Reflections On Listening Across Boundaries: World Listening Day 2022

By Eric Leonardson

Each year the World Listening Project selects a thought leader to devise a theme for World Listening Day. The 2022 theme of “Listening Across Boundaries” was created by musician, composer, and marine biologist Heather R. Spence. The Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology provided several free, public events as a part of its participation in World Listening Day. 

This July the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSAE) enjoyed a full month of public activities. These included four soundwalks, three in Chicago parks. In chronological order those were, “A Connecting Presence” by Sara Zalek and Norman W. Long in Big Marsh Park on July 7; Paige Naylor’s soundwalk in The EcoVoice Festival on the Loyola University campus on July 9; “Sound Collecting for Children and Adults” by Billie Howard in Humboldt Park on July 14; and “Listen/Connect Soundwalk” by Norman W. Long at Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area on July 22.

In addition to Paige Naylor’s soundwalk at Loyola University, MSAE’s EcoVoice Festival partnership included a panel discussion on “Music As Environmental Activism” with Kirsten Hedegard, Norman W. Long, the author, and Mark Pedalty.

The annual World Listening Day is a global participatory event on the date of R. Murray Schafer’s birth, July 18. Born in 1933, the Canadian composer, author, and music educator known as “the father of Acoustic Ecology,” died on at age 88 on August 14, 2021 at home in Indian River, Ontario, Canada.

In an old This American Life episode on Hearing, the literal tuning of a microwave and a computer produce a tritone, a dissonant harmony or what was deemed by the Catholic Church to be the “devil’s chord.” The unintended and unnoticed yet affecting sounds of everyday life and technology recall the title and themes of Schafer’s 1977 breakthrough book, Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The Tuning of the World.

World Listening Day calls on everyone to consider and participate in a global exercise of listening, especially for understanding humanity’s role in changing the soundscape, as our our shared resource.

Each year the World Listening Project seeks and selects a thought leader to devise a theme for World Listening Day. The 2022 theme of “Listening Across Boundaries” was created and described by Heather R. Spence, a musician, composer, and marine biologist. The Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology provided several free, public events as a part of World Listening Day. 

On Saturday, July 14, 2022 the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology held an AudioMoth workshop at Comfort Station in Logan Square, Chicago. Co-organized with Veronica Anne Salinas and Cria Kay from Northwestern University’s SustainabilityNU. This informative hour-long workshop combined and balanced its somatic and scientific content with Deep Listening exercises led by Veronica, followed by Cria’s presentation of the basic concepts and demonstrated. Topics of interest for attendees included how acoustic data and analysis can be applied and shared for birds and singing insects, as well as anthropogenic noise.      

On Sunday, July 17th Ed Herrmann aired “Program 705: Listening to the World,” a tribute to Schafer’s music on the weekly Music From Other Minds on KALW-FM San Francisco community radio. In addition to his music, Ed’s tribute includes interviews with acoustic ecologists Hildegard Westerkamp and the author. Both programs are archived and available for future listening.

Ed’s Schafer tribute aired three days later on his weekly Flight Risk show on KOPN-FM Columbia, MO. To re-listen, look for July 20 on the show’s archive before the link expires. 

Please note that this week, on August 3, Flight Risk features “sonic reports” from Antarctica by Cheryl Leonard, Henry Kaiser, and Douglas Quin. Listen live every Wednesday, 12:00 – 2:00 AM (CDT/ 06:00 – 08:00 UTC).

Our final World Listening Day, “Listening Across Boundaries” event was Norman W. Long’s “Listen/Connect” on Friday, July 22 at Marian R. Byrnes Nature Area. His soundwalk reached across the cultures and histories of racialized and extractive capitalism. Reminding us how Chicago, as in so many American cities, we are mixing and migrating across natural soundscapes that do not recognize human-drawn boundaries.