Melt Me into the Ocean

Yolande Harris, UC Santa Cruz

Can learning to listen to underwater sound transform us and our relationship to the environment?

Melt Me Into The Ocean focuses on expanding our relationship to the Monterey Bay through underwater sound. The project brings together expertise from local communities in different forms of listening, from science, arts and sound healing, to help shape a more integrated awareness of the ocean. The study of underwater sound as a harbinger of environmental change exposes the impact of uncontrolled anthropogenic sound, and enables insights into the many marine species of this area. Imaginatively accessing this otherwise inaccessible environment, encourages empathy, remote presence and more active engagement in crucial environmental issues. I will integrate this research with UCSC students in the year-long Electronic Music Workshop.

We will work with scientific researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), learning practices in ocean sound gathering and analysis, technological developments of hydrophones, sound processing and machine learning algorithms, sonification of ocean data and identification of ocean sounds. We will also work with sound therapists to understand techniques for facilitating psychological healing through sound and listening. The aim is to integrate these listening experiences, both to create a series of sonic interventions along coastal sites of the Monterey Bay, and contribute to directions in scientific research.

As Research Associate at UCSC, I am focusing on sound and the embodied local experience of place on the edge of the Monterey Bay. As a small city of Santa Cruz, how can we integrate our diverse expertise on sound and listening, and deepen our commitment to environmental issues by focusing our sonic imagination? This year I developed a collaboration with MBARI accessing sounds from their deep ocean hydrophone from the cabled observatory in the Monterey Canyon. Using these sounds and others I collected myself, I developed a series of site-specific public sound events and walks in Santa Cruz, exploring embodied listening and connectedness to the uninhabitable ocean. This included the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Ebb and Flow Festival, the experimental music platform Indexical, a women’s trauma healing retreat, a sound healing event at the Pacific Cultural Center, and funding from the Santa Cruz Arts Council, culminating in an installation at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Building on the positive response to these works (with forthcoming presentations at ISEA Korea and Lincoln Pops Festival Nebraska), a Placemaking MiniGrant would enable me to launch the next phase of a collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), including new work with environmental non-profit California Ocean Alliance. Ideally this would lead to further developing my interdisciplinary research and teaching on Art, Sound and the Ocean at UCSC.