The Active Listener

The Active Listener was a five-day course offered through the Bard Conservatory Virtual Summer Institute in July 2020, exploring introductory concepts relating to acoustic ecology and its relationship to musical creativity. This course was a distillation of a course I offered at Cornell University in 2017, Musical Technologies and the Natural World. Participants went on sound walks, produced ‘scores’ depicting soundscapes near their homes, collected field recordings of those soundscapes, and learned to edit these recordings in Reaper. The four works exhibited below represent the final projects of the course’s participants. They were encouraged to toy with the edge of the surreal, showcasing sounds from their soundscapes both in context, the documentarian side of field recording, but also in dream-like superpositions, playing with the mind’s understanding of what constitutes reality as dictated by sound. Given the extremely tight timeframe and steep learning curve for such a short class, I was really impressed with the work these folks did, and am proud to feature their pieces here.


“My name is Jack Bettigole. I’m 15, live in Rhinebeck, NY, and I am a rising sophomore in highschool. I play piano, percussion, and I compose. I compose both acoustically and electronically, using programs such as Ableton Live 10 or REAPER. The piece that I made here is a mix between mechanical, choppy loops and ethereal-like soundscapes.”

C̶̢͈̞͈̲̳͔͔̗̝̫͓͂̈̐̔͊͗̔h̷̛̜̲͇̖̳̞̙͈͓̜̍̒̅͌̏͋͑̓̾̓ä̷̺̞́̓̊̐̓̚̚ờ̸̮̝̞̇͌̂̓͆̆̆̈́̋̔̽̓͠s̷̡̡̡̗̺̹͎̬͚̠͎̗̎̏̃͋̿͗͋̔̏̓͝ͅ (2020)


Darius Farhoumand is an incoming senior at New York University’s Steinhardt School and the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in Bassoon Performance. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought Darius back to his hometown of Glendale, California, where he has been avidly playing from home and exploring the soundscapes of his suburban environment.

“This electronic composition was completed on Friday, July 24, 2020, and formed by field recordings taken on July 21st at the central fountain of the Americana at Brand in Glendale, California, a popular shopping and entertainment complex that was built in 2008 by Los Angeles billionaire businessman Rick J. Caruso. 

The soundscape I encountered here was surprisingly more dynamic than one might expect; one can easily distinguish between the rhythmic pulses of the dancing fountain from the variety of voices, sounds, and dialects of the passersby. The textures you hear in this composition have been extracted, engineered, and blended to create a mood that is mellow yet alive and constrained, like our society in today’s quarantine era. I also encourage you to think less about what is being heard and more about how you are hearing it. The narrative of this work is less melodically structured than it is acoustically programmed; if you listen carefully, you can piece together a story of casual curiosity, agitation, and charm.”

font dance (2020)


Linfang “Oga” Li — I live nearby a small nature area in southeast Portland. Since the lockdown, the car noise subdued but the birdsongs didn’t; birds came to the foreground of the soundscape everyday at dawn and dusk. The acoustic environment also shifted with the season. The flocks of geese that dominated the soundscape in the spring are now quiet. I am a composer and I study religion at Reed College.

Wednesday July 22 is the 55th consecutive night of protest in Portland, which began soon after the death of George Floyd. The protest has been escalated after the Feds’ arrival. On the night of July 22, as it was reported on NYT, mayor Ted Wheeler joined the crowd and was later tear-gassed by the Feds. I went to the protest and left before the Feds started to harass civilians. Night 55 was made from recordings of that experience.

The soundtrack may become overwhelming. Protect your ears.

Night 55 (2020)


Gabriel Stossel is a young composer who is currently attending CIM for undergraduate studies.
“Birds and guitar is my first attempt to make something on Reaper.  The piece itself is somewhat straight forward: a recording from my outside porch and a recording of me playing guitar strings between the nut and head.”
Birds and Guitar (2020)