On Earth Day 2017, Vancouver Co-operative Radio turned the airwaves over to the wetland creatures for twenty-four continuous hours. The broadcast consisted of a recording made in real time on Earth Day in the previous year. Artists Brady Marks and Mark Timmings collaborated on this exercise in slow radio art. The Wetland broadcast is a tribute to the World Soundscape Project (WSP) founded by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer in the late 1960s.
In his 1975 article “FM Radio as Observational Access to Wilderness Environments,” composer and researcher Bruce Davis proposed “wilderness radio” that would broadcast sounds from a remote natural environment to the city. This project would have impacted our relationship to Nature and our conceptualization of radio. His vision was never realized. Davis was an associate of the World Soundscape Project, a Canadian cultural movement that began fifty years ago at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. With R. Murray Schafer, WSP members Howard Broomfield, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp pioneered the environmental discipline known as Acoustic Ecology. This field of study, based on the relationship between humans and their sonic environment, is now practiced internationally. In the words of composer, radio artist and sound ecologist Westerkamp, “learning how to listen and what kind of listener we are in the world … is an environmental question.” She asks us, “How deeply are we engaged with the world through our ears?”
In 2013, multidisciplinary artist Mark Timmings began to focus his attention on the wetland beside his home on Saturna Island, British Columbia. He realized that the rich soundscape emanating from this site was nothing more than background to his daily routine. The initial impetus for the Wetland Project was to heighten his awareness of this environment. It occurred to him that the marsh was a metaphor for the primordial soup constituting the origins of life. Timmings made connections between the activities and vocalizations of the creatures and of his own; he became immersed in the soundscape. This immersion is the inspiration for the Wetland broadcast.
The twenty-four-hour broadcast on Earth Day 2017 was the longest continuous radio transmission in Canadian history. The Saturna Island wetland soundscape was amplified beyond the marsh to the local community, across the country and around the globe. Besides being aired on Vancouver Co-operative Radio, it was also streamed on the internet and an abridged version was syndicated to international broadcasters. The webcast continues to be available for listening in sync with the listeners’ local time on the project’s website.
In sharp contrast to the distractive experience of mainstream commercial radio, listeners’ interaction was transformed into one of acute perception. It is, to quote Bruce Davis, “a radio service which ‘listens in’ rather than ‘broadcasts out.’” Since most natural life forms operate on a twenty-four-hour cycle, or circadian rhythm, the real time aspect of slow radio allows the listener to be immersed in the full spectrum of the soundscape as it occurs. As an act of social and environmental awareness and activism, it has the potential to expose interconnections between the creatures in the wetland and people in their homes, apartments and condos as they go about their everyday rituals. Questions arise: When does sound become noise? When does noise become music? How do airplanes and human activities resonate with the natural soundscape? How do I fit into the sonic environment and how does it affect my daily activities? While tuning into the Wetland broadcast, listeners’ daily routines were re-enchanted by the rich, holistic, unpredictable sounds issuing from the radio.
— R. Murray Schafer, from Radical Radio (1987)
For years man has been pumping his affairs out across the wilderness environment. For once the natural soundscape would be allowed, in its wisdom, to speak back to us.
— Leigh Field, Saturna Island, BC
Been listening off and on all day long! … so simple and so profound, to listen to the earth noises on Earth Day! What strikes me is how much ENERGY is coming out of all these birds, singing their hearts for hours and hours. Really makes me respect and love them … if that makes sense. Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing the night chorus of the tree frogs … its outside my door too because we have a small marsh next to my house!
— Ellen McGinn (poet), Vancouver, BC
… tuned into non-stop wetland on Co-op radio. I can’t tell inside from outside. Very peaceful.
— William Gibson (writer), Vancouver, BC
The Wetland Project is a beautiful, quietly amazing work of micro-post-geographical art that allows us to be wherever we are and somewhere wonderfully natural and real, simultaneously. It’s an experience I wish everyone could have, and I wish there were more experiences like it.
— Leela Chinniah (Director of Programming Administration, Vancouver Co-operative Radio), Vancouver, BC
This is awesome! …
Remarkably, I can feel my stomach relax in the same way it does when I’m actually out in nature (I’m not, I’m at home near a busy Skytrain line). And, it almost feels like some kind of intervention when I turn on a device (the radio) that I somewhat unconsciously seek to keep my mind distracted and it refuses to comply by providing me with … slowness.
Thanks for bringing something so special to the airwaves!
— Barry Truax (composer/World Soundscape Project member), Vancouver, BC
What a gorgeous dawn chorus to wake up to! Congratulations on an amazing project, and I appreciate the reference back to the WSP and Bruce’s Wilderness Radio concept.
— Barry Truax (composer/World Soundscape Project member), Vancouver, BC
The Saturna Island Wetland Project created by Mark Timmings [and] Brady Marks … went live on their website recently (wetlandproject.com) and it’s become my favourite ‘radio station.’ It brings to reality a proposal that Bruce Davis of the World Soundscape Project published in the journal Alternatives back in 1975 called “FM Radio as Observational Access to Wilderness Environments.” … The idea was deceptively simple: to ‘listen in’ to a wilderness soundscape, instead of ‘broadcasting out’ into it.
