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Working title: Hearing the Southern Ocean through Music, by Rachel Meyers

Project Overview
This project will investigate musical and sound art engagements with the Southern Ocean. The project will​ be significant because it will be
the first to identify, analyse and compare a set of ocean-related musical works. It aims to contribute to the burgeoning field of research in
‘ecomusicology’ (a sub-field of musicology that considers music, place and the environment), and to the scholarly literature concerning the
role of music and the acoustic in shaping our understanding of place, landscape, and environmental concerns.​ It is expected that the project
will define a set of musical representations of an oceanic ecosystem peculiar to a local context, and that the themes of deep listening, and
collaboration between composers and the natural world, will be of particular interest. More broadly, it will extend current understandings of
how music and sound can convey important messages about environmental issues to key players.
Overall aims and objectives
The aim of this project is to demonstrate that there are myriad ways in which music can stimulate deep listeners to engage and reconnect with
the ocean, and ultimately encourage environmental stewardship. The research questions include: How might musical engagements with the
Southern Ocean inform us about the contemporary or historical environmental imagination? What musical language do composers use to
convey scientific data, and what are the stories that they seek to represent? How do the works impact on our understanding of environmental
issues? How can deep listening to the ocean in music affect and influence public perception of oceans, particularly the Southern Ocean?
The objectives of this project are to address a gap in the research considering musical engagements with the ocean as a body of works;
analyse and compare ocean-related musical compositions to determine how the ocean and our cultural interactions with it have been
conveyed in musical terms; investigate composers’ motivations for engaging with the ocean in their music; strengthen and quantify the
bridges built between science and the arts in such collaborations; explore the interplay between acoustic perception and ecological
The ​Grove Dictionary of American Music ​defines ecomusicology as ‘the study of music, culture, and nature in all the complexities of those
terms. Ecomusicology considers musical and sonic issues, both textual and performative, related to ecology and the natural environment’
(Grove Dictionary of Music, 2014). By considering music and sound in relation to place and environmental problems such as climate change,
ecomusicologists have recognised that it is possible to ‘engage community’ in debates, ‘help effect cultural change’, and make us ‘truly care’
about specific places and environmental problems (Allen, Titon and Von Glahn 2014: 10, 23; Ingram 2010: 238).
As a field, ecomusicology is in its relative infancy. With some notable exceptions (Feld 1990, 1996; Grimley 2006; Schafer 1977; Stillman
2000, 2002; Solomon 2000; Rothenberg and Ulvaeus 2001; Von Glahn 2003), it is only within the last ten years that the scholars in the field
have begun to come together to ask how music might inform our understandings of both lived and perceived notions of the natural world.
There is no single established theoretical protocol or set methodology for ecomusicological studies, given the interdisciplinary nature of the
field; most scholars in the field employ a suite of research methods tailored to their particular projects.
As public awareness of the current environmental crisis has grown in recent years, so too have musicians and composers recognised the
power of creative output that directly addresses real-world experiences and issues pertaining to the natural environment. For example, ​ex
Oceano ​by Matthew Dewey, selected works by Nigel Helyer aka Dr Sonique, ​Southern Ocean​ by Andrew Schultz, Liza Lim’s ​Extinction
Events and Dawn Chorus, ​and Katy Abbott’s ​Introduced Species: Symphony no. 2 for Orchestra, ​all aim to sonically represent and raise
awareness to the threat that pollution and climate change pose to Earth’s oceans. For some composers, the direct experience of engaging with
the environment as well as incorporating scientific data is vital to their compositional process, while others rely on a perceived notion of the
Scientists too are recognising the power of music to communicate a scientific message in a language ‘far stronger’ than data presentation
alone (Moser 2010: 40). It is now recognised that incorporating science and pro-environmental communication into creative works can
increase the impact of scientific work, educate people, and influence cultural behaviours (Curtis, Reid and Ballard 2012: 3).
Music and sounds can shape and enhance a deep connection with place. ​Researchers from a broad range of fields, from philosophy to history
and anthropology, are now recognising the value of taking sound and music as primary areas of investigation (Damousi and Hamilton 2017:
1). According to philosopher of place Jeff Malpas, by focusing on sound, we are offered ‘an alternative route for the exploration of our world
and our relation to it’ and provided with ‘new ways to experience’ places that ‘can itself have an extraordinary and powerful affect’ (Malpas
2007). In the past, ‘(ethno)musicological studies of place have focused predominantly on social perception and musical construction with far
less attention being paid to environmental materiality, to the affective bonds with nonhuman elements (sentient or otherwise), or to the
perception and experience of the physical environment’ (Guy, 2009: 219).
