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The Wilderness Speaks. Are You Listening? (New NPS video)

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The National Park Service is gearing up for next year’s 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.  As part of their celebration, the NPS has just released this wonderful short video highlighting Olympic National Park and its compelling and varied soundscapes.  Fittingly, this production is built around Gordon Hempton’s sound archive; the park is his backyard, and he’s spent countless hours over the past few decades reveling in its sounds.

This is part of a video series, America’s Wilderness, that’s available on YouTube—subscribe to their channel!  And to get a deeper taste of Gordon’s Olympic recordings check him out on iTunes: autumn with elk, cobblestone beach, driftwood log wave resonances, creek from beach to forest.

Sound design for TV sports: fascinating article and BBC radio show

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And now for something quite different: two features about creating/composing the sound design for TV sports.  At the London Olympics, Dennis Baxtor drew from 4000 microphones, working with 600 sound technicians to sculpt the sound into a more-than-real sonic experience.  Alexis Madrigal offers up a good concise overview of his work for The Atlantic, including a couple of compelling examples (catching the flight of arrows in archery, and laying in previously-recorded oar strokes in rowing).  

If that piques your interest, head on over to Vimeo to listen to a full hour-long radio documentary featuring Baxtor’s work, along with a couple of his peers, including Bill Whiston, sound supervisor at Wimbleton, who sums it up nicely:  ”I love atmosphere.  That is my job as far as I’m concerned.  It’s the atmosphere that you generate that makes people be there.”

And for the middle ground, here’s an extended written piece by the Peregrine Andrews, producer of the BBC show, which includes several audio examples.

Bernie Krause’s Great Animal Orchestra

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Bernie bookBernie Krause’s new book, The Great Animal Orchestra, is a worthy culmination to his inquisitive career.  After working out a few writerly wrinkles on a couple of earlier books that touched on aspects of his fascination with the world of natural sound, this one offers up a wide-ranging tour of our sounding world, shared in a congenial voice.

This book has rightfully garnered widespread praise, including the coveted cover spot on the NY Times Book Review section, as well as write-ups in The Washington Post, The Ecologist, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Wired. Check each of these out for good, brief glimpses into the stories you’ll find between these covers. The Wired piece is particularly well done, with many sound samples; more sounds can be heard on the site of publisher Little Brown.

Several key themes provide the foundation of the book.  First and foremost is Krause’s segmentation of the soundscape into geophony (sounds of wind and water and other movement of natural objects), biophony (sounds of animals, both vocal and sounds of movement), and anthrophony (sounds of humans, especially mechanical and amplified sounds). Similar divisions are used by bioacousticians, as evidenced in a couple of talks at a recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management workshop on sound and fish that I attended.  Likewise, Bernie is an eloquent spokesman for the widespread thought that early human music has its roots in a time when tribal peoples considered themselves but one voice in a local sounding landscape; this theme is emphasized in the subtitle to the book, “Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.”

Krause’s reflections on our urbanized relationship to sound are grounded in the soundscape tradition of R. Murray Schaffer, while his continuing efforts to understand the dynamics and relationships in natural soundscapes – using spectrograms to illustrate possible use of acoustic niches (differences in pitch, rhythm, or time of day) that allow a plethora of creatures to each be heard within a complex biophony – are contributions to the leading edges of scientific investigation of soundscape ecology.  Many reviewers note the rambling quality of the book as a small downside, but I found that it brought me as a reader into Bernie’s world, where pure wonder at the diversity of sounds crosses paths with speculative theories, sorrow at what’s disappearing, and a commitment to draw us into a deeper communion with the sounding world that surrounds us. A mindful engagement with sounds, or with the world as it is today, will inevitably bring us to such a mix of thoughts, feelings, and inquiries; this book one of the best invitations into the acoustic aspects of our times.

David Dunn, the tree whisperer? (great bark beetle story, though!)

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David Dunn is a longtime friend and colleague to AEI here in Santa Fe, and in fact his underwater insect recordings were my first taste of the sounds of the natural world having the potential to be deeply strange and amazing, rather than “just” beautiful. So when he discovered that the bark beetles chewing their way through the piñon pines in the hills of New Mexico were making all sorts of bizarre sounds, and suggested publishing a CD to benefit AEI, I was all for it.

Since then, the bark beetle inquiry has taken on a life of its own, becoming a perfect expression of David’s longtime conviction that artists can contribute in significant ways to science.  The acoustic behavior and communication of bark beetles was previously unstudied by entomologists, and now he’s being called to consult with scientists studying not only the piñon pine beetle, but also the mountain pine beetles ravaging larger higher-elevation and higher-latitude pines, as well as insect pests of the non-beetle persuasion.

