Ways of Listening

This website is a container for MWS music, field recorders, photos, and blog posts. Explore the site as you wish. We also have a few suggested ways of engaging with the soundmap below.

Contextual Listening

Think of the music for each blog post as the soundtrack to your reading of that post. This approach emphasizes the narrative context of the sounds. Questions to ask: how does the blog post change how I’m listening to the sounds/music? How is the music changing how I’m reading the blog post? Write down a few highlights from your listening experience and share with a friend.

Sense-able Listening

For those interested in more of a deep listening experience, we invite you to create a playlist of sound entries. Peruse the blog and add tracks by clicking the “add to queue” button at the top of the corresponding blog post. You may want to focus on one location with a concentration of posts (i.e. Western Montana or Santa Cruz, CA) OR select a series of posts that trace the monarch’s migratory path from the Pacific Northwest to the Central Coast. We list our blog posts in reverse chronological order but your selection need not be linear. Feel free to hop around and find posts that stand out to you.

Once you’ve made your playlist, we invite you to listen to the sounds and music through the filter of our Sense-able Listening Prompts (below). This is an ongoing list of original listening prompts that we use for our listening and sounding practices while on our cycling tours. While listening in this way, we suggest refraining from reading the blogs and just focusing on the experience of listening. Once you’ve completed the playlist, write down a few notes about your experience and share them with a friend.

Sense-able Listening Prompts

These listening prompts are associated with the inhabitants of the Imaginary Town of Moses (ITM), a yet-to-be artist community founded by the musician/cyclist Alejandro Botijo. From ITM’s unpublished 2019 article titled “Sense-able Sonic Practices for Staying with the Trouble”: “Sense-ability is a play on Donna Haraway’s respelling of the term response-ability. ITM inhabitants have the response-ability to sense. To expand their senses and perceptions to encompass ecological ways of thinking. It’s a way to sense (but not make sense of) troubled histories, damaged lands, and emancipatory futures.” The prompts are listed below (in order of difficulty).

Sound Sweep

Listen for specific frequency ranges starting with high frequencies and slowly sweeping down to mid frequencies, then to low frequencies, and then back up. If you don’t hear anything in a particular frequency range immediately, give it some time just to make sure - then move on to the next frequency range. (i.e. high frequency: bird calls, mid-frequency: human voice, low frequency: car engine). Write about your experience. Were there any subtle sounds that you picked up on as a result of this kind of listening?

Receptive Sounding

Listen to your environment as if you are actively making the sounds you hear. While this requires a bit of imagination, it’s not too far-fetched as the human ear actually emits sounds (i.e. ‘otoacoustic emissions’). This inverts the idea that we are passively taking in sounds as we hear them. Instead, we are co-creating them in a dance between our perception and the soundscape… After listening like this for a while, start singing long tones. Now make a shift in your listening perspective to one of receptivity. Focus on the tones as if you are passively receiving the sound of your own voice. Notice how your sensing body responds to all of this. Write down any observations.

Perspective Listening

Begin by listening to all sounds. Your ears are an open book. After several minutes begin to zoom in and focus attention on a sound that stands out to you. Then begin to listen from the perspective of where the sound source is coming from. If you’re hearing a bird, listen as the bird - if you’re hearing the hum of an AC unit, listen from the perspective of the AC unit). There is an element of speculation involved here. Write down any observations, insights, or challenges.

Sympathetic Sounding

The sympathetic strings of Hindustani and Western Baroque instruments such as the sitar and the viola d’amore primarily function to add resonance to the plucked strings. Sympathetic strings are typically tuned to the scale of a given composition so that when a plucked note resounds, it sets in motion the corresponding sympathetic string to enrich the overall tone. For this prompt, the musician is invited to make soundings as if they were a sympathetic string — by attuning to and resonating with environmental sounds. Begin by listening to the sounds around you then let these sounds ‘set your instrument in motion.’

Synesthetic Listening

Monarchs are multisensory beings. Their antennae alone sense light (regulating their circadian clock), smell (for flowers and pheromones of other monarchs), touch (for detecting wind), and the earth’s magnetic field (for navigating). Monarchs likely perceive all this data in much more porous ways than separate sense categories would have us believe.

For this listening prompt, we’ll consider the possibility of our own synesthetic capacity. To begin, get grounded in the sounds around you. Listen openly... then bring in your other senses (vision, touch, smell, etc). Ask yourself: “Are the sounds I’m hearing affecting my other senses in any way?” Take notes after listening for a time and share your findings with a friend.

Owl Mind

Notice your body in space, your visual field, and the soundscape all at once.

After a time, turn your attention to the noticing itself. Who is doing the noticing? Can you locate that noticer in space?

Return to your bodily sensations, your visual field, and the soundscape. Imagine the noticer of all this sense data to be an owl. An owl perched on an imaginary branch just behind you. The owl is now your surrogate mind. Let the owl notice all your sense data with equanimity.

Surrounded by Self

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies.” – Alan Watts

Sit still and listen to the sounds around you. After a time, start to notice the visual world — the play of light against your eyelids (if your eyes are closed) or the surrounding objects around you (if you’re eyes are open). Sit like this for a while.

Then, turn your awareness to your inner self. Imagine the inner self (dis)integrating into the senses so that there is no space between the inner self and your external surroundings; so that your inner self becomes entirely constituted by your surroundings. Sit like this for a while.

Time Sweep

Listen to individual sounds that stand out to you and focus on their texture. Notice how the environment might shape their sonic character. Then ‘zoom out’ and listen to the soundscape more globally as a set of sonic entanglements (the opposite of the ‘zooming in’ during perspective listening). Listen to all sounds as a whole, as a single sheet of experience.

Notice your visual field. If your eyes are closed, what do you see? Patterns of light coming through your eyelids? If they are open, what do you see? Different objects in space? Begin to observe them not as discrete objects but as a single sheet of raw experience. Then notice any sensations in your body. Your breath, the pumping of your veins, the wind against your face, or more

subtle energetic movements in your body. Observe them as a superposition of sense data that results in a single sheet of experience. Then merge these three domains – sound, vision, and bodily sensations – as a single sheet of experience. Practice perceiving them not from the point of view of a listener but from the point of view from the sounds, visions, sensations themselves.

Now observe the experience of time passing. Observe it as a pattern of energy you can drop back from. Time goes from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ As you drop back, what do you see/hear/feel? Include this as part of your sheet of experience alongside the other senses.

This prompt is an invitation to enfold our perceptions onto one another and observe them as one entangled ‘sheet of experience.’ The aim is to stretch the mind and spark imaginative ways of noticing one’s environment, one’s body, and one’s sense of temporality.

No Structure

Sit and listen with no structure and no goal.


Current collaborators: Alejandro Botijo // Comrade Caracol // Ursa La Verre // Stephie's Castle

If you have an interest in this project, please reach out! We are looking for cyclists, musicians, and environmental advocates who would like to collaborate with us!