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Ecomusicology is an area of study that explores the relationships between music or sound, and the

music production and performance.[4]

Ecomusicology is concerned with the study of music, culture, and nature, and considers musical and sonic issues, both textual and performative, related to ecology and the natural environment. It is in essence a mixture of ecocriticism and musicology (rather than "ecology" and "musicology"), in Charles Seeger's holistic definition.[5][6] Ecomusicology is regarded as a field of research rather than a specific academic discipline.[7] Because ecomusicology focuses on a vast variety of disciplines as well as areas of research, it can be imagined as a space in which studies of sound in relation with the environment are conducted.[8]

Ecomusicology's relevance to such a wide range of other research areas is exactly what makes it somewhat ambiguous to define.[1] On one hand, ecomusicology is a unique field of research which helps to make connections between a variety of music-related and environmental studies. Yet, by functioning as a collective term, it is often difficult to frame ecomusicology within a static set of descriptive definitions. Musicologist Aaron S. Allen, the author of multiple published works on ecomusicology, 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."[1]


Ecomusicology as a field of study is often traced back to musical composer and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer who used the term to explain the sonic nature of particular physical environments or soundscapes.[8] The idea of sound or music as something which creates or captures a particular atmosphere, was initially professed by Murray R. Schafer through his development of the concept of soundscape ecology in the late 1970s.[9] Schafer used this term to encompass the vast acoustic environment which constitutes all the varied sounds, audible to the human ear. A soundscape might entail for example, the all audible sounds heard within a specific area of land, such as a mountain range, a forest or field.[9][10]

From the 1970s, there has been an increase in interest in the term ecomusicology, which was established as a term in the early 21st century in North American and Scandinavian circles.[5] As a field, ecomusicology was created out of a common area of interest between the fields of ecocriticism and musicology, expressed by a range of scholars and artists such as composers, acoustic ecologists, ethnomusicologists, biomusicologists, and others.[11]

Ecomusicology embraces what is today considered the field of historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and related interdisciplinary fields, which while at the same time may enable specialists within each of these fields to interact with academics in the other fields in their approach, it also provides individuals with flexibility to approach an ecocritical study of music through a variety of disciplines and fields.[5]

In 2011, the Society for Ethnomusicology established an Ecomusicology Special Interest Group (ESIG).[12]

In October 2012, the first international ecomusicology-conference took place in New Orleans, U.S.

Sustainability and environmental ethics

Ecomusicology considers aspects of

environmental sustainability within music production and performance. For example, the relationship between a demand for a certain musical instrument as well as the costs and impacts of its production, has been an area of interest for Ecomusicologists investigating the sustainability of the consumption and production of music or musical instruments.[13] This includes the impact which the demand for musical instruments, merchandise or live experiences such as concerts has on the natural environment.[13] Music-Journalist and Anthropologist Mark Pedelty, has written on the Ecomusicological relationship between human musical activities and the health of the environment.[4] Having written about the pollutive impacts that international music touring often has on the environment, Pedelty explores Ecomusicological concerns of ethicality regarding the production of carbon emissions created by vehicles used to a move band members, instruments and/or any extensive staging or crew.[4]

Live Earth Concert at Wembley Stadium, 2007

Part of ecomusicology's investigation of environmental ethics, are the ways in which discussions around projects of sustainability are positioned within popular music and media.[4] In 2010, music magazine Rolling Stone compiled a list of "The 15 Most Eco-Friendly Rockers", selecting artists based on various criteria regarding their support or consideration for the environment within their musical practice.[14] This included assessments of the amount of money donated to environmentally sustainable causes, or an artist's effort to perform and act in carbon-neutral ways.[15] Some of the artists included Green Day for their work with the Natural Resources Defence Council, as well as hip-hop group The Roots for hosting multiple music events aimed at promoting social and environmental awareness.[15][14]

Environmental activism and ecocriticism

A key area of focus for studies within ecomusicology are the ways in which sound and music is used to create or express concerns about the environment.[16] Jeff Todd Titon has described ecomusicology which focuses more on conceptual aspects of ecocriticism as "the study of music, culture, sound and nature in a period of environmental crisis."[1] The occurrence of live music events aimed at promoting awareness about environmental destruction and climate change is one area in which ecomusicology continues to be engaged.

