Soundscapes of Restoration

Music, Sonifications & Field Recordings
Release Date: May 12, 2023
Catalog #: RR8090
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century

On the coasts of the Atlantic, sparrows whistle atop the trees, Eastern winds whisper through spartina grasses, and fiddler crabs skitter within their sandy burrows — a great symphony of shorelines soon to be left incomplete. As rising sea levels continue to threaten coastal reefs, shores, and the hundreds of lifeforms inhabiting them, the Coastal Conservatory urges us to consider our efforts of restoration and offers us an avenue for restoring coastal futures, a meditation on the music of the most integral barriers to the ever-pressing Atlantic. SOUNDSCAPES OF RESTORATION is both an exploration and a reflection, a listening experience that leaves one changed with the desire to make change further. It is a journey that cannot, and should not, be forgotten.


Hear the full album on YouTube

"...this album amplifies the voices of the unheard, joining them in a musical conversation."

A Closer Listen

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Virginia Barrier Island Soundscape: Listening to Climate Change and Resilience Part 1 3:45
02 The Dreams of Seagrasses Matthew Burtner EcoSono Ensemble | Siyang Sophia Shen, pipa; Kelly Sulick, flute; Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Brian Lindgren, viola; Kevin William Davis, cello; Science by Virginia Coast Reserve researchers Peter Berg, Karen McGlathery, Marie Lise Delgard, Pierre Polsenaere, Scott C. Doney, Amelie C. Berger 5:57
03 The Metered Tide Chris Chafe EcoSono Ensemble | Siyang Sophia Shen, pipa, piano; Kelly Sulick, flute; Matthew Burtner, soprano saxophone; Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Brian Lindgren, viola; Kevin William Davis, cellos 3:37
04 Where Water Meets Memory (Coastal Mix) Eli Stine 7:54
05 The Noise Parade/Die Lärmparade Francisca Rocha Gonçalves 6:11
06 Crab Flutes Matthew Burtner Kelly Sulick, flute 5:31
07 The Metered Tide, Refrain 1 Chris Chafe EcoSono Ensemble | Siyang Sophia Shen, pipa; Kelly Sulick, flute; Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Brian Lindgren, viola; Kevin William Davis, cello 3:37
08 Piano Étude No. 2: Tidal Flow Chris Luna-Mega Chris Luna-Mega, electronics (MIDI piano) 4:26
09 The Metered Tide, Refrain 2 Chris Chafe EcoSono Ensemble | Siyang Sophia Shen, pipa; Kelly Sulick, flute; Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Brian Lindgren, viola; Kevin William Davis, cello 3:35
10 Oyster Communion Matthew Burtner Mari Hahn, voice; EcoSono Ensemble, oyster shells 5:22
11 Fluidø Therapy #1 Francisca Rocha Gonçalves 6:27
12 The Metered Tide, Refrain 3 Chris Chafe EcoSono Ensemble | Siyang Sophia Shen, pipa; Kelly Sulick, flute; Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Brian Lindgren, viola; Kevin William Davis, cello 3:34
13 Virginia Ghost Forest Soundscape: Listening to Climate Change and Resilience Part 2 2:29

The Dreams of Seagrasses
Engineer Alex Christie

The Metered Tide, Refrain 1-3
Engineer Travis Thatcher

Crab Flutes
Engineer Alex Christie

Oyster Communion
Engineer Matthew Burtner

Mastering Melanie Montgomery

Cover photo by Cora A Baird
Introduction and Listening Notes by Willis Jenkins

Special Thanks
University of Virginia College of Arts and Sciences
Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures (IHGC)
Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI)
Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR)
Mellon Foundation

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Chris Robinson

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland

Artist Information

Matthew Burtner


Matthew Burtner is an Alaskan-born composer, sound artist, and eco-acoustician whose work explores embodiment, ecology, polytemporality, and noise. His music comfortably crosses boundaries between environmental science and art, philosophy and acoustics, technology and body, and he is a leading practitioner of climate change music and ecoacoustic sound art. As a composer, Burtner seeks out contexts where critical issues of human/nature interaction are addressed, whether in musical contexts, other forms of media, scientific conferences, or political conventions. His music has been performed in concerts around the world and featured by organizations such as NASA, PBS NewsHour, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the BBC, the U.S. State Department under President Obama, and National Geographic.

Chris Chafe

Cellist, Composer

Chris Chafe is a composer, improvisor, and cellist, developing much of his music alongside computer-based research. He is Director of Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). At IRCAM (Paris) and The Banff Centre (Alberta), he pursued methods for digital synthesis, music performance, and real-time internet collaboration. CCRMA's SoundWIRE project involves live concertizing with musicians the world over. Online collaboration software including jacktrip and research into latency factors continue to evolve. An active performer either on the net or physically present, his music reaches audiences in dozens of countries and sometimes at novel venues.


Integrating science, music, and cultural inquiry, the Coastal Futures Conservatory creates ways of listening to coastal change. Our collaborations seek immersive forms for understanding the relations through which coasts are being remade. This album extends an invitation to listen into the future of a rapidly changing coast, with a promise that the listening itself can be a restorative act.

