World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s waterways. It highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. Rivers in virtually every country face an array of threats, and only through our active involvement can we ensure their health in the years ahead.
In 2005, the United Nations launched the Water for Life Decade to help create a greater awareness of the need to better care for our water resources. Following this, the establishment of World Rivers Day was in response to a proposal initiated by internationally renowned river advocate, Mark Angelo.
The proposal for a global event to celebrate rivers was based on the success of BC Rivers Day, which Mark Angelo had founded and led in western Canada since 1980. A World Rivers Day event was seen by agencies of the UN as a good fit for the aims of the Water for Life Decade and the proposal was approved. River enthusiasts from around the world came together to organize the inaugural WRD event. That first event in 2005 was a great success and Rivers Day was celebrated across dozens of countries. Since then, the event has continued to grow. It is annually celebrated on the last Sunday of every September. In 2014, several million people across more than 60 countries will be celebrating the many values of our waterways.
To celebrate World Rivers Day 2014 we are running River Listening workshops along the Mary River in Queensland in collaboration with the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC) and the Greater Mary Association Inc. The first will be on Saturday, September 27 at Moy Pocket near Kenilworth and the second on Sunday the 28th, near Tiaro, much closer to the river’s mouth. The Mary River is just over three hundred kilometres long with several thousand kilometres of tributaries included in its catchment. For over two decades the MRCCC has worked to foster better stewardship of not just the river and its riparian vegetation but of the whole of the catchment.
The Moy Pocket Rivercare Day will be held just to the north of Pickering bridge and will include a riparian walk led by Marc Russell as well as tree-planting, natural regeneration and some freeing of young trees engulfed by Cat’s Claw Creeper. The property is part of the Connection Road Corridor which links the biodiverse Conservation Park on top of the Kenilworth Bluff with the Mary River. The day starts at 10 am and goes till mid-afternoon. The River Listening workshop will happen from 12pm-1pm with an introduction to the project and demonstration of the River Listening hydrophone recording kits. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of the Mary River and make their own hydrophone recording that will be published on this website in November.
The Tiaro event on Sunday the 28th of September, will be held in the Mary River Koala corridor at Petrie Park on the Mary River just north of Tiaro town. Starting at 10:00 am, the event includes koala food tree planting, and the launch of a new publication by the Greater Mary Association about the creation of the corridor. There will also be opportunities to tour the biological control facility established to fight Cats Claw creeper around the Fraser Coast region. The River Listening workshop will run from 1:30-2:30pm with an introduction to aquatic bioacoustics, hydrophone demonstrations and recording in two locations along the river. Participation in the River Listening workshops is free of charge and the resulting recordings will contribute towards a community sound installation at the 2014 Mary River Festival.
Thanks to Tanzi Smith for inviting River Listening to participate in these events.
In September 2014 Leah Barclay was invited to Indonesia to work with UNESCO in developing ideas for a new masterclass series in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of this invitation, she presented on the development of River Listening in biosphere reserves in Australia.
In the Asia-Pacific region, there is great disparity in terms of e-connectivity infrastructure among countries. The region includes industrialized countries and rapidly industrializing ones, but it also counts some of the least developed countries in the world, with varying track records on the implementation of their national sustainable development programs. As the network infrastructure has been developing in the area, the needs are now shifting from technologies to capacity building through appropriate distance learning materials and methods. Development and sharing of high quality contents that accommodate individual differences and needs of countries in Asia and the Pacific have been strongly sought by educators for e-learning programs. Many institutions are also trying to proactively use the network for Research and Development collaboration in areas of advanced science and technology. UNESCO, in its role as a laboratory of ideas and capacity-builder for development in its areas of competence, through the South-South Cooperation for Strengthening Science and Technology Literacy in the Asia and Pacific Region, is in a position to respond to the need for developing a scientifically literate citizenry not only for more enlightened policy-making, but for learning sustainable living, through a science education program. This will be done through enhancing the role of CONNECT-Asia in the delivery of mixed e-learning mode through Collaboration for Network-eNabled Education, Culture, Technology and Sciences (CONNECT) Asia.
The database of hydrophone recordings from the initial Listening Labs on Noosa River, Brisbane River and Mary River feature extensive recordings of snapping shrimp, one of the most common aquatic sounds captured by hydrophones. While I have been recording snapping shrimp for a number of years, I’m always intrigued to see the reactions when people hear the sounds of shrimp for the first time. Many of the workshop participants find it hard to believe a tiny creature can create such an intense sound.