Marching band at Climate Strike in Toronto, 27 September 2019

Numerous music events including

environmental activism by reducing waste production at music events.[19]

Romantic Landscape with Spruce (Elias Martin) – National museum – 21679

Ecomusicology also considers the relationships between music or sound, and the promotion of ideas surrounding environmental activism. Ecomusicologists may for example examine the conceptual basis of songs written specifically about environmental degradation or, consider how and to what effect the use of simple short, repetitive vocal chants may assist in voicing the environmental concerns central to projects of climate activism.[20] The ways in which music has been used to prompt social and political action to protect the environment is of notable relevance to the focuses of ecomusicology at large.[20]

Representations of the natural world

Ecomusicology investigates the creation of music which attempts to reflect or capture feelings or experiences provoked by the natural environment. Experiences of nature which are often expressed through poetry or art, are frequently analysed within ecomusicology to identify the cognitive and emotional impacts which specific sounds might have on humans.[21]


Ecomusicology is often closely paired with the study of

ecosystems through the investigation of sound data. Ecological studies of bird and the characteristics of their song, have revealed ways in which sounds and spaces in their natural environment have shaped certain behaviours.[3] Here, ecomusicology applies concepts related to sound and music theory with research regarding animal behaviours to reveal information about how sound is manipulated by animals in relation to their environment.[3]

By measuring musicological qualities such as

acoustics of bat and insect communication otherwise known as biophonics.[2]

Research methods

Ecomusicology utilises both

quantitative data
collected through audio recordings of a specific environment.


Ecomusicological field research of animal behaviours within a particular environment often includes methods of passive recording/listening. This is usually undertaken with the use of multi-directional Microphone which are often hidden and left within a species' habitat to record the array of sounds created in its environment.[2] Hydrophones (microphones that can be submerged beneath water) may also be used to collect sound data from marine environments. By replaying passive (data collected without being present at the source) recordings, Ecologists are able to study the amount, frequency and variation of a particular sound within that environment to reveal insights about the population or behaviours of a particular animal species.[2]


Human-focused studies in ecomusicology are often conducted using similar field research methods to that of anthropology or sociology. This includes conducting interviews, collecting various numerical data, surveys as well as on-site observation.[3] There are three main ways in which the study of non-humans enhances the study of human music: the context of the non-human's sound, the agency or behavior of the non-human, and the interaction between the human and non-human.[22] As an example of contextualizing a non-human's sound, study of the peacock's call altered the interpretation of northeastern Brazilian folklore; works about the peacock were interpreted as love songs until better understanding of this particular call elucidated that it was resistance to the military dictatorship in Brazil.[22] Studying agency includes the relationship that humans have with animal behavior; migratory patterns of the Picazuro pigeon predicted major droughts, demonstrating the interconnectedness of rural and urban communities through nature.[22] Finally, the study of human and non-human interaction focuses on the manner in which humans interpret the sounds of nonhumans. Luis Gonzaga, a popular Brazilian singer, popularized a folk song about the laughing falcon, which many used to understand the birds' call as an indicator of major drought.[22] These varied methods of data collection are used to make a qualitative analysis of the ways in which sound and music may influence behaviours as well as systems of value and meaning within a particular social context.[2]

The idea of "place" has also served as a common theme of human-focused ecomusicological research. Having worked with the Kaluli people in Papua New Guinea, ethnomusicologist Steven Feld studied the confluence of myth and ecology in Kaluli aesthetics reflected in weeping, poetics, and sound. According to Feld, for the Kaluli, sound, as a system of symbols, functions as a way of communicating deeply felt sentiments and reconfiguring mythic principles.[23] The form and performance of Kaluli weeping, poetics, and song, tied to Kaluli origin myths and the natural environment, embody and express cultural meanings. Using sound as an expressive, performative modality, the Kaluli signify the symbolic circle of their myth, "the boy who became a muni bird."[24] Feld's analysis suggests that this theme of "becoming a bird" serves as a core metaphor of Kaluli aesthetics that "mediat[es] social sentiments in sound forms."[25] Culturally constituted performance codes confer performers with the ability to symbolize bird communication. Kaluli aesthetics elicit comparisons between performers and certain birds of the natural environment in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Through his research, Feld theorized the concept of acoustemology (sound as a way of knowing) by analyzing how acoustics and epistemology conjoin.

Musical theory and instrumentation

Ecomusicology considers the ways in which

Sound effects are also used in a variety of ways to recreate sound textures produced within particular environments. An example might be the application of echo or reverb effects to an instrument to reproduce the distant echoing of sound as it rebounds off hard surfaces across a canyon or valley.[26]

A screen of music production software Ableton Live

The work of composer and sound-artist Maggi Payne often features the creation and combination of different sounds to convey natural processes or reflect elements of the natural environment.[27] In her sound work Distant Thunder, Payne uses a combination of different sound sources including "boiling water, a resonant floor furnace, and unrolling adhesive tape"[27] to recreate the distinctive soundscape of desert storm.[27]

