Unsound Landscapes, Beastly Soundscapes (2021)

How does sound and soundscape composition participate in setting boundaries between humans and animals? Can soundscape compositions be made for the animal world as the primary listener?

This audio/visual essay attempts to address these questions by focusing on the impact of railway infrastructure on more-than-human realms. More specifically, the piece attempts to inspect an inconspicuous, yet beastly invention known as UOZ 1 or Animal Protection Device. It is a set of loudspeakers designed by a Polish company NEEL to create a sonic boundary along the railway as to keep forest animals from crossing the tracks. Needless to say, by protecting animals from colliding with approaching trains, this sonic boundary simultaneously (and, perhaps, primarily) protects human infrastructure and sustains its dominance.

The sound installation is set to broadcast a meticulously designed soundscape composition - a collage made of sounds of animals in distress - each time a train approaches a particular part of the forest. This invention is a starting point to discuss what constitutes beastliness if we focus on sound as a vector of power relations between humans and animals.

The project also brings to the fore the work of Simona Kossak, a professor of forest science who passed away 14 years ago. Kossak spent most of her life living in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland, where she committed herself to learn and understand the psychology of wild animals. Her research contributed to the development of the "key stimuli simulation" which was subsequently used to compose the sequence of alarming signals for the UOZ1. This strand of her research allows us to consider Simona Kossak's work as not only pioneering in the field of acoustic ecology in this part of the world, but also provokes us to rethink the concept soundscape and soundscape composition if we acknowledge the fallacy of boundaries between culture and nature.

The piece was commissioned as an audio paper for Glissando, a Polish magazine dedicated to contemporary music and sound art. It was featured among others in an issue dedicated to rethinking Acoustic Ecology. Original version, entitled "Soundscape as a border. On Acoustic Boundaries, the Theatre for Animals and Simona Kossak" (in Polish only), can be listened here

On September 10, 2021, the piece was presented as an audio/video essay in collaboration with Girilal Baars at Beastly Landscapes Symposium organized by Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts.

Video essay