Environmental Listening Sessions 2020


With the Environmental Listening Sessions, we want to initiate regular deep listening sessions and aesthetic reflection on the environment. The monthly event aims to explore the acoustic, musical and aesthetic dimensions of environmental experiences and investigate the manifold artistic engagement with the natural and anthropogenically shaped environment, as well as the environmental problems associated with it.

Music and the arts in general have a major influence on the way we experience and understand nature – what significance it has for us and what place humans occupy in it. To this day, the arts determine our emotional and normative relationship to the environment. What significance do noises and sounds have in the environment, how do artistically produced soundscapes represent the environment? In this respect, it seems important to question current musical and sound artistic creation on whether it is capable of establishing new, alternative perspectives and relationships to the natural and technically shaped environment.

The two-hour, monthly and public programme will consist of a short introduction to the subject (record, installation, concert), acousmatic presentations and a subsequent discussion.

Register here for the events.

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Ökoakustik: Die Tonspur des Klimawandels

Einstein 21.11.2019, 22:25 Uhr

Ökoakustik: Die Tonspur des Klimawandels

Wie tönt es im Boden? Wie klingt der Wald in einem trockenen Sommer? Ökoakustiker wie der Schweizer Klangforscher Marcus Maeder beschreiben mithilfe von Tonaufnahmen die Natur völlig neu. Der Klang wird zum Gradmesser eines Ökosystems. «Einstein» zeigt, welche Chancen die Ökoakustik eröffnet.

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Eco-Visionarios/Eco-Visionaries: Perimeter Pfynwald

With works by Baggenstos/Rudolf, Ursula Biemann, HeHe, Chris Jordan, Vanessa Lorenzo, Marcus Maeder (Perimeter Pfynwald), AnneMarie Maes, Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits, Aline Veillat a. o.

Laboral Centro de Arte y Creation Industrial, Gijon/Spain

24.5. – 26.10. 2019

Perimeter Pfynwald

A Soundscape Observatory. Marcus Maeder, 2019

The installation “Perimeter Pfynwald” is an acoustic-artistic representation of the ecosystem of a mountain forest in Switzerland. The Pfynwald forest in Valais is already severely exposed to effects of climate change. Due to the mass elevation effect of the Alps, the climatic conditions in the Valais are already very dry. The ever-longer periods of drought and heat are severely damaging the forest: the Scots pines, which make up a large part of the Pfynwald forest, are dying and are being displaced by more robust tree species, including neophytes. It is a climate-induced vegetation change in progress, the progression of which makes it unclear whether the Pfynwald will change from pine to oak and robinia forest in the coming decades or the perimeter will turn into a steppe landscape and the forest in the heart of the Pfyn Nature Park will disappear completely.

The Pfynwald ecosystem can be experienced in the installation in a way that would not normally be possible outdoors in the forest. In the course of the FHNW’s “Ecodata-Ecomedia-Ecoaesthetics” research project, Marcus Maeder distributed several autonomous audio recording devices in the forest, which during the heat summer of 2018 automatically recorded the environmental sounds in the forest, the underwater world in a pond and the sounds of the fauna in the forest floor. In the installation, a soundscape consisting of a temporal and spatial compression can be heard: The recording devices were placed several kilometres apart in the Pfynwald forest and recorded environmental sound at intervals of 10 minutes. In the installation “Perimeter Pfynwald”, different biotopes that lie far apart in a landscape can be heard simultaneously. On the other hand, the interval recordings create a timelapse sound track that reproduces events in the environment in a shorter time than would normally be heard.

A further element of the installation consists of the sonification of environmental measurement data collected by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Pfynwald as part of its research on forests and climate change. “Perimeter Pfynwald” integrates two microclimatic parameters as artificial sound sources: Measurement data of the air temperature and humidity in the forest control the sound synthesis on the computer of the installation. The result is a sound that is supposed to sound like a voice of the forest. This voice consists of a deep and a high tone – the depth represents the humidity, the height the temperature.

