Last summer, I spoke with Joshua Sam Miller, the founder of Embodied Sounds. A musician, producer, ecopreneur, and “sound explorer,” Miller had just performed his composition Sounds of the Ocean at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
He first performed Sounds of the Ocean in Santa Cruz, California, in March 2019. Three years (and one pandemic) later, Miller has performed the piece to receptive audiences worldwide. Most recently, as of this writing, for the Ocean X Climate Summit at COP27 UN Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Joshua learned the basics of music playing clarinet in high school, but it wasn’t until years later that he found his muse in Eastern-influenced music. While active in a yoga community in Northern California, Joshua explored alternative music structures through west African percussion and the Indian Tabla.
From there, he reacquainted himself with his patiently-waiting clarinet, learned the saxophone, and topped off his music production skills. He began giving meditative concerts throughout the region.
Sounds of the Ocean: Making a Connection
Sounds of the Ocean is Joshua’s collaborative brainchild and a significant waypoint in his exploration of sound, nature, and being.
The project’s genesis began when Joshua met Dr. John Ryan, Senior Research Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Monterey, California. Dr. Ryan suggested recordings his team at MBARI made of blue whales would fit “beautifully” with his meditative music.
“I checked out what he’d recorded, and it completely took my breath away,” says Miller. “It inspired such a powerful feeling to realize, ‘wow, people need to hear this.’”
The perspective of the scientist and the artist opened a connection to the lives of these mysterious creatures and their ocean habitat through music and, most importantly, letting the whales tell their own stories.
Miller is a “connecter” between the whales and his audience. The whales are the “lead singers in the band,” he says. His music composition is minimal and spacious, inviting “a very deep listening experience.”
Joshua grew up in the New York tri-state area, where he had opportunities to explore and develop his creative ideas. With a degree in communications from Syracuse University and experience in video production, he worked in New York’s video and film industry for seven years. Then, at 27, came Miller’s “quarter-life crisis.”
“I saw the trajectory I was on,” he says. “I saw people, especially older guys, doing what I was doing and, at a higher level, 30 years further down the road than me. And I just remember seeing that and being like, ‘I don’t want that.’” He sought a path distinct from the stressed-out, chasing-your-tail mode of modern life.
The Pieces Fall into Place
While working as a cinematographer for a documentary about the Camino De Santiago in Northern Spain, “things opened up for me,” he says. “I realized that the world was much bigger than I knew and to just listen to that curiosity.” For three years, he traveled the world to “find out who I am without so much of that identity that we take on from what we do and where we’re from,” he says.
Joshua led wilderness backpacking trips for kids, teaching them survival skills and an appreciation for the natural world. Wandering through some of the most beautiful places on Earth, the puzzle pieces began falling into place.
He returned to America with a new perspective and appreciation for, if not all aspects of its culture, the rich natural heritage of the United States. Coming home also revealed an unsettling reality.
Remembering the dive trips he took as a kid with his parents, he could now see “the damage that has been done in the places I used to go.” He also recalled how his hardworking, business-owning dad would leave the stressful world behind while spending time by the ocean with his family.
Taking all this in–his time in New York, his travel, and his return to America–led him to California, an immersion in alternatives, and a chance meeting with a like-minded scientist. Sounds of the Ocean grew from all that, spreading its message of connection and healing across the globe.
A Storytelling Species: A Mission to Connect Through Multidisciplinary Art
We are a storytelling species. Through stories and narratives, we create connections between each other and the world around us. If science is the foundation of our qualitative understanding of reality, artistic expression connects that understanding to human drive, aspiration, motivation, and cooperation.
In our search for economic and technological fixes to the wicked problems of environmental breakdown and climate crisis, we risk missing this third pillar of human ingenuity. In all its forms and modes of articulation, art reveals what we easily miss through our cognitive biases and senses tuned through millennia of survival in a harsh world.
Without an artistic perspective, the wicked problems quantified by science can fail to connect. Joshua Sam Miller’s mission is to encourage that connection, lift people out of their daily burdens and connect them to their source—the ocean and all the natural world. People are hungry for such connections.
When asked what keeps him optimistic in such divisive and challenging times, he told me it is meeting so many people from all over the world and walks of life “who care” about a healthy world and a healed planet.
“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
– Gary Snyder