"I am interested in music expanding consciousness. By expanding consciousness, I mean that old patterns can be replaced with new ones."

— Pauline Oliveros

At the height of great unrest in the 1960s, legendary composer Pauline Oliveros retreated from public performing and dove into sound experiments meant to soothe and heal. She later coined Deep Listening®, an embodied practice in which we intentionally and actively tune into, versus tune out, the sounds around and within us.

In 1989, Oliveros composed The Witness, three open strategies for listening, attuning, and responding to ourselves and to one another. The score, along with Oliveros’s philosophies of community and collaboration and the practice and process of Deep Listening®, have inspired a vast constellation of projects over the decades. The Witness score is both the seed of The Witness and the guiding principle around which its research projects are organized.

Catastrophic fires, drought, and other consequences of climate change, in addition to war, the forced displacement of people, and other human actions, are radically and rapidly reshaping our world. Oliveros’s plea to pay attention takes on greater urgency today. The Witness provides a critical tool these times demand for guiding us toward becoming attuned to, rather than dominating over, the living world we share with vulnerable ecologies and their inhabitants, human and non-human.

The Witness is anchored in the idea that the arts can bring us together — by connecting us to our origins, raising awareness about the emerging and ever-shifting challenges of our planet and humanity, informing more sustainable solutions, and cultivating a deeper spirituality. Each year brings together three to five groups from different parts of the world who are working with a local community or environment to research a particular issue. The groups then share fragments of their research, e.g. videos, photos, sound recordings, or interviews, through multimedia platform. They meet remotely for most of the year to share their progress, then come together to deepen their collaborations and share their work with the public. The 2023 cohort will gather on December 11, 2023 at Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland. The event, which showcases the work of Musik Akademie Basel students taking part in The Witness project, is organized in collaboration with our partner Hochschule für Musik FHNW.

_ Julie Beauvais, founder and director of The Witness


Since 2018, The Witness has grown as transdisciplinary research groups from different parts of the world have been added and collaborations have developed among participants. In 2023, our focus turns to Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, East Asia, and Europe:

Writer and filmmaker Hongyu Chen is focusing on the Lisu, an ethnic minority group in China’s Yunnan province whose traditional songs are a vital way to narrate their personal and community histories. Chen and her team are recording interviews, videos, and sound, and observing the social and environmental contexts within which the songs are performed.  

Sound artist and composer Susie Ibarra and Joudour Sahara, a music school, are providing young girls with tools to record sound and video in a small Moroccan village near the mouth of the Sahara where water sources are vanishing. Ibarra is also interviewing family members, conservationists, farmers, and others working to avert desertification of the once-fertile lands.

The Batwa, who once occupied the mountains of western Uganda before being evicted, live in extreme poverty. Yet music and dance are a way of life. Singer Suzan Kerunen is diving into understanding how their music reflects an ancient relationship with the forest. She is also sharing their music through educational and entertainment platforms, and working to protect it from DJs, companies, and other entities that extort it for their own purposes. 

While Romansh is one of Switzerland’s four national languages, only about 60,000 people speak it. Found-sound artist Marie-Cécile Reber, who speaks Romansh, is working in areas where it is threatened to interview people about their connection to the language, collect sound, video, and texts of the nature that shaped it, and research the culture and knowledge that it carries forth.

Students from ZHdK MA Transdisciplinary Studies and from Hochschule für Musik FHNW develop research projects throughout the year in Zurich and Basel with Julie Beauvais, director of The Witness. The students also collaborate with the other research groups.

The Witness team is grateful to its partners and sponsors for making this project possible.


To participate: