Queensland Conservatorium research fellow Dr Leah Barclay was the only Australian invited to present at the summit in Washington DC, which attracted 3,000 leading scientists, environmentalists and artists from around the world.
She presented on the art and science of sound as part of the Science, Conservation, Inspiration session, alongside speakers such as National Geographic President and CEO Gary E. Knell and renowned artist Maya Lin.
New projects to wow visitors
Dr Barclay’s Hydrology and River Listening projects – originally launched at the World Science Festival in Brisbane – will remain on show this month across the Smithsonian, Ronald Reagan Building, International Trade Center and the National Mall.
Hydrology is a new augmented reality installation featuring a live mix of 100 aquatic soundscapes collected over a decade.
The River Listening app is at the cutting edge of acoustic ecology, using field recordings and GPS to encourage the conservation of waterways across the world. By downloading an app called Echoes people can turn their phone into a sonic compass to guide them along the riverside and trigger geo-located soundscapes.
Using music to tackle climate change
Dr Barclay’s research uses music, art and science to enhance global conservation efforts.
“These interactive experiences are a balance between art and science, and they are designed to inspire people to listen at a time when it’s vital that we listen to the environment,” she said.
“The monitoring techniques allow us to learn about environmental changes in new ways.
“This is a really rewarding way to engage communities in climate action. ”
A scientist, composer and artist, Dr Barclay creates immersive site-specific performances and installations to connect audiences with the environment and teach them to listen to the sounds around them.
“Dramatic changes in aquatic ecosystems can go unnoticed simply due to visibility,” she said.
“The way we think about music and the way sound artists listen, can really influence and inspire how scientists are responding to climate change,” she said.
Acoustic ecology allows researchers to monitor the health of fragile ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef.
“We can listen to an active and healthy reef and hear active fish and snapping shrimp or the traffic of Humpback whales,” she said.
“Listening from the perspectives of environmental changes, but also listening from trained musical ears, there’s true possibilities to respond to some of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Reconnecting with nature
Dr Barclay has also been working on Biosphere Soundscapes, a network of installations, field labs, and art platforms based in UNESCO biosphere reserves around the world.
These works are designed to draw attention to changing climates and fragile ecosystems.
“My music has always drawn inspiration from the places I have lived and travelled,” she said.
“I’ve witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change in various parts of the world first hand, and I am interested in exploring ways my artistic practice can contribute towards environmental engagement.
“Listening to the environment can reconnect us with nature.
“I think positive experiences motivate people to make changes, rather than overwhelming and depressing climate graphs.”