Snapping Shrimp, also know as Pistol shrimp or Alpheidae, are found worldwide with over 600 species living in oceans, rivers and freshwater catchments. The sound they emit could be likened to a crackling fire, but has the capacity to stun crabs and fish and reach an impressive 218 decibels.
The snapping shrimp has two claws, one which appears to be disproportionately large with two unique joints that create the distinctive sound. The speed in which the joint snaps shut creates a powerful wave that results in the loud popping sound. The sound is generated by the collapse of a cavitation bubble formed in an extremely rapid closure of their claw.
A temporal analysis of the sound recordings and the high-speed images below show that no sound is associated with the claw closure, it is all created in the collapse of the bubble.
Although they are usually only 3–5 cm long, this family of shrimp is considered the loudest animal in the sea, which is an impressive feat considering the size of a sperm whale. When found in large numbers, the shrimp have the capacity to interfere with sonar and underwater communication equipment and also other aquatic species.
It is rare to capture a singular shrimp in a recording, the soundscapes generally consist of a constant crackling and popping that will continue for hours. I have been observing the sonic changes in the shrimp sounds at different times of day, and also analysing how they react to other sounds in the river.
Considering there are 600 species of this shrimp worldwide, it is certainly a large area of aquatic bioacoustics that warrants further investigation. My initial questions revolve around the specific sonic characteristics of the species present in South East Queensland rivers. As the shrimp can interfere with sonar and underwater communication equipment, it would be interesting to explore how they affect communication and interaction amongst other aquatic species in Queensland rivers. It is also likely the intensity of the sounds they emit has an impact of other aspects of the river ecosystem. To explore this further I am planning to monitor other aspects of the river ecosystems at four contrasting sites. From a creative perspective, we are currently exploring concepts for a range of installations that will draw on the source material and allow listeners to experience the soundscapes in immersive contexts using transducers to produce the effect of listening underwater.
“ Our mission is to do world-class science that improves our understanding of catchment, river, estuarine and coastal ecosystems; to provide a creative and collaborative environment that fosters the next generation of ecosystem scientists; and to provide the knowledge to support the sustainable use and conservation of the world’s natural resources.”
One of the most exciting aspects of River Listening is the opportunity to collaborate with The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) in Brisbane. While River Listening revolves around field work with ARI scientists across South East Queensland, we are also exploring ways to integrate our outcome into existing ARI research projects.
The Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research group with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems and the interaction of these systems with society. The institute brings together 130 staff and researchers at the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses of Griffith University. Their international reputation is evident in being a founding member of the International Water Centre and holding seats on a number of international water management committees, such as the Global Water System Project, and Diversitas. The research conducted at the ARI provides the knowledge to underpin the sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems and ARI researchers have initiated a series of interdisciplinary research projects, including creative collaborations, that have been recognised internationally.
Their research focuses on a “source to sea” philosophy, delivering through six themes:
Catchment and river ecosystem processes
Coastal and estuarine ecosystem processes
Restoration science and environmental flows
Aquatic ecosystem monitoring and assessment
Aquatic biodiversity and conservation
Integration and adoption
Through its leaders and researchers, the Institute is proactive in national and international water science planning and research bodies. Freshwater conservation planning is an area of emerging strength at ARI. Dr Simon Linke, Dr Virgilio Hermoso and Dr Mark Kennard are at the forefront of pioneering research to identify conservation and management priorities to sustain freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity. Adapting and applying systematic planning principles to the unique challenges posed by freshwater environments, they have developed novel techniques for integrating spatial and temporal hydrologic connectivity and other important ecological processes into the spatial prioritization process.
The scientific grounding of the River Listening collaboration is led by ARI Senior Research Fellow Dr Simon Linke, one of Australia’s leading freshwater conservation scientists, whose pioneering work in biomonitoring and river conservation planning has been used by agencies and NGOs from South East Queensland to the Congo. Dr Linke’s current research interests include environmental planning and real-time ecology using movement tracking, bioacoustics and environmental DNA.
An iconic building and the headquaters of the Australian Rivers Institute, the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is Australia’s first teaching and research building powered by a combination of photovoltaics and hydrogen. The centre has been awarded a 6-star green rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.
The building exemplifies Griffith University’s mission to provide world leading technology, facilities and resources enabling the finest minds to strive for great outcomes in education and research – all founded on a non-negotiable commitment to environmental sustainability.
