Listen Up: Northern Soundscapes

Project Spotlight: A sonic circumpolar response to Alaskan field recordings.

Territoire Collaboration circumpolaire Technologie
A person crouching with a large microphone and recording gear in a rocky landscape, partially shrouded in steam or mist.

Throughout April 2–October 3, 2021, the Anchorage Museum played host to a series of commissioned soundscapes from across the Arctic honouring the distinct rhythms, sounds, silences, and musical traditions of the North. 

Curated by Hollis Mickey, the exhibition Listen Up was an exercise in sonic storytelling through a sort of circumpolar call-and-response. Ten sound artists and musicians received a one-minute field recording documenting the sounds of a site in Alaska during a specific day, time, and season, and were tasked with creating their own sonic response—sampling, excerpting, drawing inspiration from, or composing back to the original clip. The results are ten unique new compositions in conversation with five Alaskan sites: Sitka (with responses by Foresteppe and Nicholas Galanin), Soldotna (with responses by Jeneen Frei Njootli and Silla & Rise), Nenana (with responses by Jana Winderen and Davyd Betchkal), Nuiqsut (with responses by Matthew Burtner and Uyarakq) and Anchorage (with responses by Alex Somers, Pamyua).

Inside the exhibition, each of the five sites were represented by a “sound cube” broadcasting the original field recordings along with the new works of sound art created by artists in response to them. Recordings of rarely-heard objects from the Anchorage Museum Collection—including wooden and grass rattles—also played a part in the exhibition, along with sound art installed throughout the museum building and grounds from a number of artists based in the U.S., Russia, Canada and Scandinavia

However, access to the soundscapes created for the project wasn’t limited to the exhibition’s run at the Anchorage Museum—the full compositions remaining available for listening at the exhibition page, alongside the original field recordings, creating expanded access for visitors from locations around the world. The artists’ recordings will also be available in an upcoming limited-edition vinyl release by the museum’s Unbound Records.

For Hollis Mickey, the exhibition’s curator and the Anchorage Museum’s Chief Learning and Access Officer, a major part of the project has been about making space for different forms of engagement with experiences of the North—celebrating the unique ways that sound, music, and silence can create immersion and invite non-visual ways of knowing and understanding. “Listen Up: Northern Landscapes invites leaning in and using our ears to learn about our world and connections between people and place,” she explains. “The sonic compilation offers a way of making meaning: through listening.”


This story is part of the Alaska Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.