What We've Been Doing All These Years

Ear to the Earth came alive on October 6, 2006, as a program of Electronic Music Foundation. Our idea was to use music and sound as a means to engage people in environmental issues.

The opening words were by Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist and head of the Climate Impacts Group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Recounting her research, she presented evidence that the environmental changes taking place on the planet were not ordinary and not part of a normal cycle.

The 2006 festival, certainly the largest and most powerful of the Ear to the Earth festivals, included concerts with music by (in order of appearance) Iannis Xenakis, David Monacchi, Philip Dadson, Maggi Payne, Luc Ferrari, Joel Chadabe, Steven Feld, Jean-Claude Risset, Cecile Le Prado, Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp, Pierre Marietan, Steven M. Miller, John Cage, Thomas Gerwin, Robert Rowe, David Dunn, Ayaka Nishina, Aleksei R. Stevens, Rama Gottfried, Anna Clyne, and PLOrk (Princeton Laptop Orchestra). There were installations by Bernie Kraus, Bruce Odland & Sam Auinger, Annea Lockwood, Laurie Spiegel, David Monacchi, and Andrea Polli & Joe Gilmore; and Suspended Sounds, a special installation thanks to Joan La Barbara, Alvin Curran, Aleksei Stevens, and Rama Gottfried. There were panels involving several of the artists. One of them, Shankar Barua, participated from New Delhi. Altogether, it was an international festival with participants from France, Italy, New Zealand, US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria, India, and Japan.

Following the first festival in 2006, we produced an annual festival in New York through 2013, in total presenting a wealth of sound art, music, and multimedia that reflected in different ways the world we live in. There were familial events in Italy in 2009 and 2010. And an Ear to the Earth event in Australia in 2013. My curatorial statement, written for the first festival in 2006, remains thematic for everything we did through the 2013 festival.

Curatorial statement 2006

The recognition that our interaction with our environment, both natural and man-made, is a crucial issue of our time has inspired composers and artists to respond with an enormous and compelling body of works. Our plan for this ongoing festival is to bring a large sampling of those works into galleries, concert halls, and public spaces in New York City, to surround them with discussion, interaction, and knowledge, and to expand their impact through the internet. Our goal is to engage people in environmental issues.

Our idea is to use sound to know the world. We'll hear the song of the Butcher Bird from the Bosavi rainforest, negotiate sounds and stories from New Delhi, New York, and other places, experience the sounds of life along the Danube, visit the North Pole, listen to the Amazon River, walk through the sounds of narrow streets in Vancouver, focus on the ecosystem of Manhattan ... We'll discuss issues with the creators of the works, take walking sound tours through the streets of New York, and in different ways experience the immense diversity of works that are based on the sounds of our environment.

There is a certain universality in basing music on what we hear in the world around us. As Steven Feld, who studied Kaluli culture in Papua New Guinea, pointed out in The Soundscape Newsletter, June, 1994, one of the "sounds of the Bosavi environment, layered as a ground to the remarkable figures of avian life, is the hiss of water. Runoff from Mt. Bosavi, an extinct volcano, crisscrosses the Bosavi lands, turning into numerous rivers, creeks, falls, and streams ... Water flow also animates much of Kaluli musical imagination, as all waterway terms are also the names for the musical intervals, the segments of song, the patterns of rhythm, and the contours of melody."

But for us today, our environment-based compositions, as much as they may derive from our perceptions of the world around us, have a larger meaning. The compositions less reflect harmony with our environment and more represent an attempt to experience, understand, engage, and interact with a complex world. As David Dunn, environmental sound artist, wrote: "My foremost interest these days concerns ways that formal concepts and techniques of music and sound art can contribute to scientific research. Not only can sound artists reveal new phenomena within the natural world, their creative strategies for creating a compelling sonic experience out of the sounds of the natural world can have a deeper application within science itself."

Our focus on environmental sounds has a history that begins in the early 1970s with the World Soundscape Project, established as an educational and research group by R. Murray Schafer at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. It grew out of Schafer's initial attempt to draw attention to the sonic environment through a course in noise pollution. As Schafer wrote in The Tuning of the World: "The soundscape of the world is changing. Modern man is beginning to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any he has hitherto known ... " Schafer's idea was that we should understand how we interact, individually and collectively, with the sounds around us, and that our understanding could lead us towards controlling our sonic environment. It was the beginning of a new field called Acoustic Ecology. Among the first musical works to emerge from the World Soundscape Project was The Vancouver Soundscape, in 1973, motivated not as art but as a study of the local sonic environment.

The word 'soundscape' quickly became a musical genre. But unlike other musical genres, soundscapes are never abstract. By definition, a soundscape refers to a specific place. It is rooted in the real world, and brings with it attitudes, feelings, memories, associations, all related to its place. Soundscapes can be composed. They can be edited, specific sounds can be chosen, and the sounds can be processed, but their reference to a specific place must remain clear. Soundscapes, in other words, play the world in sound.


In 2014, I began discussions with Leah Barclay and Ricardo Dal Farra regarding an international organization. The world had changed. Our framework for the distribution of information had changed. And although environmental issues had become more urgent, more people understood that our climate was changing.

Our mission has consequently evolved. Ear to the Earth has become an independent organization with an international Board of Directors. Our focus is broader. We want to bring people together. And create models for activities that will mitigate the harm of climate change that has already begun.

Joel Chadabe June 2015











We were honored

On April 23, 2009, Gotham City Networking recognized Ear to the Earth with a Green Initiative Award. The citation for the award was as follows:

Gotham Green brings together people interested in the green business sector. Today we honor the Electronic Music Foundation's Ear to the Earth Network for its innovative use of sound to promote personal commitment to the future of the environment. They have become a key voice for green business concerns within our community.







Another history

Another and more detailed history of Ear to the Earth is in an article by Joel Chadabe titled Ear to the Earth: It Started in the Dark, published in Circuit, musiques contemporaines, a revue published in Montreal (the article is written in English).

To purchase the issue, go to Circuit's homepage — http://www.revuecircuit.ca. In the top right corner, click on one of the red prices ($18 Canada or $18 USA, depending upon where you are). It then takes you to the shopping cart. Press on the red passer la commande, then click on your region (√Čtats-Unis for United States, for example). It then takes you to a form where you'll fill out your address. Then finally it leads you to paypal to make the payment.