society & the sea

Loud un-clear: marine acoustic pollution everyday listening (a performative presentation using spatial audio and headphones)


I guess Mariners aren’t really set up for performative presentations. Even within the arts, I might struggle to sell people on the idea of performative presentations for conferences. Not the people in the pews. The variability in quality of talks, along with the necessarily weighty subject matter in such conferences mean that audiences are delighted by the prospect of punctuation, reprieve, relief.

But academia is not the most dynamic beast, and even in subversive circles in academia, performative talks feel risky. I might just not declare it as such next time, and take people by surprise.

I wasn’t overly surprised when my performative presentation – though accepted – was gradually turned into an installation. And that installation ended up turning into a TV screen with headphones. I ended up putting together a sound-image piece despite insufficient lead-time. I am not proud of it. It’s on my list of things to re-work. But at least I didn’t have to get 50+ headphones synchronised and working (I guess they had just cause for seeing the original concept as risky).

Marine acoustic pollution is a thing. It’s been a thing for a while, and there is a mounting body of research and media to show it’s making its way onto some agendas in some places. Never enough, at least if you’re an affected marine non-human. But out of sight…

The NRDC are doing good work to bring this to public awareness, having produced a primer on the subject and even a film narrated by Rachel McAdams (if a celebrity knows about something before you do… consider what that might mean). Sonic Sea from NRDC on Vimeo.

Anyway, back to the conference. People were very nice. I was a little out of my depth, not being a marine biologist (only in the fantasy life in my head). I learned about things like ocean literacy and maritime heritage. Unfortunately, I got caught on camera laughing too earnestly in their promo video, which is worth a view even if the music bed – like the sea bed perhaps – is acoustically polluted (with generic major key strumming).

It was a great event and I connected to work and people in areas I had no idea existed. And even in these circles, I got to communicate to new audiences how acoustically polluted our oceans are, and how it affects non-humans.