TED Talk Tuesday: Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

Such an unassuming and gentle talk, Bernie Krause infuses his presentation with a subtle yet impassioned energy. We have experienced nature through a limited perspective, but according to Krause if we include sound we are guaranteed a full 360 degree experience. Studying the sound of an environment is also a better indicator of the health of a space. Enjoy this glorious talk and may it inspire you to step outside and listen.

The soundscape is made up of three basic sources. The first is the geophony, or the nonbiological sounds that occur in any given habitat, like wind in the trees, water in a stream, waves at the ocean shore, movement of the Earth. The second of these is the biophony. The biophony is all of the sound that’s generated by organisms in a given habitatat one time and in one place. And the third is all of the sound that we humans generatethat’s called anthrophony. Some of it is controlled, like music or theater, but most of it is chaotic and incoherent, which some of us refer to as noise.

When I began recording over four decades ago, I could record for 10 hours and capture one hour of usable material, good enough for an album or a film soundtrack or a museum installation. Now, because of global warming, resource extraction, and human noise, among many other factors, it can take up to 1,000 hours or more to capture the same thing. Fully 50 percent of my archive comes from habitats so radically altered that they’re either altogether silent or can no longer be heard in any of their original form.

Well, I’ve returned to Lincoln Meadow 15 times in the last 25 years, and I can tell you that the biophony, the density and diversity of that biophony, has not yet returned to anything like it was before the operation. But here’s a picture of Lincoln Meadow taken after, and you can see that from the perspective of the camera or the human eye, hardly a stick or a tree appears to be out of place, which would confirm the logging company’s contention that there’s nothing of environmental impact. However, our ears tell us a very different story.

There are many facets to soundscapes, among them the ways in which animals taught us to dance and sing, which I’ll save for another time. But you have heard how biophonies help clarify our understanding of the natural world. You’ve heard the impact of resource extraction, human noise and habitat destruction. And where environmental sciences have typically tried to understand the world from what we see, a much fuller understanding can be got from what we hear. Biophonies and geophonies are the signature voices of the natural world, and as we hear them, we’re endowed with a sense of place, the true story of the world we live in. In a matter of seconds, a soundscape reveals much more informationfrom many perspectives, from quantifiable data to cultural inspiration. Visual capture implicitly frames a limited frontal perspective of a given spatial context, while soundscapes widen that scope to a full 360 degrees, completely enveloping us. And while a picture may be worth 1,000 words, a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures. And our ears tell us that the whisper of every leaf and creature speaks to the natural sources of our lives, which indeed may hold the secrets of love for all things, especially our own humanity, and the last word goes to a jaguar from the Amazon.

One thought on “TED Talk Tuesday: Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

  1. Pingback: Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world – [TED Talks] | mostly music

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