An ever-shifting border world of sea and land, a sea-tangled1 liminal zone where ocean and continent play through their meeting, the word “coast” already includes change in its concept. Shorelines are always being remade, so referring to coastal change can seem a redoubled concept – as if, flux of the flux-zone. Yet it rightly connotes that conditions by which coastal dynamics have played out are increasingly influenced by anthropogenic vectors and planetary forcings, which enter into complex regional combinations, relations, and becomings. Imagining “coastal futures,” then, involves scales and complexities that seem to confound comprehension. That is a central Anthropocene challenge: proliferations of scale and temporality that exceed inherited ways of making sense of our environments, and novel assemblies of relation that frustrate capacities to take responsibility for them.

Music can encompass complexities of time and scale and can express unresolved assemblies of relation. The Conservatory was founded as a partnership between music and environmental humanities scholars with scientists of the Virginia Coast Reserve — a U.S. National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Long-term ecological research investigates patterns of change in particular sites over decades, which increasingly involves research on interactions between anthropogenic planetary shifts and regional systems. Ecoacoustics follows sound through ecological relations as to interpret environmental changes. Environmental humanities investigate environmental change through the archives and tools of cultural memory. A conservatory can mean a school of music, a greenhouse, or a cultural archive. We draw on all three meanings by centering ecoacoustic methods to stimulate holistic, science-based inquiry into coastal change in ways that engage cultural meaning-making.

“Music is a conservation strategy for keeping something alive that we now need,” writes David Dunn, “a way of making sense of the world from which we might refashion our relationship to nonhuman living systems.”2 We share the premise that listening across disciplines and into coastal lifeworlds can open possibilities for recomposing the relations of coastal systems. But conservation does not seem the right concept for attending to the scales and complexities already remaking coastal futures because it suggests retaining something given and potentially changeless. Responding well to coastal change will necessarily be an improvisation with changing relationships, a composition undertaken with many other change agents also making coastal futures.

SOUNDSCAPES OF RESTORATION is composed through three senses of restoration:

First, several pieces work with the soundscapes and sonified data sets of two signature ecological restoration projects in the Virginia Coast Reserve: one focused on oyster reefs and one underwater seagrass meadows. Both enhance resilience to climate change and both figure in coast-focused projects of negative emissions, or what is sometimes called “climate restoration.”

Second, each piece offers a form of cognitive restoration. The tracks restore the mind’s attention to world-making practices of non-human organisms, beings, and forces. “Arts of attentiveness remind us that knowing and living are deeply entangled,” write scholars of multispecies studies, “and that paying attention can and should be the basis for crafting better possibilities for shared life.”3 Developed from immersion — both aqueous and intellectual — into coastal lifeworlds, the “arts of attentiveness” in this album restore possibilities of understanding the living world that have been lost or missed.

Third, the album explores lines of future-oriented cultural restoration. Anthropocene relations that threaten to overwhelm cultural capacities to make sense of our worlds. “Response-ability” is Donna Haraway’s lead concept for the cultural task of inventing ways to live through Anthropocene relations: “nurturing capacities to respond, cultivating ways to render each other capable.”4 These compositions create ways to experience changing relations and compose futures within them.

Listening can help develop all three kinds of restoration. Acoustic methods of investigation have led to scientific discoveries about — for example — seagrass interaction with greenhouse gasses. Listening to the sonified data of those interactions on the track Dreams of Seagrasses opens cognitive and cultural possibilities of composing responses. And in listening well we prepare to respond to some other, quieting ourselves to attend to them, anticipating a future that might be made with them. “Listening is the invisible and inaudible enactment of the ethical relation itself,” writes the philosopher Lisbeth Lipari; “Upon it, everything depends.”5

This album emerges from research exchanges that have produced scientific papers, museum installations and art exhibitions, literary and philosophical studies, and community-led research. For each piece you will find a “composition note” written with the artist explaining how the track was made, followed by a “listening note” connecting ideas across tracks and inviting reflection.

– Willis Jenkins

1A word from James Joyce, to which we were introduced by Nicholas Allen: Ireland, Literature, and the Coast: Seatangled. Oxford University Press, 2020.
2Dunn, David. “Nature, sound art, and the sacred.” The Book of Music and Nature (1997): 97.
3Van Dooren, Thom, Eben Kirksey, and Ursula Münster. “Multispecies Studies Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities 8.1 (2016): 1-23.
4Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016: 8. 5Lipari, Lisbeth. Listening, thinking, being: Toward an ethics of attunement. Penn State Press, 2015: 204.
Field recordings

Composition Note
This field recording was created for the inaugural event of the Coastal Futures Conservatory at the University of Virginia, recorded and mixed by Matthew Burtner. A signature soundscape for our project, we often play it when introducing the Conservatory to a new audience. It starts in the grasses of an island marsh, where we hear the forces of erosion in counterpoint with the resilience of the coastal ecosystem. The water laps against the mud bank, articulating the mud which is reinforced by long grass roots blowing in the wind. The soundscape then moves down into the crab burrows along the shore and inside one of the thousands of crab flutes along the bank. Next, we submerge underwater onto an oyster reef and listen to the complex biophonous reef sounds. Underwater, we continue out onto the lagoon and onto a seagrass meadow where we can hear the respiration of the seagrasses and the friction of water turbulence as it interacts with the environment. Finally, the soundscape moves back up to the coast, near where it started.

