Posts Tagged ‘soundscape’


Art: Matt McCann
As the planet warms, say scientists, Earth’s creatures are having a harder time making noises needed for survival.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Are you old enough to remember what you were doing then? I was teaching sixth grade language arts in a Pennsylvania public school. The science teacher spearheaded our Earth Day and made sure everyone absorbed lessons about pollution.

Pollution was the biggest concern 50 years ago, says Denis Hayes, Earth Day founder. Global warming “was not part of the national discussion,” but that has changed, he adds.

Among the many climate-change topics I could highlight on this Earth Day, I found the altered soundscape of the natural world especially interesting.

Emily Anthes writes in the Science section of the New York Times, “Spring in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, in Northern California, is typically a natural symphony. Streams whoosh, swollen with winter rains, and birds — robins, sparrows, grosbeaks, woodpeckers and hawks — trill and chatter.

“But in 2011, a yearslong drought set in. By spring 2015, a local creek had dried up and the valley had gone quiet. ‘The park went from an extremely vibrant habitat to one that was dead silent,’ said Bernie Krause, a soundscape ecologist who has been recording in the park since 1993.

‘Nothing was singing, nothing was chirping, nothing was moving. It’s like it was dead.’

“In the coming years, severe droughts are likely to become more common; as the water dries up, bird song could disappear along with it. It is just one example of how climate change may be altering the planet’s soundscapes, or ‘breaking Earth’s beat,’ as Dr. Krause and his colleagues put it in a paper last year. Dr. Krause, who has amassed more than 5,000 hours of natural recordings for his company, Wild Sanctuary, wrote the paper with Jérôme Sueur, an ecoacoustician at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Almo Farina, an ecologist at the University of Urbino in Italy.

“Climate change will silence some species and nudge others into new habits and habitats, changing when and where they sing, squeak, whistle, bellow or bleat. (In New York, several species of frogs now begin croaking nearly two weeks earlier in the spring than they did a century ago.) It will also alter the sounds that animals produce, as well as how such vocalizations travel.

“These shifts could make it more difficult for wild creatures to attract mates, avoid predators and stay oriented, as well as force them to expend more energy to make themselves heard. …

“Snapping shrimp are some of the noisiest creatures in the ocean. By rapidly closing their large claws, the animals make snaps, crackles and pops loud enough to stun prey into submission. But ocean acidification, which occurs as seawater absorbs rising levels of carbon dioxide, could soften their snaps. … Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide found that the shrimp snap less often and at lower volumes when the water becomes more acidic. …

“ ‘It’s not that ocean acidification completely takes away their ability to make loud snaps,’ said Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist who led the study. ‘They can still do that but essentially don’t want to do that any more.’ [Meanwhile] many marine organisms, especially fish larvae, rely on the sound of snapping shrimp to navigate to suitable habitats.”

Other sound research is on the birds of northern Denmark. “In spring 2010, they were singing from positions nearly four feet higher above the ground than in the late 1980s, Anders Moller, an ecologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, found.

“Dr. Moller suspects that climate-related changes in vegetation could be responsible. Over the last several decades, the spring and summer temperatures in the region rose 20 percent and precipitation increased 30 percent, he found, and other research has demonstrated that spring is arriving earlier than it used to across much of Europe.

“Foliage can interfere with the transmission of bird songs. If trees are leafing out earlier, or the vegetation is denser, birds might seek higher song posts to avoid this interference, Dr. Moller suggested. He found that species that breed in the forest increased their singing height more than those who mate in more open habitats, like grasslands.

But sitting higher in the trees could come with costs, too. ‘A bird that sits more exposed will run a higher risk of being captured by a sparrow hawk,’ Dr. Moller said.

“Climate change will bring extreme weather, including more frequent and intense storms, to many places on the planet. This uptick in wind and rain could drown out animal calls. … King penguins, which rely on acoustic cues to find their mates and chicks in crowded colonies, … cannot fully counteract the noise, and it takes them longer to find their mates when the wind is howling.”

