Recording Nature’s Disappearing Songs

Fans of electronic music probably know Bernie Krause as one of the pioneers of the Moog synthesizer. Teaming up with Paul Beaver, they performed on hundreds of recordings with The Byrds, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Van Morrison and many more.

For the last forty years, Bernie has been documenting the hidden sounds of our natural world – a symphony of life that is being silenced. In many ways, Krause’s work is a wordless requiem, since almost half of the environments recorded have been radically altered or have gone altogether silent. He says, “The fragile weave of natural sound is being torn apart by our seemingly boundless need to conquer the environment, rather than to find a way to abide in consonance with it”.

Nature's hues and sounds; Picture source: Choose Life/
The whisper of every leaf and creature implores us to cherish the living world around us; Photo: Wikipedia:

Exploring the world through sound!

Krause’s field recordings gave birth to a new field of scientific research called ‘soundscape ecology.’  Prior to Krause’s pioneering work, ‘nature recordings’ were pretty much the domain of birders or a handful of ‘whale songs’ and collections of sounds of isolated species meant for scientists and sound engineers. This extreme focus, while useful on some levels, fails to provide a truly comprehensive representation of the sonic health of an environment or a habitat’s ‘biophony’. Singling out one bird in a habitat is “like trying to understand the magnificence of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by separating the sound of a single violin player out of the orchestra and hearing just that one part. You’ve got to hear the whole thing,” says Krause.

When heard as habitat, some incredible features emerge: critters are fabulous musicians!  In a chorus of songs and sounds, each animal and insect found its own bandwidth, so that each voice could be heard!

With 4,500 hours of soundscapes and more than 15,000 identified life forms, Krause’s Wild Sanctuary Audio Archive is an extraordinary resource for studying health and change within various habitats.  It is also an eye-opener to the devastating impact we are having on our planet. “Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.”


Edited by: Dominic D’Cruz