PhD. Environmental Composition Approaches. A Portfolio of Works

Environmental Composition Approaches. A Portfolio of Works
PhD in Artistic Research. Electroacoustic Music Composition and Sonic Arts Practice
Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Queen´s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Promoters: Dr Simon Waters and Professor Pedro Rebelo
Reviewers: Professor Angus Carlyle (CRiSAP, UAL, London) and Dr Miguel Ortiz (SARC, QUB, Belfast)
PhD viva (defence) on 14.11.2018.

PhD publication. June 2019.
Hardcover. A4. 265 pages. 30 color images.
Flash Drive. Laser-engraved maple wood 64 GB USB card.
Limited edition of five (two copies are USB flash drive only).


This practice-as-research PhD embodies a continuum of approaches to environmental electroacoustic composition and ecological sound art, based on enmeshed lines of aesthetic inquiry. The portfolio draws on phonography (field recording), studio-based practice, live performance, and on-site (architectural) intervention exploring different listening, transduction (recording, reproduction), sound-sculpting, and spatial compositional strategies. The projects pursue an open-ended investigation of listening, duration, space, materiality, non-human vitality and otherness, with a focus on the limits and thresholds of human perception and attention. The experiences put forward explore the vibrant entanglements of bodies, creatures, energies, materials, spaces, and technologies, encouraging ecological sensory awareness.

The portfolio features ten major projects grouped into four clusters attending to their primary modes of listening. The first cluster corresponds to extensive fieldwork in the central Brazilian Amazon and its primary outcome, the immersive durational ambisonic project series entangled (xirminja nahpy benry). The second group corresponds to m·e·s·h [earthworks], a long-term body of work featuring pieces for intimate headphone listening which are manifested in releases, broadcasts and public events in various contexts, and as dedicated gallery-based exhibitions. The portfolio includes twenty pieces from this ongoing project series. The third cluster features four site-determined temporary sound works in architectural and public spaces created in response to their specific conditions and situations. The four projects within this cluster are: !!! (volumen), La Casa Encendida, Madrid (2014); kazum®, Rhizzo: De Supermarkt, Amsterdam (2014); PS4, PS2 Gallery, Belfast (2016); and untitled (sharawadji), Fundación March, Madrid (2016-17). The fourth group features sonic experiences in a live performance event context, termed ‘immersive concerts’. The projects within this group are: [in]audible, spectrum (ståtic limbø), out of earshot, and twilight concerts. They have been performed at several events internationally.

The ecological thinking which permeates this body of work goes beyond the widespread ‘green’ frame of understanding, challenging notions of ecology and nature which take the environment as something exterior to the human and culture. Distinctions and hierarchies between animate/inanimate, human/ non-human, subject/object, natural/artificial, and knowing/experiencing are blurred in explicit and subtle ways in the projects. This practice proposes to move away from an anthropocentric understanding of the world, de-centring the human in favour of a concern for the non-human and encouraging truly ecological awareness. This ecological thought goes beyond strictly biotic understandings of vitality and the non-human, giving attention as well to the agencies of materials, energies (electricity, electromagnetism, light, sound), weather, architecture, and technology. Recognising vitality beyond the human makes it also possible to think sounds and works of art as phenomenological entities that in some strong sense display “something like agency and something like affect” (Morton 2017).

The modes of listening fostered in this portfolio emphasise intensified, sustained forms of attention, and enactive, non-prescriptive, participatory, sensuous, and direct felt experience. The works operate as catalysts for shifts in perception, able to function as transformative tools, as agents for change and personal investigation, cultivating alternative forms of being and thinking. Listening becomes a political act, intended to resist dominant tendencies in contemporary societies, moving away from anthropocentric, representational, narrative, utilitarian, and visual-centric paradigms.

