Enlisting Ears: Introducing the Sound Calendar of the Year 2018
by Harrison Nir
Harrison Nir is a student composer and writer, pursuing a double degree in Music and Anthropology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He was awarded from the College of the Environment for the Sound Calendar of the Year 2018 Summer Internship.
One major, though seldom recognized part of being human and alive is making sound. Everywhere we go, from the moment we are born, we are creating vibrations in the air around us. These vibrations are summed into a web of sound comprised of everything we can and much that we cannot hear, all together composing the sonic ecosystems of the Earth.
In the time of global climate change, there is an urgency to seed resources that aid mass environmental awareness. The Sound Calendar of the Year 2018 is a pilot project that responds to this urgency through the creation of an expansive, community-sourced environmental audio collection. Developed by Guggenheim fellow composer/Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Jin Hi Kim, the calendar will map a single year on Earth in sound on a digital platform made to facilitate an annual project of communal reflection. Throughout 2018, the project is calling for 5-10 minute unedited, unique recordings of environments from all over the world. Everything from smartphone to professional grade environmental recordings will be included.
It took me 21 years, until my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park to truly realize the impact of the sound we create: from music to noise, every sound is a cause and so, naturally linked to an effect. Think about it, on a human level, how music can instantly alter your mood and cause you to move or react in a particular way, with more or less grace; or, for example, how the sirens of an ambulance provoke a fearful empathy and move traffic aside. Every sound we make and every sound we hear has an effect on our environment.
Exploring the desert plains of Joshua Tree intent on recording, where, unbenounced to me, the summer days are as silent as they are hot and each step taken on the brittle Earth resounds fifty feet in each direction, I became acutely aware of the sound of my presence. As I hiked, I stirred jackrabbits up from their shaded dens and sent them running across the plain and the few gathering birds, whose calls became my compass, fell silent, leaving me to only the hush of the wind pressing through the armored fronds of the joshua trees.
To a practiced ear, the sonic ecosystem is coded with information about the health of our environment. Long before climate change became a visible and visceral phenomena on Earth, it was audible. Rachel Carson famously turned her experience of the Earth’s changing soundscape into a call for action in Silent Spring, published in 1962, inspired by a perceived decrease in bird song. Over 60 years later, it is impossible for us to understand the sonic world that inspired Carson to write, the same that helped develop the Western environmental movement. What we can do now, in an effort to become more aware participants in and more involved stewards of our ecological communities is develop our ability to listen.
There is a certain harmony in the dissonance of the Earth’s changing soundscapes, change is happening everywhere. The ability to sensitively witness these changes is directly related to the work that must be done to preserve a diversity of species and ecosystems on the Earth. This is the intention behind the Sound Calendar of the Year: to cultivate a community of inspired listeners. From the silence of Joshua Tree to the wild, hollering savannahs of Uganda, to a car chorus at rush hour, the more sonic perspective that we can gather into the Sound Calendar each year, the better we can witness the Earth change. And the first step towards healing ourselves through healing our relationship with this planet is to listen and to trace the sounds we hear back to their cause.
To read more, submit your recordings and get involved in the project click here