Mark Wright has made a career out of listening to the world around us. He spoke to Jan Hunter.

"WE can enhance our self awareness and relationship with animals and the environment, through sound and listening," says Mark Wright. "I go out into the environment with my microphone, recording the sound of a place and reassembling it into art-work through radio, a gallery or film or a live performance."

Mark, originally from Ingleby Arncliffe, and a former pupil of Stokesley School, is now a sound artist, teacher, mentor, and creative researcher into sound arts practice for the London College of Communication, University of the Arts in London. He is also a writer, his book coming out this month.

"The book is about what it means to listen to environmental sounds and consider this as legitimate knowledge," he says. "In the arts we are so used to visual imagery and the read and spoken word. But there is sound too, the sound of place, the sound of the world around us. It is time-based and you have to commit to listening. Once I was recording skylarks at South Gare, with the sounds of the furnace in the background. These sounds interrelate; that's what interests me."

Besides his own work, Mark creates work with his partner, Helena, collaborating with scientists, geographers, oceanographers, and environmentalists to explore environmental change and how art and science come together to communicate, and raise questions. They make films and large scale installations which are often interactive. Their latest project is with the Wellcome Collection in London, where they have produced a panoramic film from their research. The audience sit within a world of air pollution particles which tell their own stories of how they came into the world, and the health effects they have.

Growing up in Ingleby Arncliffe, Mark had access to a wealth of nature but he was never too far away from the industry of Teesside. He used to collect objects he found near his home, such as feathers, wondering what their stories were. It was not until the year 2000, when he travelled around Europe with Helena, sleeping in a tent which had seen much better days, that he became really interested in listening to the sounds of animals. One night he could hear ants scurrying around under the tent.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mark Wright out recording in the field

"It may sound unusual," he says, "but I was developing a real interest in this media, and wanted to explore it. In my days of unsuccessful attempts at learning to play the guitar – I was a really bad musician – I accidentally dropped the instrument and I was much more interested in the different sounds it made when it smashed, rather than my poor attempts at playing."

He felt a bit detached at school and university, as although he made a good set of lifelong friends, he had no idea where to take this dormant dream he had, but when they moved to London both with their separate dreams, Mark pursuing sound and Helena performance, life really changed for both of them. Mark found out that there were actual courses in sound, and immediately did a diploma in sound and broadcasting media, and in 2008 he completed his Masters in sound arts, at the London University of Arts whilst working full time as the manager of the music department in the Virgin record store on Oxford Street.

"Virgin was such an experience for me," says Mark. "It was a melting pot of influences. Musicians would pop in and recommend artists to listen to, and the staff were well into all different trends of world music. It was inspiring. I didn't have a day off for 18 months but I was young and excited about all these new experiences."

When Mark was studying for his MA, he chose four abbeys in North Yorkshire as the theme for his main soundscape composition, which he named, A Quiet Reverie. The result is hauntingly beautiful, based entirely on field recordings of these sites, night and day. There are no vocals, just environmental sounds edited, weaved and composed into a story without words.

In 2009 it was nominated for an award, and Mark won the BASCA British Composer of the Year in Sonic Arts in a red carpet ceremony in London. The judging panel thought the winning work was "a skilled and subtle essay in the manipulation of environmental sounds. It is immersive and reflective and a powerful evocation of place and space".

By then, Mark was working in the British Library Sound Archives and was considering a PHD, when he was offered the chance of working with the charity, Another Space, on a composition called, Where Once We Walked, which reflects the lives of Jewish refugees, who were relocated to the Lake District, after the war. He accompanied them back to Poland and recorded their memories and journeys.

"It was a poignant time," he says. "We visited the sites of the camps, and the train station which took them from their homes. These incredible survivors were full of hope. They had survived and had lives and families. I spent some time on my own, recording, thinking about what these places had witnessed. They are so peaceful now. I remember there was a very old tree still there and I wondered what it had seen. Place and space embody our history."

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mark Wright

In 2011, Mark accepted an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council which paid him a salary, allowing him to study for a PHD. A chance walk with the in-laws took him to South Gare, where the idea of nature and industry existing side by side fascinated him, and led to his final project in 2015.

By now, both Mark and Helena had successful solo careers, but they started to consider working together, combining their different skills.

"I had found working on my PHD quite solitary," says Mark, "and Helena was also a solo artist, so with our individual skills and combined interest, we wanted to ask some big questions about the environment. Helena's practice brings poetics, a new type of language to our work, and hers is a visual practice, especially as a filmmaker, so the combination really works. We collaborate with specialists and have travelled within the UK, and to places such as Finland, Spain, Norway and Greece for research and to set up exhibitions, and also run workshops."

Mark has also found teaching very rewarding. He was awarded a Leverhulme award to work across education and geography at Manchester Met, studying how teachers listen. Currently he runs courses at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts in London with BA, and MA students, and also acts as a supervisor and mentor for the PHD students. Last year he won the Outstanding Post Graduate Supervisor Award, voted by the students.

After years of opening up the world of sound, Mark a message for D&S Times readers: The environment has a voice, if we can just listen to it. Next time you are in the hills, in the moors, working outside, or in the garden, just stop and listen for a while.