Listening Note
This is an exercise in moral imagination. More than simply a record of the sounds of a place, a soundscape invites listeners to perceive aliveness, to imagine lines of life interacting, meshing into the becoming of a place. Even when presented to listeners from afar, it offers imaginative immersion, prompting one to ask: where am I now and how do I enmesh with what is happening here?

The Virginia Coast Reserve extends about 65 miles north along the mid-Atlantic shore from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It encompasses a series of barrier islands globally unique for their relative lack of infrastructure and engineering. Uninhabited since the 1930s, island dynamics are primarily shaped by perennial exchanges of ocean, wind, and continental mainland. The resulting island/lagoon system has long protected a peninsula low-lying between Chesapeake from the Atlantic. Known as the Eastern Shore, it is a community with a long-term social history and a long-term commitment to its own coastal future.

Salt marshes develop on lee sides of barrier islands as spartina grasses grow in the sediment collecting in still waters, their roots stabilizing sediment into a mud bank. The marshes function like sea anchors for the island, slowing its waveward movement toward the mainland shore. Not 200 meters away the open Atlantic roars with the currents and winds that have swept unimpeded for a thousand miles. Its waves pound beaches. Yet at the site of this field recording the shoreline is so still that one hears tiny lapping currents, individual eddies, and droplets against individual grass stems. Those delicate sounds are made possible by the muffling impact of the island: the work of dune, marsh, and mud quieting the ocean into lagoon. Nearly every coastal future relies on that barriering, that essential quieting of waters.

Burtner’s soundscape conveys to the listener some of the lifeworlds the barrier lagoon makes possible: crab burrow, oyster reef, and seagrass meadow. Each is the subject of a subsequent composition on the album, each enmeshed with the relations interacting and remaking this coast.

Ensemble and seagrass data sonification

Composition Note
In their underwater beds, swaying in the waves, what do the seagrasses dream about? Do they dream of flowers? This piece explores the photosynthesis and respiration of the seagrasses from two VCR datasets.6 It first sonifies data on seagrasses producing oxygen and consuming carbon dioxide, which cycles across the day as a result of daylight and other environmental factors. The metabolism was measured every hour for a period of two months; consequently, we hear the cycles of day and night across 24-hour periods and grouped into weekly harmonic cycles. The piece overlays that sonification with another sound created from data on the chemical makeup of the seagrasses themselves. The chemical data was collected across a period of seven years. The two datasets together offer an impression of the changes in the seagrasses across varying scales of time. The sonification allows a listener to gain a sense of the complexity of the system across years, months, days, hours, and seconds.

This data tracks how seagrass meadows create a habitat for the plants and animals that thrive in the protection and food they offer. In addition to restoring a rich ecosystem, seagrass beds also help attenuate forces of erosion. Their roots act as anchors in the sand, and they protect the shore from storms by lessening the force of wave action before it reaches land. Globally, seagrasses also help mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide gas which would otherwise contribute to global warming.

Listening Note
Do seagrasses dream? Burtner’s question lets us wonder about seagrass knowledge of the possibilities for life here. In the tidally-fluctuating aqueous zone between lagoon soil and surface atmosphere, seagrass roots and respiration connect earth, sea, and sky. The sonification captures the material exchanges along that connection, giving expression to the intelligence of its world.

This composition gives expression to the most successful seagrass restoration project in the world. Nearly a century ago the underwater eelgrass meadows in what is now the Virginia Coast Reserve were wiped out by a combination of disease and storms. Poorly positioned to receive seeds circulating from other regions, the lagoon floor remained mostly barren until a collaboration of scientists, policymakers, and community members began working to restore Zostera marina eelgrass. Over decades, they have planted, protected, and measured as the habitat came back to life. As the lagoon’s underwater grassland returned, so did other organisms, absorbing and sinking more nitrogen and carbon than it had before.7

The sonification in this piece showcases heterochronic complexity: changes happening over different timescales as the seagrass grows. It communicates that the meadow is busy and alive. “Listening engenders something like a quickening, the startling presence of another being,” writes Lipari; “a recognition of an unknown other to whom we are bound.”8

This project is not simply a story of humans replanting. Burtner presents this sonification and composition as a meditation on the aliveness of the grasses themselves, the way they restore dreams of a coastal future made by seagrasses. The grasses are reworlding after a catastrophe, working with human organisms and their dreams to pursue seagrass dreams for the lagoon.

