Bernie Krause and Music of the Natural World

NOISE, n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.

~ Ambrose Bierce, in Devil's Dictionary (1911)

During last July's Ted Talk (see video below), musician, author and soundscape researcher Bernie Krause explained that when he began recording sounds from wild habitats 45 years ago, he had no idea that insect larvae, ants and even viruses create their own sound signature. He explains, "In fact, temperate and tropical rainforests each produce a vibrant animal orchestra, that instantaneous and organized expression of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals."

Krause went on to describe the three basic sources of a soundscape:

  • Geophony, meaning nonbiological sounds such as rushing water, wind in the trees or ocean waves at the beach.
  • Biophony, which is the sound made by organisms in a given habitat at a certain time and place.
  • Anthrophony, the sound that humans generate, ranging from snowmobiles to shrieks of laughter.

Krause's research has resulted in the Natural Soundscape Collection, which currently consists of over 15,000 recorded animal sounds, both land and marine. These recordings are used by museums for their dioramas, and for atmosphere in many feature films. In a recent interview on NPR, however, Krause explains that due to human encroachment, "Fully 50 percent of my archive comes from habitats that are no longer acoustically viable in a natural state -- 50 percent."

Soundscapes can be used to understand how sound is related to the health of an ecosystem. "It's the world's first theatrical, acoustic manifestation that, among other things, kind of provides us with instant feedback as to how we're treating the natural world," says Krause.

As a successful session musician and pioneer of electronic music (including the Moog Synthesizer), Krause has gotten back to his roots with his latest book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places. He explores how the sounds and rhythms of nature were the inspiration for human music and dance, and writes, "Did murmurs from the wild that suggest rhythm, melody, polyphony and design serve as the organizational basis of musical expression? My fascination with these questions has animated much of my life to this day."

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places by Bernie Krause (2012)

Into a Wild Sanctuary: A Life in Music & Natural Sound by Bernie Krause (1998)

Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence by George Foy (2010)

NPR Sound Treks: Animals (Sound recording, 2010)

Written by Lisa on April 15, 2014

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