Although half the world’s population lives within 160 kilometres of the ocean, few today have a working knowledge of the sea.
Oceanography, the study of the ocean, is still a young science, and more than 95% of the planet Earth’s oceans remain unexplored (National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Service, 2017). Yet large numbers of people know about the ocean through artistic renderings, including musical
compositions. Recently, humanities scholarship has begun giving deserved attention to the ocean, with the rise of the subfield known as the
‘Blue Humanities’ or ‘Oceanic Humanities,’ and the establishment of several interdisciplinary research centres such as HMAP (History of
Marine Animal Populations) and Duke University’s ‘Oceans Connect’ initiative, as well as closer to home with the ‘Oceanic Cultures and
Connections’ strategic theme area at the University of Tasmania, as well as increasing numbers of scholarly publications in the area (Mentz
Research Methods
This project will identify and analyse a set of ocean-related musical compositions (from both the Western art music tradition and
non-traditional soundscape art) as case studies — examples are given in the ‘background’ section above. I will utilise the skills developed
during my Masters research to undertake close analytical readings using musical scores and sound recordings. I will also consider the
historical and cultural contexts of the works, and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with key composers will be integral to this process. My
primary supervisor, Dr Carolyn Philpott, has already established partnerships with many composers who engage with the Antarctic and
Southern Ocean, and there are established connections between Associate Professor Andrew Legg and a major composer of interest to the
project, Nigel Helyer. Dr Philpott has experience in applying for ethics approval and will mentor me in the methodology of structuring, and
analysis of, composer interviews.
Significance and Contribution
While the field and interdisciplinary relevance of ecomusicology continues to grow, much of this work has centred on the far north (Adams
2009). The far south has so far been strikingly understudied, especially in relation to music, despite the fact that it has been a potent source of
inspiration for some of the most significant composers of the past century, including Vaughan Williams, Maxwell Davies, George Fenton,
and Howard Goodall (Philpott 2016).
The project will​ be significant because it will be the first to analyse and compare a set of ocean-related musical works. It will focus on the
Southern Ocean and contribute to the growing discourse about this particular ocean (and the continent it surrounds — Antarctica) within the
humanities. Additionally, it will contribute to the growing field of research that considers environment-related music and how it engages with
the issues of climate change and pollution.
Strategic Alignment
This application is submitted under the named project ‘Antarctic Cultures’ led by my proposed co-supervisor Assoc. Prof. Leane. It is ideally
aligned with both research strengths of UTAS and the expertise of the supervisory team. The UTAS Marine, Antarctic and Maritime
Research Theme currently supports the multidisciplinary research group ‘Oceanic Cultures and Connections,’ which last year funded a
musical composition responding to the oceanographic research within IMAS. Leane is co-director of the MAM theme and the OCC group.
Institutes including IMAS and the AMC are world leaders in oceanographic and maritime research, and will provide an excellent means for
me to be connected to relevant scientific communities. This interdisciplinary research project strongly aligns with two other UTAS research
themes: Creativity, Culture and Society; and Environment, Resources and Sustainability, as does the research output of primary supervisor
Dr Carolyn Philpott.
Dr Philpott is an Affiliated Researcher with the Institute for the Study of Social Change (ISSC), which aims to enhance understandings of the
causes of social change and to develop strategies to address it, and bears particular relevance to the Creativity, Culture and Society theme
area. UTAS has recently further invested in research concentrations in this theme by establishing the Creative Exchange Institute (CXI),
which aims to facilitate creative arts-led research, recognising that the arts offer diverse forms of representation and interpretation of our
society and environment. This project matches precisely with CXI’s goals to encourage innovative interdisciplinary investigation of the arts
in relation to place, people, nature and change.