— Karen Love (Director of Development, Vancouver Art Gallery), Vancouver, BC
… had the Wetland Project on all day yesterday and when our dinner guests arrived we kept it on throughout the evening. Everyone loved being immersed in that gorgeous bird- and frog-cacophony of sounds. Somehow the world seemed like a better place. Thanks!
— Eric Lamontagne (sound recording engineer for the Wetland Project), Victoria, BC
I enjoyed the broadcast and website all day from 7 am to 10:30 pm … Thank you for your work to bring this to completion. It’s amazing how it feels like yesterday we were out there in the forest hauling my mic arrays, cart, and batteries.
Brady, is it true that this was the longest continuous broadcast of a recording? What authorities do we alert to get into Canada’s record books? You had the most perfect level and tone balance for your 30-minute announcements, they never brought me out of the experience and were always a welcome injection. I was often surprised that another 30 minutes were up. Awesome.
Mark, I think the website implementation was perfect. Gabrielle’s visualization was a nifty background for those running tweets. It’s fun to hear about different people’s reactions from around the world, I know that it was played in Mexico and Italy by friends of mine. I especially love that it’s a continuing live stream. How will you keep it in sync with the time changes. ... how long will you keep it live?
Thanks for inviting me to be part of something special and unique.
— Allan Jensen (founding member of Vancouver Co-operative Radio), Vancouver, BC
This is such a great idea ... I am stuck inside all day today & to have my apartment full of wetland sounds is transformative.
— Susan McMaster (poet), Ottawa
I think, and others who heard it through the day (including of course my cat), thought it was marvellous—and blended in a most interesting way with the spring bird sounds from around our house, since I had the window open much of the time, and we live near the Rideau River. Did you tape the day? A great idea into the future for Earth Day, possibly even from different sources, e.g. a forest meadow, or mountain valley.
— Deborah Gibson, Vancouver, BC
It was so beautiful. I had it on for 24 hours and yesterday I did again! If I didn’t have to go out I’d have it on right now … What an immense and lovely project.
— Marnie Fleming (curator), Toronto, ON/Oaxaca, Mexico
I can’t tweet but I am in the wetlands via my radio! Your little wetland is in Oaxaca at this moment.
— Joan Henderson, Vancouver, BC
For most of the day, at home and in my car, I have been enjoying the birds, etc. from Saturna on Co-op Radio. … What a treat. They should do this more often. And amazing that they refer to Bruce as now having his wilderness dream come true. Oh yes, this takes me back. I’ve been recommending it to many. At the farmers market this morning, I told a young woman, who provides me with wonderful almond milk, that I used to be associated with Murray and the Soundscape group. Now I’m a grey hair!
— Joel Ornoy (business manager), Vancouver, BC
As a hardcore greenie, I immediately knew what the cacaphony I came home to in place of my weekly reggae show was all about, and I have to hand it to you and your masterstroke move—one that only VCR [Vancouver Co-op Radio] could conceive, though I have to admit I enjoyed it together with some dub tunes to make it even more enjoyable. …
— Hildegard Westerkamp (sound artist/composer/World Soundscape Project member), Vancouver, BC
I have met various people who have been totally enthusiastic about the 24-hour wetlands broadcast. Congratulations to what seems to have been a very successful project! …
Your broadcast has certainly highlighted that this kind of “wilderness radio” may now be possible. Have you thought of repeating this next year as a live broadcast? … Thanks for all you did. It is marvellous!
— Marie-Jeanne Musiol (artiste), Gatineau, QC
En voyant/écoutant ce que vous faites avec ce petit marais, j’ai pris la résolution d’aller discuter avec un voisin de notre lac des mesures à prendre pour conserver le marais dont il est propriétaire. Malheureusement il utilise ce très beau lieu pour faire de la motocross l’été parce qu’il est sec!! Bonne suite dans ton projet à multiples facettes.
— Chris Welsby (filmmaker/artist), Gabriola Island, BC
This is really a great project! Congratulations Brady and Mark.
Let this go Viral, Google that! Let the wetlands invade all those crummy caffeine-driven radio stations. Then invade TV and do so without images … who needs them now! Transmit those sounds to the furthest reaches of the Galaxy so that whoever is out there waiting may know that there is intelligent life on this fucked up beautiful planet.
Strong work Brady! Good for you Mark!
— Jer Thorpe (artist/writer/professor at New York University’s ITP program/co-founder of The Office for Creative Research/National Geographic Fellow), New York, NY
Just wanted to say that I love all of the things that are going on with this project.
— Char Hoyt (artist), Vancouver, BC
I so loved the Wetland Project and I listened to it all day and parts of the night. The frogs were my favourite! They went crazy at one point. It was intense!
— Nur Intan Murtadza (musician)/Yves Candau (dance artist), Burnaby, BC
The Saturna Island Wetland Project was such a wonderful project to listen to this past April. We had it on all day long for a couple of days and began to sense the passing of the day through what we heard. It was a delicious experience.
