10 Beautiful Nature-Inspired Sound Installations That Soothe

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Brian Eno made music for airports in 1978, but his newest composition, an audiovisual installation, was created for hospitals. Commissioned by an orthopedic surgeon after he observed the calming effects of Eno’s work on a family member, the installation debuted last week in a British private hospital and involves a special waiting room where patients, family, and staff can escape the stressful environment by relaxing to ambient noise and changing panels of color. Eno’s work restores balance between inner and outer worlds, and today we are reminded once again about the importance of harmony among life’s vast network of systems. It’s Earth Day, and we’ve selected ten nature-inspired sound installations that soothe the soul and promote tranquility.

Jeff Talman, Nature of the Night Sky

Astrophysicist Daniel Huber collaborated with New York-based artist Jeff Talman to create the music of the stars. Talman’s Nature of the Night Sky used radiation and seismic data from stars, formed into music. Viewers took a flashlight tour down a mountain path in a Bavarian forest on the Czech border to experience the installation at sundown. “The first few nights that it ran, I was there, and people didn’t say a word when the piece ended. They sat and they sat and they sat — for maybe five minutes. They didn’t move their feet; they didn’t cough; they didn’t talk to each other. They just kept staring at the sky,” Talman told NPR — where you can listen to excerpts of the mesmerizing recording.

Bill Fontana, Silent Echoes

Bill Fontana’s 2011 installation for the Rubin Museum, Silent Echoes, explored the sounds of four Buddhist temple bells in Kyoto when they aren’t ringing. Sensors and microphones placed inside the bells picked up ambient noise and vibrations in the metal cavity, like birds chirping and gentle winds blowing. Fontana demonstrated that even in stillness, the ritual bells ring.

Memo Akten, Simple Harmonic Motion #5

London-based artist Memo Akten wanted to address the complexities of simplicity, exploring nature’s patterns and rhythms. Inspired by artists like Eno and John Cage, Akten’s Simple Harmonic Motion series is a hypnotic, harmonic experience.

Scanner/Robin Rimbaud, Floral Derrangement

British experimental artist Robin Rimbaud created this public sound installation referencing Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band’s popular “Floral Dance,” performed in 1977. Rimbaud stretched the song to 130 times the original length and intercut new arrangements, installing it along the Kingsgate Bridge in Durham, England, where nature sounds would alter people’s experience with it. The perspective in the video Rimbaud captured of the installation is somewhat haunting, but with ethereal sounds like these filling our heads, we wouldn’t mind walking the plank into the great unknown.

Susan Philipsz, You Are Not Alone

Scottish sound artist Susan Philipsz — who won the 2010 Turner Prize for her mournful reverie, Lowlands — recreated multiple radio interval signals in the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford. The astronomical observatory was modeled after the ancient Tower of the Winds in Athens. She connected the structure’s former function, a place to gaze at the stars, to a quote by radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi: “Sounds, once generated, never die; they fade but continue to reverberate as sound waves across the universe.” The resonance of the vibraphone captured the meditative sense of deep space she was after.

Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet

If Heaven exists, it probably sounds like Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet — based on Thomas Tallis’ 1570 Renaissance motet, “Spem in alium” (“Hope in Any Other”). Forty separately recorded singers play through 40 speakers placed around a space so viewers can navigate the exhibition and form intimate connections with different voices.

Kian-Peng Ong, Coronado

Singapore-born artist Kian-Peng Ong (aka Bin) recreated the effect of an ocean drum (with looped digital enhancement) in his six-channel sound installation inspired by an experience on the beaches of Coronado, California.

Chris Watson, Whispering in the Leaves

Watson, of Cabaret Voltaire fame, has been creating field recordings for quite some time. His 2011 sound installation at the Palm House in Kew Gardens brought the South and Central American rainforests to the UK. The time compression work is composed of several hours of footage captured at dusk and dawn, recreating the lush and lively sounds of the jungle in a Victorian setting.

Shawn Decker, Prairie

Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Shawn Decker captured the movement and sounds of the Illinois grasslands. It’s a work buzzing with life that calls attention to the often invisible ecosystems around us. Rain and insect sounds were created with computer-controlled brass rods that clicked and buzzed at various intervals, emulating lifeforms on the plains.

Kim Kichul, Sound Looking-Rain

Kichul is interested in the purity of sound and our perception of it. Inspired by the Buddhist concept of emptiness, the artist created a minimalist sound collage that mirrors falling rain with speakers and monofilament. The installation toys with viewers’ ability to be present in the moment, accepting the artificiality before them.