Shhh… do you hear that? It’s the sound of World Listening Day approaching on July 18. World Listening Day is put on every year by the World Listening Project, a nonprofit organization that is “devoted to understanding the world and its natural environment, societies and cultures through the practice of listening and field recording.” They explore acoustic ecology, a discipline that studies the relationship between humans and the natural world as mediated through sound. It falls on July 18 to honor the birthday of Raymond Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and environmentalist who is seen as the founder of acoustic ecology. World Listening Day was established in 2010, and each year the holiday has a specific theme tied to it. Past themes include “H20,” “Sounds Lost & Found,” and “Listen to You!” This year’s theme is “Listening to the Ground,” which asks us to consider the sounds of the literal ground in all its surfaces, from soil to asphalt, whether we’re losing metaphorical ground, and whether we can find new ground by listening for it. So quiet down, open up your ears, and get ready to study soundscapes on World Listening Day.
How to Observe World Listening Day
1. Go on a solo listening walk
Pick a route, any route. Live near a beach? Take a stroll along the ocean and listen to the waves. Or maybe you want to walk through the woods and hear what the wind sounds like going through the trees. If you don’t live near anything resembling “nature,” walk a ten block loop around your neighborhood. Take out your headphones, don’t say a word, and try to pay attention to each individual sound you hear along the way.
2. Host a listening quiz
Use your phone to record a bunch of sounds from your environment, from a particular bird call to the sound of a truck driving down the street. Invite your family and friends over and see if they can identify each sound as you play them.
3. Go to a concert
You don’t have to listen to natural sounds to appreciate the spirit of World Listening Day. Buy tickets to a concert—it could be a symphony playing Beethoven, that hip new electronic musician at a cool underground club, a Led Zeppelin cover band in the back of a dive bar, you name it. No matter what genre, challenge yourself to tune out all the background noise of your fellow concert-goers and really isolate and appreciate the sounds of the music.
Why World Listening Day is Important
A. It gives us an excuse to quiet down
Have you stopped to think about how much of your day is consumed by words? If you’re saying them you’re reading them, listening to someone else’s, or even thinking them. World Listening Day gives us a reason to back away from words and hear the sounds between and around them.
B. It makes us mindful about the noises that soundtrack our lives
Think of it this way: depending on where you live and how you move throughout your day, every person has a completely unique soundtrack that plays behind their daily routine. Car noise, wind in your ears, silverware hitting a plate, clicks from a keyboard, papers rustling… You’re so accustomed to these sounds that you probably don’t even think about the fact that you’re hearing them. But we bet you will now, huh?
C. It applies to any and all environments
Whether you live in the middle of a bustling city, out in a quiet suburb, or way out on a remote farm, the principles of acoustic ecology can be applied to your life. That means you don’t have to go an inch out of your way to celebrate World Listening Day.