— Berdhanya Swami Tierra (spiritual teacher), Wakefield, QC
It’s like being there with you!! … Thank you so much.
— Marie-Andrée Charlebois (rédactrice), Gatineau, QC
J’écoute les petits oiseaux et le vent dans les branches. Tout à l’heure un hydravion est passé. … Merci pour ce cadeau exceptionnel.
— Stephen Morris (musicologist), Saturna Island, BC
Congratulations. This is a brilliant coup.
— Daina Augaitis (Chief Curator/Associate Director, Vancouver Art Gallery), Vancouver, BC
What a lovely way to start the morning!! Thank you for this reminder on Earth Day!
— Loren Smith, Bend, OR
Yes, loving it. Especially interesting with sound of pouring rain in background. I’m in Portland. Now that I’m listening I don’t feel like I can leave the house :) I’m supposed to drive home midday but realize I won’t be able to keep listening. I’m in a dilemma :)
— Jillian Tebbitt (cultural worker), Victoria, BC
At 5:30 am I heard the American Robin on Co-op, singing bravely between country and some other music station! As Representative of Redwing Blackbirds Everywhere …
— Patti Fraba, Saturna Island, BC
I’m listening, but I don’t tweet! It’s wonderful! Amazing how many planes fly over this little island, isn’t it. Civilization. … sigh … Thanks for this!
— Joan Hoskinson (financial planner), Thunder Bay, ON
Thank you … it’s wonderful! And my cats kept looking around for all the birdies!
— Robyn Quaintance, Vancouver, BC
I am thoroughly enjoying your recorded wetland sounds. So delightful! Thank you for doing this.
— Valerie, Vancouver, BC
The best Earth Day programming I’ve ever heard! I learned a lot and found it calming, exquisite and enjoyable. I’m wondering if you have a CD that I can purchase so I can have these sounds accessible to me again. [transcription of a telephone message]
— Sharon Schermbrucker, (soprano in Elektra Women’s Choir/director of Saturna Island community choir), Vancouver/Saturna Island, BC
I am so enjoying a morning of listening …
— Nancy Angermeyer (photographer), Saturna Island, BC
I have been listening and it’s great background music. I meditated to it this morning. Very “virtual.” It was like living my life but not actually being there. … Great event.
— Yolande Morin (photographe), Vancouver, BC
J’ai écouté presque toute la journée ... calmant et fascinant d’entendre tant d’activité même le soir!!! Félicitations pour ce joyeau!
— Hank Bull (artist), Vancouver, BC
Listening right now and at various times throughout the day. Sounds really magical. … Now on the car radio. Wetland in motion!
— Melanie O’Brian (Director/Curator, Simon Fraser University Galleries), Vancouver, BC
It was a great experience to tune into the project at home, in the car (unfortunately I was driving on Earth Day) and have the wetland project follow me through the day. Wonderful! And I liked Brady’s comments/insights/voice throughout too. We want it to continue all year round! Congratulations.
— Emmeline Debay (artist), Gatineau, QC
J’ai écouté les gazouillis, grenouillis et autres voix des marais le 22, presque tout le temps.
— Marie Pérusse, Quebec, QC
BRAVO! pour le Wetland Project. Quel travail extraordinaire!
— Joni Low (curator), Vancouver, BC
Congrats on your Earth Day project! I listened to the marsh sounds as I was reading one evening.
— Karen Henry (Public Art Planner, City of Vancouver), Vancouver, BC
I listened to your beautiful recording on Earth Day. The quality of sound is really excellent. Congratulations on this special project.
— Cindy Richmond (editor), Vancouver, BC
I tuned in that morning, and heard the broadcast and quite enjoyed it. Good work! What a great project, and at a time when paying attention to the environment is more important than ever.
— Véronique Noelle (singer/songwriter), Vancouver, BC
Thanks for sending the link! I can’t wait to hear more. Love that you will be broadcasting a full day cycle of sound!
— Andreas Kahre (artist/designer), Gabriola Island, BC
What a timely and beautiful project. If there is something like it to be done on Gabriola, count me in!
— Geoffrey Farmer (artist), Vancouver, BC
I’m just listening to wetlandproject now. Beautiful, and will take with me to play when I travel.
— Nancy von Euw (performance coach/actor), Burnaby, BC
this is GREAT!!
— Nancy Gerber, Saturna Island, BC
Wonderful honouring of Earth Day and a joy to listen to!
— Marion P. Cox, Maple Ridge, BC
I LOVED this broadcast!!! When can we hear it again? THANK YOU! I listened to many many hours of it. Sign me up to help with future projects if I can contribute anything!
— Aven, Sudbury, ON
I put on the @wetlandproject livestream (of the sounds of a marsh) & the cat came running to the window looking for the birds she can hear.
— Karen Hasselfelt (Cultural Planner, City of Vancouver), Vancouver, BC
Loved the Wetland Project link—I will be playing it quietly (and surreptitiously) in my office a lot.
— Sandra Koochin (retired teacher), Saturna Island, BC
Are you listening? Yep!