Award-winning research uses power of sound to preserve waterways

A Griffith researcher who harnessed the power of sound to help preserve the planet’s waterways has been recognised at the APRA Art Music Awards.

Dr Leah Barclay won the Queensland Award for Excellence in Experimental Music at the 2019 Art Music Awards for her Listening Underwater project.

Pushing the boundaries

Dr Leah Barclay during one of her field trips to the Great Barrier Reef

The large-scale acoustic ecology project drew on over a decade of Dr Barclay’s underwater recordings from freshwater and marine ecosystems across the globe, from coastal mangroves in Mexico to frozen rivers in Norway, the iconic Great Barrier Reef and the coastline of Queensland including K’Gari (Fraser Island).

The project was commissioned for Horizon Festival 2018 and delivered as a series of sold-out immersive live performances in a custom-built geodesic surround sound dome on Mooloolaba Beach.

The live performances were accompanied by augmented reality sound walks accessed via a custom-built mobile app, and featured live projections from Emmy Award-winning underwater cinematographer David Hannan.

‘A real privilege’

Dr Barclay said it was an honour to be recognised at the APRA Art Music Awards, which recognise excellence in the composition, performance, education and presentation of Australian art music.

“It’s pretty fantastic being recognised for this particular work, which has a real environmental and community focus,” she said.

“It is a real privilege to do this work, and the real reward is seeing the way we can use sound to tackle some of the big challenges we’re facing today.”

Responding to global challenges

Dr Leah Barclay using hydrophones to record aquatic ecosystems

A sound artist, composer and researcher, Dr Barclay’s work bridges the divide between art and science. Her acoustic ecology research is helping raise awareness of the health of aquatic ecosystems, which cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.

“This project used experimental music, augmented reality and new technologies to connect communities to their waterways and inspire action,” she said.

“It demonstrated how listening can inspire empathy and allowed communities to understand their rivers, lakes and oceans in ways that are usually not accessible.

“Listening Underwater demonstrates that sound is one of the most powerful tools to respond to these challenges.”

Dr Barclay has just launched a new project for this year’s Horizon Festival. Dr Barclay has created a ‘sound walk’ which uses wireless headphones and a live mix revealing invisible ecosystems in real-time.