Echoes from an Uncertain Reef

Matthew Buttacavoli (James Cook University), Sebastian J. Lowe (James Cook University), Anna Jalving, Adam Purdy, Ingibjörg Yr, Jeremy Mayall.

Abstract

What does the future of the Great Barrier Reef sound like?

Sound is an important communicative medium for reef species, such as clown fish, snapping shrimp, and migrating whales. The quality and texture of a reef’s soundscape is also an indicator of reef health. As coral reefs around the world are deteriorating, their soundscapes are getting more simple and quiet. We approached a number of international artists for their response to the uncertain future of the Great Barrier Reef. Each was asked to engage with a recording from Shark Mountain at Norman Reef recorded by Matthew Buttacavoli as part of his doctoral research. Each found a quiet urgency in this recording and responded in kind.

The resulting sound piece, Echoes, features the work of artists from Aotearoa New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark who collectively remind us of the place of the Great Barrier Reef in global ecological imaginaries.

Listening to Echoes it is possible to detect at least four interrelated themes: contact, globalism, temporality and and the role of the creativity and the senses in focusing our attention. Jalving’s poem invites us to come and become part of a reefy world, not separate from it. Purdy takes us further to explore the subaquatic world. Jalving’s Danish poem and Yr’s piece featuring an Icelandic child reading climate change articles reminds the listener that of the global concern for this World Heritage Site. Yr’s child reminds us once again that the future of the Reef is also the future for the next generation and so on. Mayall’s piece continues this play with time as he stretches and pulls at the sound itself. The original recording by Buttacavoli closes the cycle. With imaginations primed by the first four pieces, this final sound segment invites listeners to attend to the unadorned sizzle of snapping shrimp, the grunt of reef fish, the activity of divers, and the whirl of the boat engine.

Presenter Biographies

Echoes was collaboratively created by a collection of academically minded researchers, musicians, and sound artists. Matthew Buttacavoli and Sebastian J. Lowe are anthropologists of sound and the environment. They manage the Listening Post sound installation in the Cairns Institute at James Cook University, Cairns Campus (where Echoes first premiered). Anna Jalving is a Danish violinist, improvisator and performer. Adam Purdy, A.K.A. Bluesleep, is a New Zealand musician working in electronic music. Ingibjörg Yr is an Icelandic soundscape artist and acoustic composer. Jeremy Mayall is a New Zealand composer, artist and researcher as well as the CEO of Creative Waikato.

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