What happens if we make a conscious effort to listen to the zoo and its animals rather than just look at them? Some argue, for instance, that looking at animals can produce a sense of detachment from them, and that having animals displayed for our viewing pleasure is an expression of a relationship in which humans are given power, and a sense of superiority. If that’s the case, can listening create a more sympathetic and empathetic orientation towards animals in zoos and by implication, beyond? In an Anthropocene age of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, can an acoustic mindfulness of other lifeforms help humans recalibrate their relationship to the natural world?
Using sounds recorded at two British zoos, during this event you’ll be encouraged to ‘think through sound’ and to engage with animals and think about our impact on them in a new way. For instance, the decline in biodiversity is not just about diminishing numbers; what happens if we imagine a fade in the audible presences of animals? When a species dies out it also falls silent, making sound a powerful way to draw attention to the value and fragility of biodiversity. Imagine a fade, taking decades, until finally there’s nothing, only silence. Would that be a loss do you think?
The Listening to the Zoo project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Transforming Social Science research call (project reference ES/R009554/1).
Dr. Tom Rice
Tom Rice is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Exeter. His research specialism is in sound and in 2018 he started a project called Listening to the Zoo with a small group of colleagues. The team worked with Bristol and also Paignton Zoo in Southwest England, to try to think about the zoo as a sound environment, and find out whether attending to different kinds and qualities of sound could produce new perspectives on the zoos and their animals.
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