Lots of other curious tidbits about changing soundscapes here.

Are you doing anything particular for Earth Day? Before lockdown, I was thinking of joining a demonstration against fossil fuel expansion, Stop the Money Pipeline. Instead I’ll probably donate to that, the Arbor Day Foundation, or the highly rated Eden Reforestation Projects. Bad air quality has made coronavirus more deadly, and trees remove pollutants.

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Photo: Ginny Fordham
Berklee professor Steve Wilkes gathers sound at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. A recent project also captures Cape Cod.

Berklee professor Steve Wilkes and his collaborator David Masher have created some amazing soundscapes that capture the music of the natural world. Their work is described at the Hear the Forest website:

“Hear The Forest is an effort to initiate the process of building an aural-map – essentially, an audio time capsule – of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.  Supported by the National Forest Service and the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, this work will be performed by Berklee College of Music Professor, Steve Wilkes, as part of the 2017 Artist-in-residence program. …

“In addition to his field ecology and sound recording work, Wilkes will offer several public programs, including workshops that will provide residents and visitors with information on contributing to the ongoing sound file collection on the White Mountain National Forest. …

“ ‘I hope to be able to express and communicate to others this profound sense of inspiration – and to help everyone slow down a bit, and really listen,’ ” Wilkes says. More here.

You might also like hear an interesting interview with Wilkes that was broadcast at WGBH. The station provides this intro: “Nature is rich with dynamic sounds, like the roaring of waterfalls or the sweetness of birdsong.

“Berklee professor Steve Wilkes … captured the still whispers of buzzing bugs, the martian-like atmosphere at the summit of Mount Washington and the laughter of children enjoying the park — all essential sounds to create a ‘digital aural map’ of the forest, which he calls Hear The Forest. Callie Crossley speaks with Wilkes about his project.” More here.

I like the idea of encouraging others to contribute their own nature recordings to the White Mountains project. It feels like something anyone could do if they just paid attention — and paying attention is the whole idea.

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Do you know about the “Great Animal Orchestra“? Rachel Donadio at the NY Times has the story.

“The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

“Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called ‘The Great Animal Orchestra.’ Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8, [2017].

“At its heart is a work by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, who have transformed Mr. Krause’s recordings of the natural world into 3-D renderings. Imagine stepping into a soundproofed black-box theater whose walls spring to life with what look like overlapping electrocardiograms, representing different species’ sounds. …

“The installation includes recordings Mr. Krause made in Algonquin Park in Ontario, where he found himself caught between two packs of wolves; in the Yukon Delta, a subarctic area in Alaska, where birds from different continents converge; and in the Central African Republic, where he heard monkeys. He also captured the cacophony of the Amazon, and whales off Alaska and Hawaii. …

“Mr. Krause is a polymathic musician who performed with the folk group the Weavers and helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music — including songs by the Doors and Van Morrison — and film scores. He hears natural sounds with a studio producer’s ear.”

Read more here about Krause and his efforts to get the word out on the disappearing habitats of his featured animals.

This article inspires me to pay better attention to the music of the natural world on my morning walks. So much beauty goes right over my head.

Photo: Tim Chapman
Bernie Krause on St. Vincent Island, Fla., in 2001.

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Living on Earth, a national radio program produced in Somerville, Massachusetts, has interviewed an interesting guy who makes audio recordings of nature.

He may record, for example, what a woodland sounds like before a logging company comes in and what it sounds like after clear cutting. He may record the sounds of insects in trees. He says it is nearly impossible to get away from man-made sounds when recording nature.

Listening to his recordings early this morning resulted in my listening for the birds more on the walk I took later. (And I turned to see a very jubilant cardinal.)

“Few have heard the world as Bernie Krause has. Originally trained as a musician, he spent years recording the most famous musicians of the 1960s and 70s. Then he left the studio to explore the origins of music in nature. Krause has recorded wild sounds in places few have ever been or even dreamed of. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah listens in.” Listen here or read transcript.

Krause calls his field of study soundscape ecology. Here is his new book, The Great Animal Orchestra.

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