The doctoral submission consists of a written account (thesis) alongside a standalone web application and original project materials stored on a USB flash drive. The thesis combines an ethos and critical framework with a description and reflection on process. The text sets out a context for the appreciation and assessment of the works, drawing from diverse practices and theoretical arguments, and mobilising ideas and speculations on the nature of perception and reality itself, art, music, ecology, listening, phonography and electroacoustic sound composition. The thesis engages with relevant literature, situating the practice within contemporary cultural ecologies (societal-political-philosophical), citing perceived controversies and concerns regarding prevailing listening practices, towards the outline of a personal artistic position. The description of process is understood expansively to embrace writing that corresponds to creative and technical strategies (involving fieldwork, studio work, and curatorial choices), commissioning and production contexts, and impressions on how the listeners-participants are engaged.

This research contributes the perspective of an artist working within a fluid community of practice, proposing alternatives to canonical assumptions and representations of creative practice engaged with environmental sound, and of environmentally-concerned and ecological art. Furthermore, the PhD submission offers a detailed and personal perspective on the contemporary condition of doing work and seeking its dissemination and viability while pursuing an ethical attitude which informs the works and related activities.


Foreword. Notes on the PhD Submission
Summary of Chapters
Chapter 1 ¡ Context Walkthrough. Artistic Ethos
1.1 Environment, Nature, Ecology, Non-Human Vitality and Otherness
1.2 Perception, Experience, and Phenomenal Art
1.3 Modes of Listening. Phonography
1.4 Cultural Ecology. Notes Toward a Phenomenal Ecological Sounding Art
Chapter 2 ¡ Field Project in Amazonas and entangled (xirminja nahpy benry)
2.2 MamirauĂĄ and AmanĂŁ, Amazonas, Brazil
2.3 Fieldwork
2.3.1 Fieldwork Development
2.3.2 Amazonian Sonic Environments
2.3.3 Durational Distributed Recording
2.3.4 Other Recording Strategies
2.4 Studio Work. Distributed Listening Strategies
2.5 entangled (xirminja nahpy benry)
Chapter 3 ¡ m¡e¡s¡h [earthworks]
3.1 The Mesh and the Meshwork: an Eco-aesthetic Framework
3.2 Creative Playground
3.3 Composing Your Attention. Modes of Listening
3.3.1 Portable Listening. Releases
3.3.2 Gallery Exhibition Mode
3.3.3 Experience vs Information
Chapter 4 ¡ Site-determined Installations
4.1 Site-determined Practice. Sound-Spaces
4.1.1 Notes on Site-determined Practice
4.1.2 Sound-Space, Specific Sites, and ‘Anywheres’
4.2 !!! (volumen), La Casa Encendida, Madrid, 2014
4.3 kazumÂŽ, Rhizzo: De Supermarkt, Amsterdam, 2014
4.4 PS4, PS2 Gallery, Belfast, 2016
4.5 untitled (sharawadji), FundaciĂłn March, Madrid, 2016-17
Chapter 5 ¡ Immersive Concerts
5.1 Immersive Multichannel Concerts. Live Performance Practice
5.2 [in]audible
5.3 spectrum (stütic limbø)
5.4 out of earshot
5.5 twilight concerts
Appendix ¡ List of Activities and Public Manifestations


A standalone web application made with Cockpit. Design and implementation by Sergio MillĂĄn.
Original project materials and documentation (uncompressed multichannel and stereo audio files, images, text, and software).

cluster 1
entangled (xirminja nahpy benry) and fieldwork in Amazonas
ambisonic 8-channel audio, 6 hours 35 min (∞)
four stereo excerpts, 17 min.
a photo-essay featuring one hundred captioned images

cluster 2
m¡e¡s¡h [earthworks]
twenty stereo works for headphone listening from the ongoing series. a total duration of 6 hours 37 min.
visual artwork based on location photos, satellite images, text, and spectrogram visualisations

cluster 3
site-determined works
!!! (volumen), kazumÂŽ, PS4, and untitled (sharawadji)
original installation sound materials
stereo documentation and excerpts, total duration of 12 min.
two pieces of software programmed with Max/MSP
photo documentation, process, site and installation views, diagrams, illustrations
project notes (PDF)

cluster 4
immersive concerts / live performance works
[in]audible, spectrum (stütic limbø), out of earshot, and twilight concerts
4-channel audio, 31 min, complete piece
stereo for headphones, 32 min, complete piece
eight stereo excerpts, combined duration of 38 min.
visual artwork and live events photo documentation