“Listening to Silent Spring”

Digital audio, 40 mins
The internet is my gallery
Published 17 October 2018

“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson is among the most influential books that have been published. Carefully and soberly, Carson documented the impact of DDT and other pesticides on the food chain and biodiversity, and on human health. The book kick-started the environmental movement and led to many pesticides being banned. It was the drastic impact on bird life that gave Carson the title for the book.

It appeared on 27 September 1962. On its 50th anniversary in 2012, I honoured the work and its impact by taking an awareness walk around my neighbourhood, and listening. I was not just listening for birds, but for everything, including all those sounds we usually tune out. My walk took me through suburbia, close to main roads, and eventually into Ludwell Valley Park, a piece of preserved countryside within Exeter city bounds. At the time, I wrote up my notes and some reflections as an Autumn audit.

This work is a piece of sound art of the same duration as my walk from my home to Ludwell Valley Park. My notes of the sounds I heard became the script. So the actual sounds are replaced by the narrator’s – my – voice. Some, like the omnipresent traffic or the lawnmower, lasted a long time. But my narration of each sound takes at most only a couple of seconds. Hence the work is mostly silence, which provides space for the listener to become aware of and pay attention to their own ambient soundtrack.

You can listen via Youtube to “Listening to Silent Spring” above, and you are welcome to download it as an .mp3 file (23 Mb). The script is also available to donwload as a pdf, and the map of my route is below.

“Thank you so much for sending this. What an enjoyable 40 minutes that was! I’ve been promising myself more space in which to listen, and your piece has made it happen. I listened in my dining room. Builders are tapping tiles onto my neighbour’s new extension roof. I enjoyed my immobility and the consistency of my sonic environment and your mobility and changing of scene. A funny kind of guided meditation, in a way.” – EW

If you would like to take your own awareness walk, and would like some guidance and companionable poetry, I have created two versions of a leaflet for you to download (pdfs):