The Listening Affect

The Listening Affect

A festival for sound ecologies and sonic entanglements


Nov. 10th -

Nov. 12th, 2023




Galeria Municipal do Porto

Galeria da Biodiversidade


Institute for Postnatural Studies


Porto, Portugal

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“As you listen, the particles of sound decide to be heard. Listening affects what is sounding. It is a symbiotic relationship. As you listen, the environment is enlivened. This is the listening effect.”

Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice

The Listening Affect

How are the sounds of the planet, of all its creatures and territories, changing within the climate crisis? How do animals perceive the noise of human activities, and of our spoken languages? How does a plant sound when it moves, stretching its leaves to find light or moving its roots towards the water? How do we hear solar flares? Or electromagnetic waves? How does the sound of the tectonic plates affect our mood and daily routines? Can you think of sounds that have gone extinct?

These and many other questions were explored and embodied at The Listening Affect, an arts and science festival in collaboration with Galeria Municipal do Porto that will take place from Nov. 10th through the 12th, 2023 and resonated from different locations around the city of Porto. With more than 18 international artists including music composers, experimental sound artists, and acoustic researchers, the city’s sonic ecosystem was amplified, reverberated, and entangled through concerts, conversations, sound activations, and performances. The festival became an open platform and playful ecosystem for generating collective critical thinking around sound ecologies and exploring new modes of empathy for our relationship with the environment.


  • KMRU

  • Laraaji

  • Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

  • Antoine Bertine

  • Laia Estruch

  • Panamby and Wirawasu

  • Wirawasu

  • Panamby

  • Party by Lovers & Lollypops

  • Rezmorah

  • Lechuga Zafiro

  • 2gay2tek

  • Interspecifics

  • Marta Zapparolli

  • Inês Tartaruga Água

  • Andrea Zarza Canova

  • Infrasónica

  • Ute Wassermann

Conceptual Framework

The Phonocene and the Ecologies of Listening

Within the framework of the Phonocene, described by Donna Haraway and Vinciane Despret as a possible era of sound, active listening can allow us to access new modes of inhabiting territories and dealing with the current ecological crisis by prioritizing intra- and inter-species kinships. Listening as an ecological practice unfolds new forms of attention that intrinsically require empathy, slowing down, mutual respect, and trust. Understood as an expanded way of being in the world that goes beyond hearing in a physical sense, it explores sound as a catalyst for collective and individual healing. Terms such as archaeoacoustics, soundscapes or acoustic ecology present new ways of relating to art and research beyond the primacy of the visual and the normativization of the senses. Through experimental practices, the invited artists blur the boundaries between the visible and the invisible, between human and animal, between the physical and the intangible, between diverse sensory experiences, and other binary categories.

If we think with and through the practice of Deep Listening, a term and methodology coined by Pauline Oliveros involving attentive listening, we can more easily access the entanglements between our inner sounds (physical, emotional, and mental) and the sounds of our exterior environment. When we give attention to what we listen to, a voice, a song, or an unknown sound, we inevitably embody it, because it enters and moves us internally, allowing us to connect with our surroundings on a deeper level. Activating new modes of empathy through sound-making is one of the most influential effects of field recordings, experimental music and other sound practices.

In 1970, Roger Payne gifted humans some of the first whale recordings with his album Songs of the Humpback Whale. With this gesture, Payne allowed listeners to invite far-and-deep-away voices into their homes, to intrinsically understand that whales are social beings, with unique sensitivities, emotions, and desires of gift-giving and kinship. This sonic gesture caused a major cultural shift in how we relate to other-than-human animals. Having a voice, or the potential of making sound, is one of the main links that we share with the living and “nonliving” world.

Sonic technologies

In western modern and capitalist cultures, however, hierarchical relations and rigid knowledge systems transform voices into a product or category, and empathy into a consumer behavior strategy. This complicated relationship between empathy and consumerism raises critical questions about sound extractivism and the influence that sound recording holds on our understanding of “nature”, about how we relate to what we hear, especially in urban environments. In his text Part 2: Unbecoming, Animal, Mitchell Akiyama explores the beginning of field recording technology, shedding light on how sound capturing entered the western knowledge-generating systems. Improved microphones increased the human auditory range and allowed us to strategically hide and listen to enemies during war times. However, the inability to silence the sounds and voices that inhabited conflict zones also allowed for the sonic entrapment of birds, insects, and other animals, climate phenomena, vegetal life, and the overall audible ecosystem. This technology, however, once it became more readily available, also allowed artists and scientists to create art and knowledge that responded to the dynamic complexities of the planet in a much less intrusive manner. Nonetheless, some valid questions should keep us critically thinking and feeling about sound recording and the human/non-human binomial. Are we nonconsensually borrowing the voices and sounds of others for personal or collective gain? Are we appropriating animal cultures? And how does that affect them?