Griffith long-standing international reputation for excellence in environmental research helps it play a leading role in managing water resources with a focus on freshwater, estuarine and urban water. Australian Rivers Institute researchers have developed a set of ecosystem health assessment tools for measuring conservation efforts in producing South-East Queensland’s annual Healthy Waterways Report Card. They have also revolutionised work in wastewater testing and identified new methods for river monitoring. The River Listening team is looking forward to expanding this project in collaboration with ARI in the future.
My creative interest in rivers manifested in early environmentally engaged instrumental compositions such as River of Mirrors (2004), composed for chamber orchestra and inspired by elements of the Noosa Everglades. This work used an array of extended performance techniques to imitate the natural soundscapes, and employed repetitive textures to evoke the tannin-stained, mirrored waterways of Noosa River. The following year, in 2005, I composed Confluence, my first major multimedia environmental work commissioned for the opening of Earth Song Exhibition, during the launch of the Queensland Great Walks. Although not inspired by a specific river, Confluence drew inspiration from the characteristics of water and rivers and used hydrophone recordings as compositional source material. The piece was composed for cello, live electronics, digital projections and two dancers, which created an immersive environment in a constant state of change that was controlled live. These two projects informed the development of my largest rivers project Sound Mirrors, and the beginning of a large-body of work inspired by rivers over the last ten years.
Sound Mirrors is an interactive sound installation that responds to specific rivers across the world. During 2009 and 2010 I travelled through Australia, India, Korea, and China, capturing the sound of significant rivers and their surrounding communities. Sound Mirrors grew out of my lifelong connection with rivers and a deep affinity with water. I was inspired to explore a voice for the rivers through electroacoustic composition at a time when I felt it was becoming very important to listen to the environment.
My creative inspiration from rivers is shared by a wide spectrum of electroacoustic composers who have created works inspired by rivers across the world. Among the most pertinent is Voicing the Murray, an immersive sound installation by pioneering Australian composer Ros Bandt. The work was commissioned for the Mildura Arts Festival, and was designed to give the Murray River a voice: ‘A voice derived from all the voices impinging on its banks and surfaces’ (Bandt, 1996).
Bandt’s composition process involved several on-site recording sessions, which focused on gathering stories from the local people. She was interested in the idea of capturing endangered sounds and exploring how the soundscape of the area had changed and evolved with the impact of technology. The project was underpinned by environmental intentions; Bandt wanted to draw attention to the environmental degradation of the area, by encouraging listeners to engage in the rich soundscapes:
“I was excited at the prospect, as the Murray River is such a unique and critical habitat for the whole of Australia. It is a manmade oasis which has brought with it the by-products of man’s overuse of the environment, erosion, salination, and cultural dislocation for indigenous peoples.” (Bandt, 1986)
The electroacoustic repertoire inspired by rivers can be divided into three relatively distinct categories: works composed in the studio inspired by rivers; works drawing on environmental field recordings from rivers; and, finally, site-specific works that involve interactivity and community engagement. The first category includes iconic electroacoustic composers such as Richard Lainhart’s The Course of the River (1975), Douglas Lilburn’s Soundscape with Lake and River (1979), and Kaija Saariaho’s Trois Rivières (1994).
Italian composer David Monacchi’s electroacoustic composition Stati d’Acqua (States of Water) composed in 2006 is a most effective sonic exploration of a river. Those fortunate to experience a live performance of the work are immersed in multichannel sound diffusion that draws the listener deep into a dense sound world that at times evokes the sensation of being underwater. The work was inspired by the multiple physical transformations of water (such as evaporation and condensation) through processed field-recordings. The composition draws on field-research in Rome on the Tiber River, ranging from its springs in the Monte Fumaiolo to its outlet in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Monacchi explored many recording techniques, including an array of microphones and movements along various sound sources, such as springs, streams, waterfalls and caves (Monacchi, 2006). The final composition is presented as a 30-minute performance on a multichannel sound array with 18 loudspeakers.
Garth Paine’s composition Present in the Landscape (2011) is among the most pertinent of compositions that explores contentious environmental issues through immersive river soundscapes. This work was composed during a residency at Bundanon in New South Wales, Australia, and is an exploration of the nearby Shoalhaven River.
