OneBeat Labs: Sound & The World Around Us

Objectives: To learn how and to what extent sound can impact our awareness and understanding of different environments, environmental change, and environmental crisis. To learn about sounds found in the natural world and what they tell us about science & environmental change.

Critical questions: How does sound affect our experience or understanding of something? What do particular sounds found in nature tell us about our earth and changing environment? How are artists using sound to amplify issues around our changing environment? How are the sciences turning to arts to amplify understanding of the environment and changing climate conditions?

Unit 1 – Sonic Ecosystems

PART 1:  The Soundscape

Opening Discussion: How do we define our sonic environment? Select from the following questions to discuss as a class.

What is the Soundscape? What is the difference between hearing and listening? What are the ways in which we locate and understand sound? In what way is listening a subjective practice? Does subjective listening have an impact on how and what we communicate, and if so, what impact does it have? What are the different ways that we listen?

Opening Activity: Read Chapter 1 of The Soundscape by R Murray Schafer (p.15-28)

Exercise: Sound Mapping + Listening.

(Students will need a large piece of paper and colored pencils / pens)

Aim: Locating and discerning sounds within the soundscape

Lead the group through a deep listening activation: Close their eyes. First focus on your own breathing, taking intentional in and out breaths. Settle your body in the space through the breath and hear your breath. After a couple of minutes of slow and deep breaths,  attune your ears to the sonic environment, starting with the farthest sounds and gradually leading back closer. Start by locating sounds outside of the room and work your way back to center.

Open your eyes and translate the soundscape you heard as a visual map, with yourself in the center. Draw a circle, with yourself in the center, and draw the sounds you heard around you. Note the locations of the sounds, the sound levels, the quality.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the loudest sound you hear?
  • What is the softest sound you hear?
  • Three sounds above you?
  • Three sounds behind you?
  • Moving sounds?
  • The ugliest  sounds?
  • The most beautiful?
  • A repetitive sound?
  • A sound that changed direction?
  • A sound made by something opening?
  • A repetitive sound?
  • Most remarkable sound?
  • A sound that either slowly rose or slowly fell in pitch?
  • The sounds you would have liked to eliminate from this soundscape?

Use different colors | patterns | symbols to indicate sound source, quality, volume etc – be creative!

Discussion | Reflection: What was interesting about this exercise?  How did you approach it? What do you notice about how you heard & listened vs. fellow students?

Extra / Homework : Start a Sound Journal

Over the duration of this Lab ,students will be asked to keep a Sound Journal, taking notes of sounds you hear each day.

  • Before you go to sleep, close your eyes for 5 minutes and make a note of all the sounds you hear. Do the same when you wake up in the morning
  • Write them down. Note where they are in relation to you in the room or the house or outside. How far or close are they? What kinds of sounds are they – moving, repetitive, short, long, high, low etc.
  • Write something everyday during the day, taking notes of sounds you hear, the time you hear them, your reactions to them, general thoughts on the acoustic environment, and anything you consider significant as you listen.

PART 2:  Sound Walks

Opening Activity: Share a note from your first sound journal (optional).

Listening / Discussion : Walking Lab Podcast

Discussion: What is a sound walk? What are the different styles / types of sound walks? How do they differ?

Discussion: In small groups, discuss: What is a unique sound of your neighborhood? What does that sound tell you about your neighborhood?

Exercise: Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Mediation V – “Walk so silently that your feet become ears”

Depending on space and location, a few iterations of this exercise can be practiced. First, in the classroom, students can close their eyes – as if they are in darkness – and move very slowly and intentionally around the classroom. Alternatively, if you have access to outdoor space, you can guide the students through this exercise in an outdoor environment where there will be more access to a diversity of sounds. The instructions are to keep your eyes closed, and walk slowly and intentionally around a space.

Discussion: What did you notice during the exercise? Did this simple instruction help you to attune differently to your environment and open up your own “field of listening”? If so, how did that feel?

Exercise: Sound Walk

Lead students on a 5-10 minute sound walk –  this can be around the school grounds, or even a neighborhood, depending on the environment. A sound walk should be done in silence, with careful attention paid to the sonic environment. Ideally students should have access to basic recording devices — this could be phones — and headphones. Lead students on a silent walk along a particular route, asking them to pay careful attention to what they hear. Then have them repeat the route on their own, focusing on the distinct sounds they noticed, and recording those sounds on their recording devices.

