Acoustic Gardens

Chris Harris

Chris Harris / March 13, 2023

5 min read

#Production, #CreativeTechnology , #Art, #PHCI, #BioAcoustics, #AcousticEcology, #DigitalAnimism, #Planetary-HCI, #LocalTechnology, LocaleTechnology


Combining soundscape ecology and citizen sensing with interactive, locale animism. This provocation won the Sovereign Nature Hackathon in 2022.

The 'Acoustic Gardens' demo app, was conceptualised in a jam session by Chris Harris, Sarah Friend, and Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, while exploring concepts in planetary-human-computer-interaction for alternative ecologies of more-than-human sensing, representation, stewardship, and economics.

An interactive web app guides a player through a direct encounter to record audio of bird activity. Responding with species and biodiversity feedback. The contribution of biogenic audio recordings grow an animist representation of the relationship to 'the spirit of a place' through a site specific Genius Loci. These abstract 3D spirits spawn into life pixelated, hardly discernable, and through repeated listening, they appear clearer.


Pitch won the Sovereign Nature Hackathon 2022.

Interactive demo comissioned by Sovereign Nature

Exhibited at De Cuevel Experimental Zone festival 2022.

Concept, production, facilitation, front end 3D development and writing by Chris Harris. Concept, visual art direction, 3D painting, development and infrastructure by Sarah Friend. Concept and initial generative 3D art by Mathew Plummer-Fernandez.

To intervene systematically without reproducing human dominance, it made sense to us to start listening more.

Prosperous Soundscapes

Acoustic Ecology, also known as soundscape ecology, is a discipline studying the relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and the environment (Wrightson 2014).

Ecological soundscapes include • biophonic sounds produced from animals; • geophonic sounds of physical environment such as wind; • anthropogenic sounds such as speech, motorised traffic, machines or music.

Listening to soundscapes, provide access to the presence of ecosystem inhabitants beyond which we can see. These overlapping soundscapes provide a medium to represent the interconnected inhabitants within more-than-human, fluid boundaries.

The most sensitive bandwidth of human hearing, falls outside the range of most human speaking. This dispells an anthropocentric myth that us humans are predisposed to hearing each other more than the rest of nature. What does fit this peak human hearing sensitivity, is the sound of bids. An ancestral indicator of habitats prosperous to humans. As described by Acoustic Ecologist Gorden Hempton

This obvious more-than-human inhabitant of both urban and rural soundscapes provides our inspiration to listen to in attempt to understand mutualistic sovereignty.

Direct Experience

The human-facing app is purposefully minimal, ideally meditative.

You ‘play’ as an Acoustic Guardian with your smartphone by visiting a location with bird sound. You press record as your phone screen dims and records a minute of audio. If the audio is classified as biogenic sound with no human words detected, it’s submitted to the dataset for the spirit of the place. You gain points for contributing your recording. Species of birds are identified and shown to you.

Digital Animism

Via these Genii Data Loci, 'Spirits of the place data’, we explored the representation of liveliness in and of participatory ecological datasets.

Rather than use a direct representation of identified species in digital 3D, we personified the 'spirit of the place' itself, drawing inspiration from the Albrijes of Mexican folk art - sculptures of imaginary creatures that have elements from different animals.

A generative algorithm of local species segmentation was initially explored, although the prototype contains hand crafted 3D sculptures.


Recordings made within in a radius of the spirit would contribute towards the collective connection/relationship to that spirit - rendered as increasing fidelity (decreasing pixelation and voxelation) of the spirit, viewable hovering over a map of the place in question.


These digital representations are driven by participation, evolving from the continued contribution of encounter data.

Players can take a photo of themselves with the spirit as an AR overlay after contributing a recording to share their contribution and presence, a minor digital engagement but what turned to be a real crowd pleaser in interaction, a very minor but significant, digital communing-with.


The hope is that this creates more of a feedback loop between our daily digital lives and our natural observations.

Digital Animism is an invitation to consider a relationship with technology that goes beyond the mechanistic and utilitarian to embrace the relational inter-being of plural life forces.

Exploring the concept of digital animism shifts the focus of HCI from an anthropocentric design approach to one that acknowledges the interrelations of non-human entities.

This software driven experience experiments with bringing the focus away from flat measurement, direct representation and towards inter-being and the representation of more-than-human territories.

Further Works

This little demo app was built site specific for the eco-social showcase in De Cuevel, Amsterdam, a site of cultural phytoremediation and is currently offline for general use.

Find us on here the web for more inter-species digital animism and careful relationally local technology.


Collecting future co-conspirators

for conversations not 'content'