In the installation “Perimeter Pfynwald” it becomes possible to experience how drought and heat have an acoustic effect on the forest in the course of climate change: it becomes quiet. The more intensively the heat and drought period develops in summer 2018, the less can be heard in the individual biotopes: The noise of the nearby river becomes quieter because it carries less water; mountain streams dry up. The fauna retreats, is less active and therefore quieter. The air humidity decreases, the temperature increases, which results in the sound synthesis of the forest voice, that the deeper sound becomes deeper and deeper, the higher one higher and higher, until they lie outside the audible range and the voice silences.

The installation “Perimeter Pfynwald” is a modular and expandable artistic-acoustic observatory in which ecosystems of any size can be examined and represented.


Programming: Thomas Peter

Environmental data Pfynwald: Swiss Federal Research Station WSL

Processing and analysis of acoustic data: Martin Rüegg

Perimeter Pfynwald” is part of the research project “Ecodata-Ecomedia-Ecoaesthetics”, funded and supported by:

Swiss National Science Foundation

Institute of Aesthetic Practice and Theory IAeP

Academy of Art and Design FHNW

Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK, Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology

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Von Pflanzen und Menschen/Of plants and people

With works by John Baldessari, Alberto Baraya, Marcus Maeder/Roman Zweifel (treelab),  Stuart A. Staples, George Steinmetz, Alexandra R. Toland, Michael Wang a. o.

Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden

19.04.2019 – 19.04.2020

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Kunst gegen die Klimakatastrophe: SRF Kulturplatz

Link to the video.

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Sounding Soil: Premiere at Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Sounding Soil
An acoustic-artistic observatory
Marcus Maeder, 2018

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern/Switzerland

20.10. – 25.11.2018

Opening: 20.10.2018, 14:00, Agrikulturtag ZPK

The Sounding Soil installation consists of a white 10“ freight container with a small garden on its roof, a touch screen console with a sound map and a spatial audio system in its dark painted interior. In the sound map, over 20 recordings from soils in Switzerland are selectable and played back in surround audio. The soil of the garden on the container‘s roof controls a generative music part which is played when no soil recording is selected.

Soils and their perception

Soils present themselves to us mostly as differently composed surfaces, with that which is underneath escaping our perception. Soil ecosystems are complex and their biotic interactions closely interwoven. Soils are highly sensitive to any disturbances, be they human farming systems or forest management. Healthy soils are of key importance, because they provide indispensable ecosystem services; soil systems filter and regulate water, provide nutrient cycles, deplete toxic substances etc. Sustainably managed soils enhance the resilience of agricultural systems and are better able to adapt to changing climatic conditions while also contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by carbon sequestration.

In contrast, soil degradation has increased over recent decades – not only in its spectacular form in the tropics, with immense land loss through deforestation and erosion, but directly at our front door, on the fields where our food is being produced, through pollution with mineral fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics, and through soil compaction with increasingly heavy machinery.

There seems to be a basic perception problem behind these environmental issues; the pedosphere and its functions or state of health cannot easily or instantly be translated into a sensual experience. It is a black box that needs to be opened up and interpreted by experts, and their findings must then be mediated to “non-experts.” For the most part, the ground at our feet is not an object of our observation or contemplation; it is just there and is being treated like some dead mass, because it eludes
our direct perception. Increasing awareness of soil ecosystems is therefore an important issue.

In Ecoacoustics, soundscape ecology or acoustic ecology, audio recordings are used to analyze ecological relationships. Almost every organism produces sound waves as its life manifestation. Be it movement activity or communication, we can potentially hear which organism does what under which circumstances on the one hand, and we may contextualize the organism’s activity with the sounds of the environment on the other.

What can you hear in the soil?

A healthy soil is home to a wide range of fauna and flora. It ensures the basic soil functions such as the decomposition of vegetable litter and nutrient cycling. The more diverse the creatures living in the soil are, then the higher is the functional redundancy of the ecosystem, i.e., if individual species are missing, their function can be taken up by other species in the soil.