In the multilayered world of relationships that sound awakens, other-than-humans must also be taken into account as perceptive and sensitive beings. For an ecology of equal relations that abandons hierarchies and respects others by understanding their differences, it is important to consider how our noisy technologies and machinery might be affecting their lives. Understanding noise pollution is undoubtedly an important task to measure the impact of our actions on the planet. If the material waste of the climate crisis is the physical witness of the acts of violence committed on the territory, there are infinite silenced stories of how we have also affected its sound spheres. Not only have the forests suffered from our felling, but all their inhabitants have lived with the deafening roar of the chainsaws. Mineral mines have not only been hollowed, losing their material, but they have also suffered the shaking of explosions and dynamite. In this sense, one might ask: How do other beings perceive our presence on the planet through sound? How are our sounds and noises perceived by forests, bodies of water, and insects? Can, for example, plants listen?

Since the 1970s, there has been speculation about the ability of plants to perceive certain vibrations and sound frequencies and react to them. The book The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird published in 1973 was the activator of new theoretical and artistic works on the issue, and in 1976 Mort Garson created Plantasia, the first album made with electronic synthesizers composed to be heard both by plants and humans.

Many studies have emerged that determine which frequencies stimulate plants and what physiological responses they provoke in them. From the very low frequencies, which are “heard” by plants to locate underground bodies of water, to the very high ones, which are perceived as a response to the hum of pollinating insects, plants' sound sensitivity is very broad. In order to understand a new era of listening, we must therefore detach senses from anthropocentric exceptionalism and critically displace the human from the center to generate new spaces of alliances.

The album Songs of Disappearance by Bowerbird Collective and BirdLife Australia, released in 2022 with sound recordings by David Stewart and Nature Sound, brings awareness to the songs of endangered birdlife in Australia. Surprisingly, it charted the Australian music charts, surpassing mainstream pop culture artists and suggesting that there may be a fetish or pre-longing for lost bird songs. But why is it that some people only start to pay auditory attention when they learn that a sound is about to disappear? Can we think of a possible opposite scenario in which a living being is the actual recording technology and machines are the ones being recorded? The lyrebird, for instance, is a species of bird that replicates almost perfect sounds of its acoustic environment, including these human-made machines. So, if humans were to disappear in this scenario and the lyrebird to thrive, we could imagine a possible future in which extractivist “machines” continue living sonically through the technological animal body.

Most recently, not only humans and other-than-human animals are capable of sound making. Recently there has been an increase in code making and programming that allow artificial intelligence to generate sounds derived from prompts. What happens when technology starts to trick us into hearing something we are not? How would we inhabit sonic virtual realities? AI can now hamper the listeners’ potential to distinguish the sounds of real birds and artificially generated birdsongs. Technology is reviving bodiless voices that have been extinct in their natural habitat. Will our future environments, zoological spaces, safaris, gardens, and parks host an array of machines that replicate lost songs?

Decolonizing sound

Another way to understand acoustic ecologies is through history, prioritizing listening to voices that have been traditionally subordinated by the current colonial and patriarchal structures. In her book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, Alexis Pauline Gumbs invites us to reflect on the different forms of communication of certain marine mammals as a transformative and revolutionary resource. A material phenomenon and a symbolic trope that brings us closer to extinction, not only of other-than-human animals but also of subjectivities and cultures that have been historically silenced. As Vincianne Despret suggests in her book Living as a Bird, songs, and sounds can create territorial frontiers in a more malleable way that is in unison with what is co-echoing and resonating with. When considering decolonial philosophy through sound, how can we listen to the sonic dynamics and resonances between the invader and the invaded, in the past and the present? In the context of Portugal as a colonizing country, how may the sounds, bodies, songs, ancestral knowledge, and voices of the Brazilian Amazon resonate in this political context, and what kinds of conversations, potentially healing ones, could derive from this form of territorial and sonic encounter?

Non-anthropocentric sonic entanglements

By reconsidering sonic modes of relating with other-than-human species, humans can dismantle the hierarchical capitalist drive for growth and "progress" not only to include other-than-human perspectives in the political, social, and economic dialogue but also to reconsider how we relate to each other as a species and the problematics of vocalizing through a “civilized” paradigm. Thinking through and with animals, plants, fungi, minerals, microorganisms, or other non-human agencies, generates a fertile ground to imagine a desirable future of coexistence and degrowth that includes a diversity of voices and experiences in a conversation that is not based on oppression, but on symbiotic relationships.

When we think of sound we should also not forget the multiscalar principles of sonic entanglements. The sound the sun makes, for example, is directly linked to the behavior of our cells, proteins, hormones, and emotions. In his sonic journey When the Earth Started to Sing, by David G. Haskell, we are asked to imagine how single cells came to be what we are today through sound. What mutation or transformation allowed bodies to make sounds, and most importantly, why? The climate and gravity had an enormous impact on how bodies evolved to be able to generate sound either through their body or by friction. But even before life started to flourish in the earth's mantle and oceans, the planet went through an extreme composition of noises, bangs and crashes. Imagine the sounds pre-earth made as its formations collapsed back and forth until it became unified as two Astro bodies. Imagine the sound of the Big Bang. These questions invite us to think of “natural history” through a different lens and, as we multiply modes of understanding, we are given a chance to co-world and co-build on different grounds, perhaps inspiring new relational systems.

Through concerts, workshops, performances, parties, and talks The Listening Affect celebrates sound and the joy of listening to far-away sounds, of dancing to future myths, of being bewildered by artificially generated birdsongs, of imagining other possible futures, but most importantly it invites us to listen as an act of radical ecological care.

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