Writing by Hildegard Westerkamp

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The Disruptive Nature of Listening: Today Yesterday Tomorrow (in "Sound, Media, Ecology")

By Hildegard Westerkamp

Available in this book (new tab)

“The Disruptive Nature of Listening: Today Yesterday Tomorrow" in: Sound, Media, Ecology. Eds Milena Droumeva and Randolph Jordan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019, pp 45-63.


In this chapter I will discuss the emergence of a listening sensibility inspired by acoustic ecology, and grounded in my own personal histories in the World Soundscape Project (WSP), and decades of work as a soundscape composer - a sensibility that is both a practice, a metaphor for research, and an active force of engagement with the conditions of modern life.

The introduction offers a definition of what is meant by the disruptive nature of listening. This then is further discussed in the context of the 1970s when the WSP was active in Vancouver, when the post WWII atmosphere was still hovering in Europe and North America and when the Vietnam War was in full action. I propose that this extraordinary time created a certain nature of listening, a new daring of opening the senses, of listening to “what is” for the first time in years, generations perhaps. It unleashed, so I remember, special energies in large parts of the post war generation, to initiate political and social changes and new approaches to cultural production. It created a certain revolutionary tone in our generation that found its way into literature and other writings, including that of R. Murray Schafer and the member of the WSP.

In the end this article explores what has happened to the fundamental message of our original soundscape work, whether and in what ways it has survived the changes in the world, whether the energy and language tone of the 70s still makes sense today, and whether a rethinking, a re-articulation can relevantly update its basic proposal for acoustic ecological changes in today’s very different environmental, social and political atmosphere.