“Present in the Landscape specifically addresses the existence of a river, which runs across floodplains, and has had a dynamic and active life, changing direction, remapping its own presence in the landscape over centuries, as large weather events have occurred. However, a decade ago the large Tallowa dam was constructed upstream from the Bundanon property with the intention of providing drinking water to the communities on the south coast of New South Wales.” (Paine, 2011)
The damming of Shoalhaven completely transformed the river and had a profoundly negative effective on the local environment, as is apparent in the damming of many rivers worldwide. Paine spent time interviewing the community surrounding the river to capture local perspectives. This included Aboriginal men who offered a critical understanding of the river from the perspective of traditional owners. His ambisonic field recordings captured the environmental soundscapes of the river, from the jumping fish to the temporal flow of the landscape itself (Paine, 2011). Present in the Landscape was presented as a six-channel composition and has also been published as a stereo recording.
The diverse literature inspired by rivers is impossible to capture in a short article, but this collection of works would not be complete without mention of Annea Lockwood’s trilogy of river sound maps. The trilogy begins with A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982), and is followed by A Sound Map of the Danube (2005) and A Sound Map of the Housatonic River (2010). Lockwood has experimented with river soundscapes from the mid-60s, but the sound maps solidified her process of creating an ‘aural tracing’ (Lockwood, 2010) and of documenting the entire length of the river through sound. The sound maps are realised as multichannel installations with the recorded sites located on a wall map accompanied by a time-code so the listener can locate the current soundscape at any given time. Lockwood’s sound maps are certainly rich creative responses to the rivers, and they are also functional and accessible insights into their respective acoustic ecologies.
The Noosa River positioned in a UNESCO listed Biosphere of Australia, the historic Han River flowing through the city of Seoul, South Korea, and the Pamba River in the evocative backwaters of Kerala, South India, formed the foundation of my Sound Mirrors project. The process was mirrored at each river involving three distinctive stages: on-site research, field recording and composition. Each of the stages involved various elements specific to that environment, such as community interviews and intensive study and collaborative performances. The process of working with the three specific rivers in Australia, Korea, and India was completed over the duration of three months, working in cultural immersion in each location. In addition to the three rivers, Sound Mirrors involved shorter duration projects on the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, and the Pearl River Delta in Hong Kong. The realisation of Sound Mirrors was just as much about the cultural immersion in the rivers’ communities as it was about the creative process.
The process in the field varied from sculpting and layering sounds recorded on location to directly responding to the environment. The source materials range from hydrophone recordings deep in the Noosa River, to pilgrims chanting at dusk on the banks of the Pamba in South India. I worked intuitively with these materials in each location and attempted to capture a living aspect of culture through focusing on various sound marks of the environment. This project was produced on the road — in makeshift studios on boats, trains, riverbanks, and in hotel rooms — while drawing further inspiration from the environment. Working in the cultural context provided insight into the layers of tradition that were impossible to access without first-hand experience. Although these rich webs of history and heritage raised issues of possible cultural appropriation, every effort was made to approach this material in a culturally sensitive way. The most critical process was gathering permission from the appropriate custodians and building strong relationships with the rivers’ communities. By producing these works on location, as opposed to returning to the studio, I was able to gain feedback from the local community and collaborators, which was invaluable for my research process.
The Sound Mirrors installation has been exhibited a number of times, including the Noosa Regional Gallery in Australia, the Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore, India, Stellenbosch University in South Africa and Siva Zona Contemporary Art Space in Croatia. Eleven of the resulting compositions were released as an album, titled Transient Landscapes, and these works have also been programmed at various conferences and festivals. I also began performing Transient Landscapes as a live work where I create a multi-channel mix of the river soundscapes in real-time in response to the performance location. This project has no doubt brought attention to the soundscapes of rivers, yet it is unlikely to have made any significant contribution to the conservation of river systems. While it was a positive learning curve, I recognised the potential for creative projects to have a wider impact when combined with ongoing community engagement, interdisciplinary collaborations and multi-platform outcomes. Sound Mirrors was a starting point for these ideas, and laid the foundation for River Listening.
One of the most critical outcome of Sound Mirrors was realising the opportunities for using hydrophone recordings as a measure for river health. While I could never predict exactly what the river would sound like when I lowered the hydrophones into the water, the resulting recordings were always extremely revealing about the overall health of the river.
