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Rudolf Agricola School

More Research Sustainable Landscapes & Regions

Soundscapes, Biodiversity, Well-Being, and Artistic Practice

A loss of biodiversity and lack of green space is a key concern in the Netherlands, both in cities, smaller villages, and on the islands. Yet progress in realizing greener and sufficiently biodiverse and interlocking regions is modest, hampered by competing interests of different groups. Further, the critical inter-relations between ecological regions and between cities and villages is often little understood.

This interdisciplinary research group addresses this issue with a fresh approach by focusing on the sound of biodiversity as a tool to increase knowledge of this ecological inter-dependency.

Three ways to a better understanding

Our team also seeks to better understand how our soundscape critically impacts our quality of life and well-being, especially as we become further isolated through urbanization and through the virtual worlds offered by mobile devices. One way to trigger such consciousness is through a study of birdsong and the urban forest through soundscape recordings and their analysis.

Another is to investigate how knowledge and attachment to local soundscapes engender a sense of well-being and place in one’s neighborhood.

A third is to enact artistic and musical creations in relation to soundscape recordings to stimulate our imaginations and knowledge of the ‘natural world’ in our midst.

The first interdisciplinary framework

With these goals in mind, we aim to build the first interdisciplinary framework to measure the relation between soundscapes, biodiversity, and well-being, while examining the creative and artistic role that humans can play in this relationship. We know that regular exposure to the soundscapes of wildlife (such as birdsong, or sounds of water) in our midst can create a sense of well-being, attachment to local green spaces, and a greater ecological consciousness of the tenuous and precarious balance between animals, plants, and humans. This is especially true as cities expand and so-called wild areas are transformed for the development and expansion of cities or agriculture.

A variety of approaches to stimulate ecological responsibility

In particular, with this interdisciplinary research group, we intend to investigate these changes and to stimulate ecological responsibility through a variety of approaches ranging from soundscape- recording, mapping and analysis; birdsong study; soundwalks; creative composition and improvisation with soundscapes. Finally the research team employs a participatory approach enlisting students, musicians, and local residents in our initiatives.

Lead Researchers

KRISTIN MCGEE (she/her), Associate Professor of Popular Music within the department of Arts, Culture and Media (Faculty of Arts), saxophonist, and initiator of this project. She studies music and soundscapes through the lens of sound studies, cultural theory, philosophy, and political ecology. She is also chair of the local tree advocacy group, De Boomwachters in which she has gained an intimate knowledge of Groningen’s local urban forest and the city’s tree-care and tree-removal policies. With this project, she seeks to connect her study of music and soundscapes to her work on urban forests. Her ultimate goal is to increase one’s affiliation and commitment to the combined ecological and cultural health of the city with greater care for those ‘more-than human’ with whom we share our urban spaces.

JAN KOMDEUR is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Groningen (Faculty of Science and Engineering), Netherlands. His main interest is in how the stunning diversity of social systems and behaviours in nature can be explained, with a broad focus ranging from insects, birds, and mammals. His research focuses on how the social and ecological environment moulds behavioural responses at the individual level, and their consequences for population and species persistence. His research also focuses on functions of acoustic and chemical communication between individuals of the same and different species. For example, it was shown that urban noise conditions and environments with heavy metal contamination impair male-female communication through song in birds and that song signal efficiency depends on song frequency in the presence of noise.

BETTINA VAN HOVEN (she/ her) is Associate Professor Cultural Geography and currently Academic Director of Education at University College Groningen. Her (qualitative) research uses arts-based and participatory methods, and it primarily addresses how people connect with and find attachment to places. Examples are projects involving youth and older adults in place-making walk.

Last modified:11 July 2023 10.17 a.m.
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