Burtner’s melodic overlay of the more chaotic swirl of sonified data permits the listener to imagine the grasses improvising a songline into their version of a coastal future. Each note of that songline is dependent on temperatures staying within a certain range — 28C water temperature seems to be a key threshold — and the barrier island marsh deposition keeping pace with the overwash of the next big storm — the dream ever vulnerable to the next catastrophe. But in each respiration, the dream is also a source of resilience.

6McGlathery, K., 2017, “Carbon and Nitrogen in Seagrass Tissue from Virginia Coastal Bays, 2010-2017,” Environmental Data Initiative. Peter Berg, Marie Lise Delgard, Pierre Polsenaere, Karen J. McGlathery, Scott C. Doney, Amelie C. Berger, 2018, “Dynamics of benthic metabolism, O2, and pCO2 in a temperate seagrass meadow,” Limnology and Oceanography, ASLO.
7Reynolds, Laura K., et al. “Ecosystem services returned through seagrass restoration.” Restoration Ecology 24.5 (2016): 583-588.
8Lipari, 176.

Ensemble and coastal data sonification *prize-winning work from the 2021 Coastal Futures International Ecoacoustic Music Competition

Composition Note
Created in the Summer of 2019 by composer Chris Chafe and videographer Greg Niemeyer, this version of The Metered Tide was commissioned by the Coastal Conservatory for the EcoSono Ensemble in 2021. Niemeyer suggested a location test for a sonification music video at Crissy Field, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, found at the upper tip of San Francisco next door to the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sonified data set features 100 years of tidal records acquired by the gauge on the shore. The original version featured Chafe improvising Celleto with the sonification audio; in this version, members of EcoSono Ensemble individually improvise with the Celletto and sonification version, creating seven tracks. In post-production, Chafe’s software — through which the audio mix is generated automatically — follows the original tidal data. The sonification signal was thus the conductor and the mixer, with the human musicians responding to it and being layered by it. The output we hear on this version is a mixed compilation of the seven lines, in which the cuts are determined by the tidal data.

Listening Note
Rendering data into sound can restore attention. In an information economy organized for ocular reception, attending to a record of change aurally rather than visually can startle minds accustomed to graphs and charts. Sonifications can help us imagine relations or temporalities that are difficult to understand, or attend in a new way to rates of change so visually familiar that they are quickly dismissed. A 100-year record of tide gauge data oscillates through the center of this piece. Undoubtedly its data points could be represented on a graph and quickly accounted for in a momentary gaze. By plotting the data temporally through sound, however, rather than spatially across a visual representation, this piece asks listeners to carry over the record of change. Hearing environmental data can compel a different kind of attention, as each note stimulates the brain to anticipate a pattern. When the pattern is ominous, like the Keeling Curve of rise in atmospheric carbon, some listeners find the unfolding pattern almost too painful to wait upon, as if incapable of response.

This piece also exemplifies capacity for response. In the aesthetic decisions made by the sound artist, there is perhaps a greater range of affect available than in data visualization. Consider just the tone and timbre here of the underlying sonification. That effective range is amplified by the improvisational responses to the sonification by musicians, which are then layered over it, in response to it. In two senses, then, musicians are playing the tidal record.

Then, in final production, the tidal record in turn plays the musicians. Software algorithmically reads the dataset to select which of the musicians’ improvisations are played when. As the data from a century of tides mixes human responses, The Metered Tide thus also exemplifies the possibility of responses to coastal change in a more-than-human assemblage of composers.

Ambisonic Environmental and Instrumental Recordings and Electronics (Full 3D fifth-order higher order ambisonics, presented here as an ambisonic UHJ render). *Finalist of the 2022 Métamorphoses International Acousmatic Composition Contest.

Composition Note
The electronic composition includes performance recordings of David Bowlin, violin, Kate Copeland, soprano, and Kevin William Davis, cello.

The first recording you hear is of natural and restored oyster reefs, made using hydrophones off the coast of the seaside town of Oyster VA. These sounds are now known to help orient young, swimming oysters and other organisms in their search through murky waters for a vibrant oyster reef. You will then hear electronic music transformations of those recordings, in which computer technology processes the rhythms and pitches of the original reef recordings into completely new timbres, melodies, and harmonies.

During the summers of 2018 and 2019, I spent time at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center in Oyster VA, recording various sounds including oyster reefs. Since that experience, I have thought about my lifelong relationship to water: trips to the beach as a child, a fear of deep, dark water known as thalassophobia, my recent collaboration with environmental scientists researching sea life, and, of course, the rising of our oceans as a function of global warming.

All of these experiences swirled around compositionally for a year or two, until I began working on this piece in earnest at the beginning of 2021, while holed up in Oberlin OH during the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating this work, I challenged myself in several ways: to use a completely higher-order ambisonic workflow, to incorporate recorded or sampled instruments in each section, and to work in a number of different electroacoustic styles. The resulting work is for full 3D fifth-order higher-order ambisonics, presented here as an ambisonic UHJ render. — Eli Stine

This work has four sections:
I. The Bay (Of Trains and Shorebirds)
w/ solo violin
II. The Reef (Of Predator and Prey)
w/ cello, piano, glockenspiel
III. The Ocean (The Lull of the Sirens)
w/ soprano soloists, choir
IV. The Deep (Beneath the Rain)
w/ string quartet, orchestra

Listening Note
What is good restoration and how do we know?