This became even more apparent in my next large river venture, The DAM(N) Project, a large-scale interdisciplinary art project that connects Australian and Indian communities around the common concern of global water security. The project is focused on community capacity building and the creation of multi-platform creative content that can be disseminated internationally. The outcomes present the lives of remote communities in the Narmada Valley of North India, which were displaced by large-scale dam development securing hydropower for Indian cities.
As with all of my creative explorations of rivers, hydrophone field recordings have become an integral element to my practice. I am always eager to hear beneath the surface of the river, as the soundscapes reveal so many qualities, including the active marine life. Unfortunately, during our first field trip I found the hydrophone recordings in the Narmada River featured very little marine interaction, similar to the stagnant and lifeless bodies of water in the Narmada villages that were virtually silent. I was reminded of a quote from Bawabhai, an Adivasi (Indigenous) from the village of Jalsindhi in the Narmada Valley. He said the river had been silenced by the dam and lost its cleaning function, which had led to illness in the community. “Narmada used to be a narrow, melodious river, where we could walk down through the forests to its edge. Earlier the river was melodious — now it has become a silent river”. The stagnant water now carried countless viruses and diseases, which have resulted in many people fearing the water rather than worshipping it. It is inspiring to find someone that thinks about the river in sound, yet tragic to see the cultural and spiritual ramifications of damming a river for local Adivasi communities.
While the pure hydrophone recordings provided limited source material, the soundscapes with human interaction recorded from a boat were quite compelling. The sound of people washing dishes and clothes on the riverbank, splashes as people climbed into the boat and the creaking panels of the wooden vessel as we ventured down the river. The unpredictable recordings of the hydrophone abruptly dragging along the riverbed from our moving boat are not the most pleasing auditory experiences, but they captured some of the dystopian energy of this landscape. While this is perceived as a distorted sound, and something I would probably delete in other circumstances, I was compelled to make use of this recording in the project.
The other memorable field recordings were from the Jobat dam, one of the larger dams that submerged 1216 hectares across 13 villages, allegedly displacing 595 families. The metal steps along the dam wall acted like resonators propelling my footsteps along the bridge. I was struck by the silence of the dam and the intensity of my presence amplified in the soundscape. In situations where the hydrophone recordings provide limited source material, I compose based on my response to the landscape. In this example you can hear the Jobat dam recordings and the propeller of our small boat travelling down the river.
As rivers across the world continue to be impacted by human activity, the River Listening project is designed to extend on the existing creative work I have done in this area to explore a process that could bring attention to rivers as ecological entities that deserve respect and conservation. River Listening is deeply grounded in the scientific possibilities of hydrophone recording and the role of community engagement and multi-platform presentations. The process involves not just composing (in the traditional sense of the word) but collaborating with the community, listening to each river, and, at each site, responding and adapting to other processes that may emerge.
Barclay, L. (2013). Sonic Ecologies: Exploring the Agency of Soundscapes in Ecological Crisis. Soundscape The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, 12(1), 2013, 29 ‐32.
Bandt, R. (1996). Voicing the Murray. Retrieved from http://www.sounddesign.unimelb.edu.au/web/biogs/P000352b.htm
Krause, B. (2012). The great animal orchestra. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Lainhart, R. (1975). The Course of the River. [LP]. USA: Vicmod records.
Lilburn, D. (2004). Complete Electro-Acoustic Works. [CD]. New Zealand: Atoll.
Lockwood, A. (1989). A Sound Map of the Hudson River. [CD]. USA: Lovely Music.
Lockwood, A. (2004). Sound mapping the Danube River from the Black Forest to the Black Sea: Progress report, 2001–2003. Soundscape, The Journal of Acoustic Ecology 5(1), 32–4.
Lockwood, A. (2007). What is a river. Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, 7(1), 43–4.
Lockwood, A. (2008). A Sound Map of the Danube. [CD]. USA: Lovely Music.
Lockwood, A. (2010). A Sound Map of the Housatonic River. Retrieved from http://www.annealockwood.com/compositions/housatonic.htm
Marshall, A. (2002) The Unity of Nature: Wholeness and Disintegration in Ecology and Science. London: Imperial College Press.
Monacchi, D. (2006). Stati d’Acqua: Eco-acoustic compositions. [CD]. New York: Electronic Music Foundation Ltd.
Paine, G. (2011). Present in the landscape. Retrieved from http://www.eartotheearth.org/artistswork/paine_110506.html
Saariaho, K. (2002). Six japanese gardens & Trois Rivières Delta. [CD]. Paris: INA-GRM.