A common feature of musical compositions related to ecomusicology, is the use of

field recordings that capture the ambient sound produced within a specific environment. Field recordings can originate from urban settings to rural or natural environments, or anywhere else where an audio recording device may be used to record the sounds produced within a particular location.[28] The creation and use of field recordings form part of ecomusicology's analysis of soundscapes and the ways in which different environments may be experienced through their distinctive aural features.[2]

Also of interest to studies within ecomusicology, are the ways in which sound is processed and manipulated through technological software to compose new soundscapes or sound environments. Musical composition methods which involve music production software has allowed for music's relationship with nature to be imagined in new ways, many of which are useful and relevant to ecomusicological analysis.[27]


Since its increased presence within academic discourse in the 21st century, a number of teaching methods have been devised to integrate the study of ecomusicology into school learning environments. Daniel J. Shevock, an academic of musicology whom has written extensively on Ecomusicological theory,[29] has designed and taught a variety of lessons concerning ideas and practices of ecomusicology which can be applied to primary/highschool learning environments.

Shevock has outlined a series of possible practice-based learning activities focused on informing students about environmental concerns central to the study of ecomusicology. This includes tasks which involve the creation of songs or poems inspired by the natural environment or other social concerns about sustainability and the health of ecologies.[16] Shevock has also devised a range of theoretical tasks which include listening to and discussing the conceptual and structural elements of nature-focused music.[20]

As a field of study which encompasses more than one area of interest, both Allen and Shevock have discussed the potential advantages that studies of ecomusicology might have in extending an understanding of other subject areas taught within schools.[16][30] For example, the teaching of some of ecomusicology's research methods and findings within the study of ecologies, may be useful in expanding students' comprehension of some ideas taught within the subject of biology.[31] The "wild pedagogies" approach has also been proposed as an innovative way of integrating music studies into environmental concerns within both schools and university education.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Allen, A. S. and Dawe, K. "Ecomusicologies", p. 2 in Allen and Dawe.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Guyette, M. Q. and Post, J. C. "Ecomusicology, Ethnomusicology, and Soundscape Ecology", pp. 40–45 in Allen and Dawe
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Boyle, W.A. and Waterman, E. “The Ecology of Musical Performance: Towards a Robust Performance,” pp. 26–33 in Allen and Dawe
  4. ^ a b c d Pedelty, p. 26
  5. ^ a b c Allen, Aaron S. (2013), "Ecomusicology", Grove Dictionary of American Music, New York: Oxford University Press
  6. ^ " – Main Page". Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  7. ^ Allen, A. S. and Dawe, K. "Ecomusicologies", p. 10 in Allen and Dawe
  8. ^ a b Allen, A. S. and Dawe, K. "Ecomusicologies", p. 3 in Allen and Dawe
  9. ^ a b Schafer, p. 65.
  10. ^ Shevock, p. 59.
  11. . Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  12. ^ The Society for Ethnomusicology, "Special Interest Group for Ecomusicology". 2011.
  13. ^ a b Ryan, R. “No Tree-No Leaf: Applying Resilience Theory to Eucalypt-Derived Musical Tradition,” p. 57 in Allen and Dawe
  14. ^ a b "Culture-Lists: The 15 Most Eco-Friendly Rockers". Rolling Stone Magazine, December 16, 2010
  15. ^ a b Pedelty, p. 31
  16. ^ a b c Shevock, p. 63.
  17. ^ "Make It Rain: Fund the Firies 2020", Make It Rain Group, accessed April 24, 2020
  18. ^ Pedelty, p. 24
  19. ^ "About: About Us". Reverb Organisation, accessed April 24, 2020
  20. ^ a b c Shevock, p. 57.
  21. ^ Titon, J. T. “Why Thoreau?,” pp. 69–76 in Allen and Dawe
  22. ^
    S2CID 198515340
  23. ^ Feld, pp. 3–4.
  24. ^ Feld, p. 14.
  25. ^ Feld, p. 17.
  26. ^ a b Thomas, Chris. "Composing the "Malheur Symphony: Finding Healing with Bird Songs". Filmed March 30, 2019 at TEDxBend, Bend, OR. Video, 15:32.
  27. ^ a b c d Feisst, S. "Negotiating Nature and Music through Technology", pp. 245–249 in Allen and Dawe
  28. ^ Schafer, p. 78
  29. ^ Shevock, p. 64.
  30. ^ Allen, A. S. and Dawe, K. "Ecomusicologies", p. 4 in Allen and Dawe
  31. ^ Shevock, p. 6
  32. ^ Hebert, David G. (2022). "Nature Conservation and Music Sustainability: Fields with Shared Concerns". Canadian Journal of Environmental Education. 25: 175–189.

Cited sources

Further reading

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