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The soundcape speaks

by Hildegard Westerkamp

In response to Rewire’s 2023 theme Instrumental Ecologies, composer, radio artist, and sound ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp contributes with her audio piece The Soundscape Speaks, in which she turns to her archive of sound recordings, inviting us to listen to the environment across time and space. Rewire will open this year’s festival with the piece as part of a collective listening session.

For The Soundscape Speaks, originally commissioned by BEAST FEaST in 2021, Hildegard Westerkamp used the opportunity to reflect back on more than 40 years of sound recording and composing with environmental sound. Here she asks: 

What is our relationship to the environment? Is the natural environment interesting enough to us – indeed, do we know enough about it – that we would want to protect and save it from further ravages? The sound environment has much to tell us – it simply ‘voices’ all activities - and if we dare to really listen, we may sense the depth of the environmental trouble the world is facing. In The Soundscape Speaks, I have brought together many of my recordings and compositional approaches in a fluid stream of listening while also softly speaking my mind about issues of soundscape ecology. It is an invitation to open yourselves to the complexities of listening itself and the possibilities it may offer to recalibrating your own relationship to the environment.

Watch "The Soundscape Speaks - Soundwalking Revisited, audio excerpt" by "Rewire" on

Hildegard Westerkamp came from Germany to Vancouver in 1968 and has lived on these ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples ever since, gratefully acknowledging that her career as composer, radio artist, educator, and sound ecologist blossomed on these lands. Her work with the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver and first broadcast experiences on Vancouver Co-op Radio in the 1970s gave her inspiration and creative tools to last a lifetime. Westerkamp’s pioneering musical works and writing at the intersections of environmentalism, acoustic communication, radio arts, listening practices, and soundwalking activate an awareness that sound is a decisive dimension of the world – an idea that underpins contemporary thinking across social, political, artistic, and scientific practices of environmental respect and concern.

In her talk The Practice of Listening in Unsettled Times, she argues that

the seemingly simple act of listening to the environment often leads to unexpected complexities of thoughts, sensations and emotions that are not quantifiable or measurable. When we listen for example on a soundwalk, we simultaneously take in the current conditions of the acoustic environment and those of our innermost sound world, our thoughts and emotions. The nature of this fluidity between our inner and outer sound worlds is both highly personal and at the same time universal. It is here where the real journey of listening starts.

Once we learn that listening in itself is a grounded and grounding place, which nevertheless is always in motion, we recognize its inspirational nature. Its inherent motion forms the real base for grappling with the deeply personal in ecology and culture, for moving beyond self-absorption and navel gazing, and finally facing, accepting and integrating the complexities of listening as a type of depth approach towards caring ecologically for the health of our soundscapes and the beings within it.

The opening programme of Rewire festival 2023 on Thursday 6 April will open with a listening session of The Soundscape Speaks at The Grey Space in The Middle.

The Soundscape Speaks has been released in its entirety on the DVD The P-ART Project “OPEN, curated by Paul A. R. Timmermans.