Opening with a hydrophone recording of an oyster reef, Where Water Meets Memory arises from another major restoration project in the VCR. VCR scientists, in company with a series of state, community, and non-profit initiatives, are working to restore the oyster reefs, which requires learning about the conditions for a successful reef.

Restoration depends on memory. For a species or ecosystem to “come back,” the possibilities of its relations must remain in the environment. Ecologists sometimes call this “biological memory.” It could refer to dormant tree seeds representing a potential, but not yet existent forest. For oyster reefs, one component of memory is oyster larvae navigating to promising reef substrates. The sounds of a healthy reef, it turns out, attract oyster larvae, which seem to remember how a promising reef sounds.

How humans participate in that conversation will depend on cultural memories: histories of how an environment once functioned, looked, and sounded; transmission of the relations by which it was constituted and the stories by which those memories are sustained. Cultural memories are rarely bivalent (good or bad) but usually multivalent, giving rise to different stories and interpretations.

A rising sea may threaten cultural memory. Sea level rise submerges social archives, including buildings, sacred sites, and burial grounds. Between water and memory lies the task of coastal restoration projects: a negotiation of inheritance and improvisation that sustains a conversation about what restoration should do.

A rising sea seems to threaten cultural memory. It submerges social archives, not only buildings but sacred sites and burial grounds. Between water and memory, sea level rise, and the stories we hope to sustain, lies the task of coastal restoration projects. A negotiation of inheritance and improvisation, that at best keeps alive the conversation about what counts as good restoration.

Field recordings and electronics

Composition Note
The Noise Parade/ Die Lärmparade was created for the “Your Ocean Sounds Hackathon” from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, using recordings of underwater pile driving sounds, explosions, boats, and some biological sounds from whales and fish.

This piece approaches the concept of masking, one of the main issues regarding underwater noise. Its core message is awareness of noise pollution. While biologic or geologic sounds are part of the natural elements of an aquatic environment, and all marine life is well adapted to them, anthropogenic noise and human interference have started to affect some aspects of animal communication. Because they essentially interfere with the frequency ranges of communication in many marine species, these newly introduced anthropogenic sounds disrupt the underwater environment. This composition selects biological high-pitch and low-pitch sounds, revealing an acoustic niche where all frequencies can be perceived because each animal has their specific range. Then, all anthropogenic sounds appear, creating a challenge to hear the original biological sounds that, in some parts of the piece, became imperceptible due to overlapping of the same frequencies.

Credits (the following authors recorded some of the samples used in this piece):
Dr. Ilse Van Opzeeland, Alfred-Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research
Rodney Rountree, University of Victoria, British Columbia – Canada
Helen Rößler, Deutsche Meeresmuseum
Michael Stocker, Ocean Conservation Research

Listening Note
A first step toward restoration is learning where life has been interrupted, where relations are coming undone, and where traumas strain resilience. “How can we listen across species, across extinction, across harm?” asks Alexis Pauline Gumbs.9 By listening underwater across species and harm, the augmented aurality of The Noise Parade presents what we might prefer not to know, and traumas we prefer not to hear.

Many marine animals have extraordinary sensitivity to sound waves, their bodies evolved to receive and communicate with the way oceans hold and transmit sound. They do not “hear” sounds so much as touch, breathe, and swim them. “Sound, for us, is focused mostly on a few organs in our heads,” writes David Haskell; “but aquatic animals are immersed in sound. Sound flows almost unimpeded from watery surrounds to watery innards.” The low rumble of a may be sensed by a whale 200 hundred miles away; seismic survey blasts 2500 miles away. Noise that carries half an ocean does violence in proximity to these mammals, literally bruising tissue. Noise splits their surroundings by sundering animals from one another and by enveloping them in a disorienting fog of sound waves. “The pile-driver is coupled, minute by minute, to every nerve ending and cell, suffusing them for months on end with the violence of explosions.”10

Amidst this drowning out, Gumbs connects marine mammal survival with the Middle Passage, “the massive drowning yet unfinished,” in which Black people were captured and — when treated by enslaving captains as surplus, collateral, or damaged property — intentionally drowned. Of those who survived, the undrowned, Gumbs writes that “their breathing is not separate from the breathing of the ocean.”11 The ocean is now suffused with the drowning-out from sonic collateral of the economy built upon transatlantic trade in humans. The ocean struggles to breathe. Amidst planetary shudders of breath, everyone knows we need a different economy. For how to make it, says Gumbs, listen to those who survived the Middle Passage by “breathing in unbreathable circumstances,” and to the life lessons of marine mammals, still undrowning amidst so much drowning out.12

Listening to the oceans as Gonçalaves does in The Noise Parade, the biological and geological mixed with the extraordinary anthropogenic noise restores cognition of what we can otherwise avoid hearing and prefer not to know. The ocean, surrounded and medium for finely tuned listening-breathing-feeling organisms, made a waste site for the collateral sounds of the pursuit and passage of wealth. That recognition can be the first step in a multispecies politics of repair.

9Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. Undrownded: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. AK Press, 2020: 15.
10Haskell, David George. Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinxtion. Viking, 2022: 305. 311.
11Gumbs, 1-2.
12Gumbs, 1.
Flute, crab burrow field recording and ecoacoustics

Composition Note
Crab Flutes, composed in 2022, is music based on the domestic life of crabs. Uca pugnax, more commonly known as the fiddler crab, create uniquely shaped tunnel homes in the mud on the banks of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Each burrow is different, dependent on the body size and digging techniques of the crab as well as the conditions of the mud. These small habitats are called “flutes;” and like the musical instrument, they resonate at a specific frequency when air is blown across the opening. By placing a tiny microphone inside these crab flutes, we can listen to the sounds of the world (mostly the wind and sea) resonating inside the little cavern. Listen carefully and you can also hear the crab moving around inside. This music features a field recording made inside one of the crab flutes playing throughout, and the harmony, melody, and rhythm of the composed music were derived from the crab’s habitat. Each burrow is a uniquely shaped tunnel, determined by the body of the crab and their effort, which itself is a function of their health, instincts, temperament, and who knows what else… personality perhaps. The resonant frequencies of this burrow fall around the notes C, Bb, Db, Eb, and F, and a resonant filter built around these frequencies is used to create the electronics. These resonances also suggested a tonality of F Minor or Bb Minor. From these notes, the first flute motive was derived — C, Db, Bb, Eb, C, and then the 1st and 2nd phrases of the flute melody. The movements of the crab within the domicile determined the tempo and pacing of the melody. Overall, the piece has an intimate and domestic feel, safe and relaxing. Crab burrows are important for the health of the coastal bank on the Virginia coast. The crabs’ flutes aerate the soil and enrich the mud with nutrients while simultaneously excising sulfides, thus helping increase the density of the tall grasses which in turn mitigates erosion of the mud bank.

Listening Note
What does a restored coast sound like? One might suppose a good restoration is quiet with the lack of anthropogenic sounds, or loud with the clamor of shorebirds. To a salt marsh, successful restoration sounds like crab flutes. Mudflats with crab burrows are more resistant to erosion, so more capable of persisting through king tides and storm waves. One might guess that a mud bank perforated by thousands of tunnels would be more vulnerable to rushing water, but by making the mud more conducive to spartina grass, which can set roots more densely and draw nutrients more efficiently in crab-burrowed mud, the flutes are part of a multispecies assembly of marsh resilience.

The sounds made by wind activating their burrows express an intelligence wrought in the association of marsh grass, fiddler crab, and the million-microbe mud. Fiddler crabs are world-makers, terraformers, by being flute-makers.

It was Burtner’s idea on a Conservatory field trip to lower a tiny microphone into a fiddler crab flute. While the field recording was unique, it did not seem adequate to Burtner to honor the role of these burrows in marsh resilience. In Crab Flutes, he devises ways for the crab-made habitat to shape the composition of harmony, melody, and rhythm, such that the piece can express, as if in translation for the musical sensibilities of humans, a song of salt marsh resilience.

Electronics (MIDI Piano) and tidal sonification

Composition Note
This piece is derived from tidal data from the Long Term Ecological Research project in Oyster VA, collected from 2010 to 2018.13 Daily measurements of high and low tides in meters are mapped and scaled to the pitch regions of a piano, resulting in one pitch per day for each hand. The low tides are performed by the left hand; the high tides are performed by the right hand.While this version of the piece relies on purely electronic sounds, a new version for two pianists is possible at a slightly slower pace. The poetic intention is for a pianist to embody the tides.

While this version of the piece relies on purely electronic sounds, a new version for two pianists is possible at a slightly slower pace. The poetic intention is for a pianist to embody the tides.

Listening Note
Rachel Carson, in the preface to The Edge of the Sea, her book on coastal ecology, writes: “Understanding comes only when, standing on a beach, we can sense the long rhythms of earth and sea that sculptured its landforms and produced the rock and sand of which it is composed; when we can sense with the eye and ear of the mind the surge of life beating always at its shores.”14 In tidal flow, Luna-Mega invites listeners to sense the surge of tides as sculpturing rhythm, the notes played upon the coast as if by rapid-fingered waters.

A person standing on a beach watching water slowly ebb, perhaps returning later to the spot to find the tide has returned, will struggle to sense, as Carson puts, “the long rhythms of earth and sea.” The speed of tidal flow, delivering eight years of tides in thousands of notes over a few minutes, compels recognition of how much activity the coast holds. A coast is made from this constant surging aliveness, and might even be imagined as a specific rhythm and scale of change. Consider this coast as the notes from low-tide left hand to high-tide right hand and all the songlines made from that range.

In future years the right hand will need to reach higher up the piano.

