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Soundscape ecology project gets youth tuning into the sonic environment

Kent Macpherson, Wintec | Te Pūkenga educator and researcher, pictured recording and listening to the environment late morning at Lake Ngaroto in August 2023, with members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (and also his two children) Ronan and Cara Macpherson, and Lachlan Smith.

Wintec | Te Pūkenga educator and researcher Kent Machpherson is continuing his sound data (field recordings) research, this time examining specific Waikato sites impacted by human inhabitation for the creation of an online interactive cartographic sound map where users can listen to specific locations.

The study of the acoustic relationships between living organisms, human and other, and their environment is not new to Macpherson, his research in this area spans thirteen years and he is also the creator and moderator of The New Zealand Sound Map.

This project however, is the first time he has invited young school-aged ecologists, from Junats (The Waikato Junior Naturalist Club) to join him. Utilising the curious minds of youth to engage in active listening and soundscape ecology, the Waikato ecological sound map seeks to encourage school age communities throughout the region to engage in the creation of a cartographic sound map that acts as a document of space and time. Students will be provided with industry standard recording equipment and encouraged to gather sounds from their ‘space’ in pairs. They will take a photograph of the sonic space and record: time of day, date, season, year and any other attributes they see fit. 

Junats, established in 1962 to foster environmental awareness, is an active club for 10-18 year olds interested in all aspects of natural history and preservation in New Zealand. Macpherson says that with the club's healthy attitude towards conservation and protection of native environments, they are a natural fit to spearhead the project and provide a benchmark for further exploration within the field of soundscape ecology in the Waikato. “The inaugural ecological sound map trip with the Junats club to Lake Ngaroto took place on Sunday 6th August 2023, late morning,” says Macpherson.

The sound map will become an interactive online tool where users can listen to a specific location's sonic environment with recordings continued year after year, revisiting the same locations. “The purpose to revisit specific locations is to create a resource that records changes in an environment over time [soundscape ecology],” he says.

Following the methodologies set out by the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, the aim is to foster understanding of the world and its natural environment, societies and cultures through the practices of listening and field recording. Macpherson says, “Empirically environmentalism does not incorporate sound as a measure of ecological shifts through time. The aim with this project is to encourage active listening as another form of ecological consciousness.” 

Macpherson explains that the environmental impact of human din (anthropophony) is a key source of pollution and the practice of soundscape ecology is emerging as a powerful tool to measure this. With access to the specialist equipment to accurately capture this sonic data, paired with training sessions, students will learn to accurately capture this sonic data and build recording technique skills to capture clear, focused recordings. 

By getting youth involved Macpherson hopes it will give them a deeper understanding of the environment we are part of and the effects of human impact. “By listening through the technology and re-contextualising 'sound as data' they are able to reflect on the sonic qualities of a space and how its sonic characteristics change over time,” he says. 

“It's important to get youth thinking about the impact of human din on all living things, including the impact noise pollution has on humans themselves”.

Find out more about Cartographic Sound Map - Soundscape Ecology Project lead, Kent Macpherson (Researcher and Educator at Wintec | Te Pukenga), here.

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