Return to the classroom and have the students draw a map of the route on paper, marking the location of the particular sounds they heard and identified. Ask them to write down specific instructions for both walking and listening – focusing those instructions on the particular sounds they each identified. For example, if a sound they identified was small and close to the ground, encourage them to provide instructions for really locating and reaching that sound (eg: bend down towards the small hole in the wall, etc).

Extra | Homework: 

  • Practice Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Mediation V: “Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.” Follow these simple instructions and use your sound journal to reflect on how this exercise made you feel. Did you hear + listen differently? Did you discover new sounds you had not noticed before?
  • Read Finding Purchase: Walks of Witness on Stolen Land by Nathaniel Popkin

Unit 2 – Sound and Environmental Awareness

PART 1:  Soundscape Ecology

Sound is a powerful indicator of environmental degradation and its study is an effective tool for developing more sustainable ecosystems. We often hear changes in the environment, such as shifts in bird calls, before we see them. In 2014 UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) formed a sound charter to promote awareness of sound as a critical signifier in environmental health and urban planning.

Soundscape Ecology is a fairly new field of study and focus within environmental awareness and scientific studies of the environment. Sounds are a perpetual and dynamic property of all landscapes. The sounds of animals and the nonbiological sounds of running water and rustling wind emanate from natural landscapes. Urban landscapes, in contrast, are dominated by human-produced sounds radiating from a variety of sources, such as machines, sirens, and the friction of tires rotating on pavement.

Opening Discussion: Can you think of and name any changes in your sonic environment due to changing climate, or the influence of industrial development / gentrification / changing landscapes? Take a few minutes to write down some of these. Discuss.

Watch Bernie Kraus TED Talk

What are the messages of this talk? Write down three interesting things you heard.

Watch / Visit: In small groups or individually, visit the Ears2TheGround website, which was co-developed by producer Sandunes. Explore the site. Read the interview with Ajoy Thipaiah, and listen to audio from Kerehaklu on the interactive map.

Additional Resource: Sandunes Portrait

Discussion: How is sound and its study being used in this case to create environmental awareness? What kind of awareness is it engendering? What are some sounds that exist and perhaps sounds that no longer exist in your immediate environments?   How was listening changed or affected by the pandemic, or by being isolated, or by staying at home more?

Exercise: Sound walk or “listening score”

**This can be done in pairs depending on class size and aims. 

Have students start to create their own Sound Walk or “Listening Score.”

  • First decide on what the location of the sound walk will be and why.
  • Plot out the route. Pick at least 5 locations of interest / importance
  • Create a map of the route (maps can be hand drawn and creative – or can use online tools like Google Maps as a resource)
  • Consider the map as a musical score. What are the areas / sounds you wish to draw the listeners or participants’ attention to? Mark them on your map
  • Provide instructions for walking and listening. What are the particular sonic experiences you would want the listener to have, and how can you guide them to have it? Is there a particular time of day necessary to hear these sounds? Other things to consider?
  • Create a map legend to indicate important sites and instructions.


PART 2: Sonic Imagination

Opening Activity: Watch MIHNA video + read interview with producer Luisa Puterman

Discussion: How does the Imaginary Museum of the Amazon (MINHA) use imagination and sound to encourage awareness? In what ways is imagination important for the fight against climate devastation? Do you have examples of sound and/or music inspiring your own imagination?

Exercise: Revisit the sound walk maps / scores. Ask students to reconsider their scores with this element of environmental awareness in mind. Is there anything they would add or change to draw attention to the environment in a different way, or increase awareness among the listeners / participants?


Unit 3 – Making A Sound Walk

The last part of this module is reserved for students to continue developing and making their own sound walks or listening scores. Encourage them to review the various examples shared over the course of the module.

  • A sound walk can draw attention to the immediate existing environment, it can also draw the listeners attention to something in particular.
  • The sound walk could also make use of the imaginary as discussed in Unit 2.
  • Students could also make guided walks for a space that no longer exists, imagining what it may have sounded like 50-100 years before, or they could create a walk for a future landscape – researching the effects of climate change on a particular place and painting a “sonic picture” of what that may sound like as a result.
  • Ask students to consider whether they would like their sound walk to address a particular theme or issue – for example, does the sound walk take place in a particular location of environmental concern, or a landscape being heavily impacted by climate change, urbanization or gentrification?  Are there sounds becoming lost, or extinct as a result that the sound walk could highlight?  How could they use imagination, storytelling and sound to create a future or past sound walk?

Extra / Homework: 

  • Record your sound walk with a mobile recording device. Students can upload finished sound walks to Walk Listen Create website with a registered account, under a Creative Commons License


Return to Unit Overview

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