stages is mainly the result of acoustics but its function changes entirely in these two cases.

The result of this journey is that; the connection between soundscapes and architecture is not a new but an ancient one. While the soundscape of the world changes, as R. Murray Schafer has stated in his book that introduced the notion of soundscape, modern man should learn to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any other era. I believe that contemporary architects should stop designing for people without senses and focus on real space rather than space constructed by bits!



Blesser, Barry and Linda-Ruth Salter. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing aural architecture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007. Print.

Auguyard, Jean-Francois and Henry Torgue. Sonic experience, a guide on everyday sounds. Quebec: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2005. Print.

Hellstrom, Bjorn. Noise Design: Architectural Modelling and the Aesthetics of Urban Acoustic Space. (Doctoral Dissertation, School of Architecture, Royal Institute of Technology, KTH) Gotenborg: Reproman AB, 2003. Print.

Thomson, Emily. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004. Print.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Vermont: Destiny Books, 1977,1994. Print


Picture sources:

Second photograph is courtesy of Alex Stogiannis; Stockholm’s central station January 2013.