Soil fauna come in different sizes – ranging from bacteria and nematodes (roundworms), known as microfauna, to macro- and megafauna, such as beetles, earthworms and moles, thereby spanning a complex network of interactions and nutritional dependencies. With our acoustic equipment, we can primarily hear the meso- and macro- soil fauna, i.e. all the animals larger than half a millimetre. Meso- and macrofauna perform important functions in the soil – these organisms shred plant residues, prey on other soil fauna and loosen the soil by burrowing. A large diversity in meso- and macrofauna reflects a healthy ecosystem.

The installation‘s sound map contains the recordings of soil fauna such as springtails, mites, centipedes, beetles, isopods, fly larvae, earthworms, spiders, orthoptera (grasshoppers) and cicadas. We took soil samples from all the recording locations 
of the research project (large dots) and identified and counted the animal species. The majority of soil fauna make noises when moving through the soil or eating. A few also make use of the soil to communicate with each other. Some of the animals live in the litter layer – the decomposing plant material lying on the surface of the soil. In addition, animals can also be heard who live on the soil, using it as a communication medium by generating vibrations that can be picked up by their conspecifics via the legs or body.

Soil fauna produce different noises – according to the size and structure of their body as well as their behaviour: the greater the variety of animal sounds you can hear in a recording, the more diverse is the soil fauna. This can also be acoustically measured and statistically evaluated. In the Sounding Soil research project, we have attempted to acoustically measure soil biodiversity based on what are known as acoustic indices. We have already been able to identify distinct differences at the various locations of the sound map. For example, conventionally managed arable land is quieter and exhibits fewer different
noises than an organically managed meadow. Forest soil is also rather quieter, since this type of soil is generally cooler and the soil fauna there are less active than in a sun-kissed meadow.

Often it is not only the noises of soil fauna that can be heard but also physical sources, such as rain as it hits the ground and seeps away, or wind moving the vegetation on the soil surface that is audible as a rumbling in the soil. Furthermore, other environmental noise can also be heard in the soil. Thus the vibrations from building sites and the proximity of roads adversely affect acoustic recordings and measurements in the soil – this is particularly the case with aircraft noise, the deep roaring sound of which can drown out the noises made by soil organisms. The effects of acoustic environmental pollution on the distribution, activity and composition of soil fauna remain totally unexplored. Nevertheless, however, it must be assumed that environmental noise produced by humans not only has a negative impact on aboveground and maritime fauna but also on the animal communities living in the soil.

A further element of the Sounding Soil sound installation is the music that starts to play when no soil sounds are selected in the sound map to listen to. It consists of sound patterns that are distributed at three levels of the loudspeaker system in the
container. The individual sound patterns are controlled both by sensors in the soil and the weather station on the roof of the container. Readings such as the intensity of the sunlight, the amount of rain, the surface and soil temperature as well as the soil moisture control the music while making it possible for the microclimatic factors and their interactions, which influence the activity of the soil fauna, to be heard and experienced. In this way, depending on the time of day, weather and season, a generative composition is created, which only changes extremely slowly – in analogy to the soil matrix, which acts as a buffer by reacting very slowly to environmental changes.

The research project Sounding Soil

Sounding Soil is an inter- and transdisciplinary research and art project that investigates the acoustics of soil ecosystems. In this study, methods to record and measure the acoustic activity and composition of soil organisms are being developed with the objective of assessing biodiversity in soils rapidly and affordably by acoustic means. Recordings of the soil fauna are part of a participatory art installation and a citizen science project. The project aims to create a first-hand experience of soil ecosystems and increase soil awareness in broader parts of society, be they the urban population, agricultural producers or political decision makers.

Sounding Soil is carried out as a cooperation between the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)/the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, the Swiss Soil Monitoring Network (NABO), the Institute for Terrestrial Ecosystems as well as the USYS TdLab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
in Zurich and Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development.

