Artist-in-Resident 2023

Jacek sits behind his art installation.


Jacek Smolicki

"One Step at a Deep Time" a Soundwalk composition for the ecotones of Canaveral National Seashore.

One Step at a Deep Time (

Sounds spill, permeate, cross boundaries and transgress borders.

You are in an ecotone, a place and time where different ecosystems collide. Tone comes from the Greek tonos, meaning tension. Eco from oikos, meaning home. Translated literally, ecotone means a home of tension. But tone also belongs to the realm of acoustics. It refers to the pitch, quality, and intensity of sound. Tone can also be an attitude towards something or someone, as in writing and speaking tone. Tone emerges in between. From the acoustic perspective ecotone would mean not a home of tension but a home of sound, a sonic environment.

But do sounds have homes? Can they be pinned to one location, event, phenomenon? Aren’t sounds ephemeral, always in motion, emerging in between, as relations?

My name is Jacek Smolicki, and during my stay here at Canaveral National Seashore as a Soundscape Field Station resident in early 2023, I experienced this unique environment as an ecotone, a home of multiple tensions expressed in sound. I listened to, recorded, and imagined the fleeting situations when sounds encounter and disrupt one another. I was staying not too far from where you are walking now, in a historic house once inhabited by Doris Leeper, an artist, environmentalist and activist. A visionary. Without her efforts to bring together often polarized views of local politicians and communities, the natural habitats that surround you would have likely been replaced by rows of houses, tourist resorts, restaurants and golf courses. Consequently, the sounds of wildlife you can still hear today if you pay attention, would have probably been overtaken by human-generated noises. My stay at Doris Leeper’s house was a lesson in an ecotonal listening, thinking and living.

Regardless of how thoughtfully designed and insulated, houses like the one I inhabited in the park do not set boundaries between the inside and the outside. They invent the inside and the outside. The safe and the monstrous. The native and the invasive. Judging by traces and direct encounters with wildlife, many animal species had occupied the house. Mice, geckos, wasps, snakes, moths. Some of them lived around the house and the fringes of the building, occasionally moving in and out as if the house was porous, hollow, or even invisible. My presence there got in the way of the life patterns of those different critters. From their perspective, I was the invasive species. But at the same time, my encounters with the wildlife taught me that invasiveness is an increasingly problematic term for describing relationships among living entities, especially considering that with climate change accelerated by human activities, in order to survive, many forms of life need to move to another place. Or invade.

Staying in the park made me rethink the term ecotone. I no longer perceive it in terms of tensions between local ecosystems. Instead, I think of it more broadly. A local ecosystem is not merely affected by other ecosystems nearby, but also distant ones. Think of seabeans and plants that travel long distances pushed by natural forces or human activities, on container ships, for example. Think of hurricanes destroying certain ecosystems and relations among species, while configuring new ones. Think of colonialism. Its effects continue to determine the configuration of species, landscapes and soundscapes in this and many other parts of the world. Ecotone is hence not just a spatial phenomenon but also one that concerns time, even deep, geological time. The tensions of today are the result of past events. Similarly, our activities today will create tensions in the future.

The visions of the future, such as those woven across the southern boundary of the park by NASA and SpaceX in particular, already affect many of us and our lived environments today. I listened to and recorded space launches, the sounds of which regularly rip through the park, reminding us again, that noises don’t respect boundaries. To critically understand our ecotones we need to listen and, even more so, learn from our listening.

Besides space launches, the intense air traffic above the park made me reconsider ecotones as zones that don’t only expand and stretch across the surface of Earth, but also vertically, through different layers of the atmosphere, into the space. Perhaps, even deep space. The impact of pollution, including noise pollution, caused by space and air traffic across humans and other than human realms becomes increasingly evident today. The aircraft noise and what some would describe as an iconic soundmark of Canaveral — the rumbling of a spacecraft launch at Kennedy space center — needs to be considered more seriously as a threat.

In one of his tweets, Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, posted a cartoon of a spacecraft that animals are lining up to board. They are slowly walking into its interior in pairs, just like the biblical animals into Noah’s ark. The caption reads: "Starship takes beings from Earth to Mars." Is that the only way to preserve our planet? Or differently put, is it the right way to think of what preservation, conservation of our planet should be in the light of the growing environmental crisis? On their official website dedicated to the exploration of Mars, NASA shares their research into the red planet’s soundscapes. We are invited to listen to selected samples as if they were recorded on Mars. One of them is particularly mind-boggling. It’s a simulation of what ocean waves would sounds like there. Because Mars has scant atmosphere, 100 times less dense than the Earth’s, it is mostly the lower frequencies that propagate, whereas the higher ones are muted.

Why should we care about soundscapes of Mars without fully understanding those on Earth? Why should we speculate on how oceanic water would sound like up there, while not fully knowing our own, earthly oceans?

The following ecotonal composition draws on field recordings I made during my residency. As you walk where you chose, this unnarrated soundwalk composition will take your ears and imagination from one side of the park, the ocean during sunrise, to the other, the Mosquito lagoon at dusk, two disparate environments, yet interdependent and connected. Besides sounds of environmental phenomena, water, rain, wind, storms and numerous animal species, you will hear sounds of electric flows from utility poles, switchboards and vending machines, all ensuring that the visitors, including you and me, can enjoy this place. You will hear noises of air and motor traffic along with the rumbling of space launches accompanied by archival material from NASA. Towards the end, you will hear the underwater soundscapes of the lagoon, an extremely vulnerable environment, home to many species including shrimp, oyster toadfish, drum fish, manatees and bottlenose dolphins some of which you will hear. You will also hear the voices of people I interacted with, worked with and walked with during my stay. They include members of the local community, Sound Seekers, a group of eye impaired and blind youth who regularly explore natural environments of Florida through sound, rangers and others who I encountered in the park during my field recording sessions or who visited me at the house at different points of my stay. I asked them two simple questions which I also encourage you to think about as you walk.

What sounds and soundscapes of today would you like to protect so the future generations can experience them?

What sounds do you think will dominate in the future, either in a decade or thousands years ahead?

OneStep_Jacek Promo


Canaveral National Seashore

Last updated: September 17, 2023