CALE has established strength in environmental research, and Dr Philpott and A/Prof. Leane are leaders of the research cluster/strategic
research area ‘Antarctic Engagements’. Scholars from a range of disciplines at UTAS investigate questions related to place, with
Distinguished Professor Jeff Malpas an international leader within this field, while the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) is
internationally recognised as a leading academic centre for Antarctic research. In addition to employing scientists, IMAS has staff and
graduate students working in the social sciences and humanities in relation to Antarctica, including co-supervisor Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth
Leane, whose ARC Future Fellowship is split between the School of Humanities and IMAS. A/Prof. Leane and Dr Philpott have worked and
collaborated on several publications and projects in recent years. IMAS is eager to extend its interdisciplinary reach, and in recognition of Dr
Philpott’s Antarctic-related research, the Institute has recently appointed her to the position of Adjunct Researcher, enabling her, and I,
regular contact with leading scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars working in Antarctic studies.
Musicology is an emerging research area at UTAS: the University’s first appointment in musicology, Dr Anne-Marie Forbes, was made in
2000. Dr Forbes’s research has established a platform for the development of a critical mass of researchers within the field of music at
UTAS, which has been spurred on more recently by Dr Philpott.
Work plan:
Year 1: Submit ethics application, conduct a literature review, contact composers to arrange interviews, gain copies of relevant musical
scores and recordings, and conduct relevant musical analyses. Continue work commenced pre-candidature on an article for peer-reviewed
publication, co-authored with primary supervisor Dr Carolyn Philpott..
Year 2: Continue drafting chapters, analyse interview data and musical examples. Present papers at the Musicological Society of Australia
annual conference, and at tSCAR Open Science Conference in Hobart (2020).
Year 3: Complete and submit thesis. Present at an international conference. Submit at least one article to a top-quartile journal for peer
Adams,​ J. L. ​The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music.​ Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2009. ​Allen,
Aaron S; Titon. “Sustainability and Sound: Ecomusicology Inside and Outside the Academy.” ​Music and Politics​ VIII, no. 2 (Summer
2014). ​Curtis, ​David, Nick Reid, and Guy Ballard. “Communicating Ecology Through Art: What Scientists Think.” ​Ecology and Society​ 17,
no. 2 (April 30, 2012). ​Damousi, ​Joy, and Paula Hamilton. ​A Cultural History of Sound, Memory and the Senses,​ 2017. ​Feld, ​Steven. ​Sound
and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression.​ Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2012. ​Garrett, ​Charles
Hiroshi. ​The Grove Dictionary of American Music​, 2013. ​Glahn, ​Denise Von. ​Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural
Landscape.​ Boston: Northeastern Univ Press, 2009. ​Grimley, ​Daniel M. ​Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity​, 2006. ​Guy,
Nancy​. “Flowing Down Taiwan’s Tamsui River: Towards an Ecomusicology of the Environmental Imagination.” ​Ethnomusicology​ 53, no. 2
(2009): 218–48. ​Hobba, ​Leigh, J. E Malpas, Jonathan Holmes, and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. ​Leigh Hobba: The Space of
Presence.​ Hobart: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 2007. ​Ingram, ​David. ​The Jukebox in the Garden: Ecocriticism and American
Popular Music since 1960​. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. ​Mentz, ​Steven. “Toward a Blue Cultural Studies: The Sea, Maritime Culture, and
Early Modern English Literature.” ​Literature Compass​ 6, no. 5 (September 1, 2009): 997–1013. ​Moser, ​Susanne C. “Communicating
Climate Change: History, Challenges, Process and Future Directions: Communicating Climate Change.” ​Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:
Climate Change​ 1, no. 1 (January 2010): 31–53.​ ​NOAA​.​ ​How much of the ocean have we explored? National Ocean Service website,​, 10/10/17. ​Philpott, ​Carolyn. “Sonic Explorations of the Southernmost Continent: Four
Composers’ Responses to Antarctica and Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century.” ​Organised Sound​ 21, no. 1 (April 2016): 83–93.
Rothenberg, ​David, and Marta Ulvaeus. ​The Book of Music and Nature: An Anthology of Sounds, Words, Thoughts.​ Middletown: Wesleyan
University Press, 2013.​ ​Schafer, ​R. Murray. ​The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World​. Vermont: Destiny
Books. 1977. ​Stillman, ​Amy Ku’uleialoha. “Re-Membering the History of the Hawaiian Hula.” In ​Cultural Memory: Reconfiguring History
and Identity in the Postcolonial Pacific​, edited by Jeanette Marie Mageo, 187–204. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.