At 1:42, one can hear a birdsong in the underlying field recording, a reminder of the lifeways that make their form within this flurry of tidal notes. Saltmarsh sparrows have committed their entire lifecycle to the habitat for which they are named; they are obligated to spartina salt marshes. They nest midway up the grass column, just above mean tide lines and just below predator sight lines, and their reproductive cycle is timed to the tides. The period from laying and incubating eggs to nursing fledglings capable of climbing out of flooded nests is timed to fit just inside the 28-day lunar span between flood tides. Their song fits just within the notes of tidal flow.

With salt marshes pinched between hardened shorelines and rising seas, saltmarsh sparrows face likely extinction. Nest fails when storm tide high notes come unexpectedly, as they do more often, and become more perilous as the whole scale shifts higher. Whether saltmarsh sparrows will be part of Atlantic coast futures depends on whether and how fast salt marshes can reach inland and up elevation, so that 20-25 years from now a pianist playing the tidal record would sound similar to this piece. As it stands, saltmarsh sparrow song is not part of the Eastern Shore future. Restoring its song to the future depends on whether humans and marshes and sparrows can improvise together quickly.

13Porter J., D. Krovetz, J. Spitler, T. Williams, K. Overman, W. Nuttle. 2019. High and Low Tides of Hog Island Bay, Redbank VA, and Oyster VA for the Virginia Coast Reserve 2007-2018. Environmental Data Initiative.
14Carson, Rachel. The Edge of the Sea. Houghton-Mifflin, 1995: xiii.
Voice, oyster shell ensemble, oyster bed field recording and electronics

Composition Note
The complex range of crackles and pitches of oyster reefs on the Virginia Shores offers clues to the health of these ecosystems. Snapping shrimp make high, crackling sounds, while fish make lower sounds. The oysters themselves emit low crackling sounds as they open and close to filter food particles out of the water. The lowest sounds, made by waves and currents moving over the reef, tell us about its structure. On the oyster reef, we hear all this activity combined together into one bustling soundscape. The field recording was made using a stereo hydrophone technique, creating a highly spatialized and dimensional impression of this unique underwater environment. The field recording is set with an ensemble of dead oyster shells played by the ensemble as percussion instruments. The shells are struck and rubbed together to articulate their resonance. Performed in counterpoint with the field recording, we hear across generations of oysters, the living animals, and the shells left by the deceased. Over this oyster ensemble, a singer sings a song about the oysters:

We commune in lagoons and in estuaries,
Our soft bodies pulling from the sea,
Filtering toxins, absorbing wave break.
A reef is a shell for the coast.

We commune in lagoons and in estuaries,
Our soft bodies turning carbon from ocean into shells,
Sequestration as protection.
Shells hold atmosphere.

We commune among you.
Listen to our generations.
We slow erosion, strengthen the land, and clean the air.
We nourish life.
Listen to our generations.
A shell is a song.

— Matthew Burtner

Listening Note
What respect is owed to oysters? Reef restoration is increasingly part of climate resilience strategies along the Atlantic coast, for they filter water, dampen storm waves, and over generations build themselves up, rising with the sea. (“A reef is a shell for the coast.”) Made from calcium carbonate, oyster shells also draw up carbon, sequestering it. At scale, oyster reefs interact with planetary atmospheres. Regional coastal restoration efforts thus participate in efforts toward climate restoration, as oyster reef restoration also adds to the capacity of carbon sinks, intentionally drawing out some of the fossil fuel effluent into the atmosphere (“Shells hold atmosphere”). Moreover, as they protect marsh or assist in their adaptation, oyster reefs protect other blue carbon sinks.

Scientists with the Virginia Coast Reserve research conditions and consequences of successful oyster reef restoration.15 This composition arises from research into something different yet alongside and perhaps essential: how to express the reciprocity involved in restoration and make a fitting gesture of respect back to the oysters.

Oyster Communion gives expression to a practice of playing back into which Burtner regularly invites Conservatory field trip participants. Arranged on a beach is a semi-circle of oyster shells, in the middle a set of headphones connected by hydrophone to a young reef that seemed to sit silently beneath water a few feet away. One by one, we knelt in the sand and listened to the surprising bustling vitality of the reef and then played the shells through our hands, offering a percussive response.

Precisely because playing back to oyster reefs can seem uncomfortable, it compels attention to the unstated ontological terms by which we usually interact with a place. The practice suspends the modern settler premise of an inanimate world, bereft of the sort of aliveness that may make claims on humans. When listening to oyster reefs gives rise to compositions of response, it suspends belief in a world of inanimate resources and enters — even if only momentarily and imaginatively — one in which multispecies relations may be characterized by respect and reciprocity.

At the beginning of this track, oyster shells are arranged in a semi-circle around a microphone. Listening for loud events — close snapping shrimp perhaps — the ensemble initiates sequences played back with the shells and then sings back, in verse appreciation. Thomas Berry famously wrote that the great cultural work for industrial cultures was to relearn that the universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects.16 Oyster Communion offers a practice for restoring a culture of reciprocity with coastal life. Listen, and then find a way to make a fitting gesture of respect for oyster reefs.

15Hogan, S., and M. A. Reidenbach. “Quantifying Tradeoffs in Ecosystem Services Under Various Oyster Reef Restoration Designs.” Estuaries and Coasts 45.3 (2022): 677-690.
16Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. Harmony, 1999.
Field recordings and electronics *prize-winning work from the Coastal-Futures International Ecoacoustic Music Competition

Composition Note
Fluidø Therapy #1 is a sonic journey about noise pollution and masking in aquatic environments. It reveals the challenges that marine life face due to a constant rise in anthropogenic noise, combining sound synthesis with several field recordings realized in different places, such as in Croatia during the Magic Carpets and Lab 852 artistic residence, as well as in Rotterdam during the V2+Museu0 artistic residence. The piece proposes an investigation of different tones resembling anthropogenic activities that often overlap and mask important biological cues for bioacoustics. These frequencies sometimes completely fill the sonic spectrum of aquatic species, leaving no space for their communication by creating a disturbing environment. Examples include propellers from boats, seismic surveys, airguns, pile-driving, and deep-sea mining, amongst others. In the last seconds of this work, we finally hear almost only biological and geological sounds.

Listening Note
“Listening is not only about the normative ability to hear,” writes Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “it is a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in.” The din that makes it difficult for marine mammals to live, drowning them out, makes it also difficult to live well as a human.17 Learning to listen can be restorative.

Fluidø Therapy #1 offers the possibility of listening in the frequency range of marine life. Sorting anthropogenic from biological sounds on the track requires close attention, in part because they overlap and mask one another. But listening well is not just about technologically augmenting aural capacity by deploying hydrophones and sensors; it requires also “quieting down” some aspect of the mind and learning to “tune in” with another. Deborah Bird Rose, multispecies anthropologist, once wrote: “We know that nonhumans communicate in multiple registers, and perhaps it is necessary, therefore, to be able to listen in multiple registers.”18 What transformations — technical, cultural, spiritual — would we need to become capable of listening in the registers of more-than-human life?

17Gumbs, 15, 111.
18Rose, Deborah Bird. “Val Plumwood’s philosophical animism: Attentive interactions in the sentient world.” Environmental humanities 3.1 (2013): 107.
Field recording

Composition Note
This ambisonic recording was made in a ghost forest of Virginia’s Eastern Shore on a hot and humid day in June. It is recorded mid-forest, in a section of land where salt water incursion has begun to kill the trees. The recorder was left unattended in the forest for a little over an hour, left to capture the sounds of the ghost forest without our interruptions.

You can hear the birds in the canopy, flying and singing overhead, an occasional fly or mosquito buzzing past the microphone, and the expected sounds of a summer day in the forest. When listening more closely, you can hear the mingling of the sounds of the sea and the highway in the distance, the meeting of human and nature converging within this ghost forest full of life. Despite our leaving the recorder alone, human sound is ever present, as in the sounds of an airplane passing through the scene, the traffic in the background.

To begin a walk through the ghost forest you start in what can only be described as a totally normal, unassuming deciduous forest on the Eastern Shore of the Virginia coastline. It’s hot and sticky and full of bugs; it’s not a glamorous hike, and it’s about to get much more uncomfortable.

As you make your way through this “normal” Virginia forest, things start to fall apart quickly. The beautiful towering trees around you start to lose their leaves, the ground becomes wetter and the mud creeps in on you, your rubber boots barely visible as you struggle to pull your legs out of the knee-deep mud. The bed of pine needles on the forest floor is replaced with a sea of phragmites; Invasives are taking over, salt water is encroaching, and the smell of sulfur strangles your senses as sweat drips down your face and mingles with the mud below.

And despite all of this, the ghost forest is one of the most beautiful places you could ever find yourself within. Birds are chirping loudly, bugs buzzing past your ears with rhythmic intensity, wind blowing the desiccated and dying trees in a coordinated dance, sun shining on tall reeds and grasses, and you can’t help but feel so incredibly small. For me, this recording is a sad song of takeover and death, but a beautiful one grown from within the chaos.

— Katie King

Listening Note
Caused by subterranean incursion of saltwater, ghost forests are one of the most striking signals of rising seas and imperiled coasts. Deadened trees above still-green mid-canopy vegetation, they seem towering white portents of impending drowning in salt water.
Perceived another way, they also signal where the marshes need to migrate. Where the ghost forests stand, marshes could move. The opening track’s meditation on the marsh-stilled waters might still be possible. In paved and developed areas, remembering where the forest edge once was, where the trees have been ghosted into a seedbed memory, is important for imagining where future marshes need to go. We can listen to ghost forests as prophetic. “Listening is the invisible and inaudible enactment of the ethical relation itself; upon it, everything depends.”

There is still a coastal future where salt marsh sparrow sings, where storm-driven waves are dampened by mudflat and oyster reef, the quieted waters lapping at roots of barrier island grasses.