Tag Archives: Adirondacks

[Read:’Why a Soundscape is Worth a Thousdand Pictures’]

While doing some research I stumbled on this interview with author Bernie Krause in the New Scientist. Krause wrote a book called The Great Animal Orchestra, which is based on his study of field recordings taken in natural, wild habitats.

At one point in this interview, Krause claims that the Adirondack mountain region in Upstate NY is a soundscape of particular significance because it resembles a soundscape that existed before humans.

Regardless its worthwhile interview for those interested in field recording and the concept of soundscapes. 

Read the orginal interview over at the CultureLab blog on the NewScientist website HERE. 

Bernie Krause, author of The Great Animal Orchestra, explains how audio recordings of the natural world offer an insight into intricate habitats

Your new book is called The Great Animal Orchestra. Why orchestra?
When all the creatures in a given habitat vocalise together, they have to find their own bandwidth in order to be heard. After all, if they are vocal critters, their ability to vocalise determines their survival. These creatures are singing in niches; amphibians have their niche, birds have theirs and insects have theirs. They are vocalising together in a sort of proto-musical orchestra.

So human music was inspired by animals’ vocal niches?
When we were living closer to the natural world, we discovered links between the ways in which sounds were formed – what I call “biophonies”. We then used this structure to learn to orchestrate and vocalise. That’s how we got our music. It goes back to when humans first emerged from the forests and plains of Africa.

Does anyone still make music in tune with nature?
There are a couple of groups, like the Jivaro in South America and the BiAka tribe of pygmies in the Central African Republic. Because they live as part of the natural world, they still do this collective music. They use the natural world as a karaoke orchestra. There’s nothing primitive about it – it is far more advanced than anything we are doing.

What can soundscapes tell us about the ecology of an area?
When you photograph a forest that has been selectively logged, it will look the same as an unlogged forest because you frame your shot to get the best vantage point. You can’t do that with sound; when you set up a microphone, it tells you immediately what’s happening in a habitat. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures. You can spend years evaluating a habitat from a visual perspective, but you will find out more from a 10-second sound clip than from years of visual study.

You say that humans think of noise as a sign of power. How does that affect our environment?
Former US secretary of the interior James Watt once said that noise is power. The noisier we are as a country, the more powerful we appear. In the early 2000s there was a study in Yellowstone National Park based on snowmobile noise and the effect it had on stress hormones in the faeces of wolves and elk. When snowmobile noise was present, the stress levels went up. But it’s not a choice between us or them. If we want to have fulfilling lives where we don’t have to deal with noise by taking Prozac, being in the natural world will help.

You tried to recreate a soundscape from a time before humans. How?
We built a hypothesis that said we could reconstruct the sound of the natural world from various insect and bird fossils that had been found in Montana. We looked at the fossil record, and added the calls of any animals that were still alive to a soundscape. It ended up sounding like the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York.

Of all of the places you have recorded, do you have a favourite?
I like being in places without a lot of people. Alaska’s my favourite because there are still large areas that are unpopulated, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Any advice on how to hear these soundscapes for ourselves?
To learn about the physical world the best thing you can do is get out there, be quiet and sit and listen. In the US, the vast majority of land is within a third of a mile (0.5 kilometres) of a road, so the best time to listen is at dawn and dusk, when people aren’t out and messing around. The best time of year to go is in the springtime.