Visit the project’s homepage

Check out the sound map

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AmazonFace Exhibition in Manaus

Espirito da Floresta/Forest Spirit

Installation by Marcus Maeder, 2017/2018

Exhibition Amazônia e mudanças climaticas at Bosque da Sciencia, Paiol da Cultura, Manaus/Brasil

12.9. – 11.11.2018

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treelab at Eco-Visionaries Exhibition, HEK Basel

Art, New Media and Ecology After the Anthropocene

The exhibition Eco-Visionaries is dedicated to the topic of ecological change and presents artistic responses to current challenges. It investigates new media, technologies and techno-scientific methods in the arts and their significance for the perception and awareness of the “ecological.”

Haus der Elektronischen Künste, Basel, 30.08. – 11.11.2018


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treelab @ STARTS Prize Exhibitions

treelab at BOZAR, Brussels

Ars Electronica Festival 2017, Linz 07. – 11.09. 2017
BOZAR Electronic Arts Festival, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles 14.09. – 30.09.2017

More informations here.

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AmazonFACE: Espírito da floresta/Forest spirit

Installation at the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC,
AmazonFACE symposium – Impacts of Climate Change on the Amazon Forest

Espirito da floresta/Forest spirit

AmazonFACE is a free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiment assessing the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on the ecology and resilience of the Amazon forest. The experiment will simulate the atmospheric CO2 composition of the future in order to help answer the question: How will rising atmospheric CO2 affect the resilience of the Amazon forest, the biodiversity it harbors, and the ecosystem services it provides.

Carbon Dioxide was discovered by the flemish chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century. He called the gas that evaporated from burning wood „Spiritus sylvestre“, „forest spirit.“ In the installation “Espirito da floresta/Forest spirit”, a local ecosystem in the Amazon rainforest is represented acoustically. The acoustic emissions of a tree (Ocotea Sp.) and the environmental sounds in the field station of the AmazonFACE research project were recorded in 10-minute intervals over three days. The sounds of the tree and its inhabitants were recorded using specially developed contact microphones at three positions – in the crown, on the trunk, and at the roots. These sounds can be heard through the sound panels of the installation (in the module to the right of the projection surface), together with the environmental noises (through the video projection surface itself) and the sonification of the CO2 concentration at three heights in the forest (through the module behind the projection surface). In the sonification, the CO2 data flow is used to control the generation of sound in the installation’s computer. A flute-like synthetic sound is used in for data sonification: this is reproduced for each of the three measurement heights, and the current measured values control the pitch of the three flute-like sounds. By these means the dynamics of the CO2 concentration at three different “storeys” in the rainforest are rendered audible.

In the installation changes to the soundscape of the rainforest at an increased atmospheric CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are rendered observable. Beyond that, new acoustic research methods of biodiversity will be tested. The so-called Acoustic Complexity Index ACI is displayed in the video projection. In this acoustic estimate of biodiversity, the amplitude envelope is being analysed in a number of frequency bands: the greater the number of different volumes measured over a certain amount of time in specified frequency bands of the audio recordings, the higher the acoustically quantifiable biodiversity – what interests us here is the dynamic of this value over short and long time periods. Will biodevirsity decrease under an elevated CO2 concentration?

The installation “Espirito da floresta/Forest spirit” aims to make the processes in a local ecosystem audible and acoustically examinable: the noises in a tree and its immediate environment change, depending on the time of day and the weather, the CO2 values increase or decrease on the different “storeys” in the forest, and it becomes possible to experience sensually the close connection between environmental conditions and life
processes in the rainforest.


Concept and artistic design: Marcus Maeder, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste ZHdK, 2017
Preparation of environmental data: Alessandro Araujo, Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa)
Implementation ACI: Martin Neukom, ZHdK
Programming support : Thomas Peter, Philippe Kocher, ZHdK
Production support sound panels: Thomas Tobler, ZHdK

This pre-study is financed by the ZHdK foundation and AmazonFACE.

Screenshot of the video projection.

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