Listening to Insect Agency

Reconsidering Relations Through Ecological Sound Art


  • Lisa Ann Schonberg Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Érica Marinho do Vale National Research Institute of the Amazon
  • Tainara Sobroza National Research Institute of the Amazon
  • Fabricio B. Baccaro Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), Community Ecology Lab,


Insects are vitally important to the survival of life on earth. Yet, in many western societies, humans have become quite averse to insects, and this is exacerbated by a narrative of fear, avoidance, and elimination. If we are to act on utilitarian evidence alone, insect decline caused by anthropogenic impacts makes it critically important to improve our relations with our insect kin. In this paper, we argue that listening to insects – and speculating as to how they listen – can move us towards relations based in curiosity, respect, and a recognition of their value. We present two works of ecological sound art that focus on cryptic insect sounds beyond the limits of human hearing ability: HVAC (2022) and Formiphony (2020). By foregrounding cryptic sound, we emphasize the vast unknown sound-worlds of insects in our shared environments. Through this expansion of our listening, we can recognize insect agency as expressed through decisions concerning their sonic relations. These works have been presented in performance, exhibits, lectures, radio, and albums, bringing a broad audience into conversation about our relations with insects.