This past week, a long article appeared in several Canadian newspapers, providing the most detailed look yet at David’s beetle odyssey.  It’s an excerpt from a new book by Andrew Nikiforuk, Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests.  The article dubs David “the tree whisperer,” though so far he hasn’t quite figured out how to calm the outbreaks; in fact, the research so far seems to be leading more toward driving beetles crazy than calming them.  But after forgiving the headline writer, we can sink into he article itself, which is the most detailed, entertaining version yet of David’s beetle adventures.

Support Kickstart project to send 6 recordists to the Amazon

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Franciso Lopez’s annual 2-week workshop in the Amazon offers field recordists an amazing opportunity to both explore the rainforest, and collaborate, learn, and create with a community of peers.  In recent years, the economic stresses we all feel have made it more difficult for sound artists to raise the funds for this unique experience.

This year, there’s a Kickstarter project going, which if successful will fund 6 artists for the trip, and assure that the program continues.  If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an online platform where entrepreneurs, artists, and others raise funds for worthy projects and product development; in return for your donation, you receive some of the fruits of the enterprise.  In this case, recordings!  Pledges are made now, and the project only proceeds if they meet their funding goal, at which point your pledge is paid out.

Let’s make it happen!

6th annual Amazon recording workshop: November 2011

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For the sixth year, Francisco Lopez is leading a 2-week workshop at Mamori Lake in the Brazilian Amazon.  For details, see the workshop webpage.

Mamori1web

Francisco describes the workshop in a recent email announcement:

Mamori Sound Project
6th Annual Workshop/Residency for sound artists & composers at Mamori Lake (Amazon, Brazil)
October 2011 / 2 weeks

Mamori Sound Project is a 2-week workshop/residency for professional and semi-professional sound artists and composers with previous experience in the area of sound experimentation and field recordings. It takes place at Mamori Lake, in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, and involves theoretical/discussion presentations, field work and studio work. The workshop/residency has a special focus on creative approaches to the work with field recordings, through an extensive exploration of natural sound environments. It does not have a technical character but is instead conceived and directed towards the development and realization of a collective project of sonic creation with the interaction of all participant artists/composers

Francisco López, director of “Mamori Sound Project”, is internationally recognized as one of the major figures of the experimental music and sound art scene.

Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Irv Teibel, creator of “Environments” LPs

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Irv Teibel passed away on Oct. 28 in Austin, TX. He was 72, and died of cancer that was diagnosed only a couple weeks before his death.  Irv first opened my ears to our living soundscapes in around 1972, when as a teenager I purchased two of his Environments LPs. He released this series under the banner of Syntonic Research Inc. between 1970 and 1979. The series ignited a worldwide interest in field recordings  and was an initial entry into the world of carefully recorded natural sounds for both listeners and later recordists. Irv’s family has created a page on the Caring Bridge website that explains the circumstances of his final years, as well as providing a space for folks to leave remembrances.

The Environments series (see detailed Wikipedia entry) featured a simple, classic format, with side-long tracks that allowed deep experiences of one particular soundscape.  The most popular titles included The Ultimate Thunderstorm (recorded from a balcony in the city!) and the The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore (in which he manipulated recordings from the beach to more closely imitate the auditory experience of being there). These, while not unlike later relaxation-oriented productions, were more primarily respected due to their immersive, high fidelity sonic standards.  The series also explored some themes that were more experimental, often pairing one side of natural soundscape with a flip side of featuring themes such as a Central Park “Be-in”, electronic bell sounds,  and a chorus chanting “om.”  (Perhaps these did not sell so well, as the series was limited to natural soundscapes during its final few releases.)

Irv’s work was a precursor to much of what EarthEar and modern environmental sound artists have done, combining state of the art field recording with careful and sensitive studio composition.  There’s no doubting that the Environments series, which garnered widespread press coverage and appreciation, was the foundation for all later efforts to create and market compelling field recordings to the general public.  For many of us who have continued to care about the health of acoustic habitats and who revel in the complexity and diversity of natural soundscapes, Irv’s work was an aesthetic entry point that affirmed our own passions for listening and honoring the natural world’s rich voice.

Thanks, Irv.  We were listening!

Irv Teibel, 1938-2010

Irv Teibel, 1938-2010

Becoming Animal: new David Abram book now out

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David Abram, whose widely acclaimed first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, addressed the mixed legacy of the written word in our culture, has released a new one, Becoming Animal, which draws on another decade of deep experience with the human and more-than-human world.  While the first book was his Ph.D. project, and veered deeply into academic phenomenology in an effort to contribute some fresh ideas in that field, the new one is much more rooted in David’s stellar storytelling voice.  David’s always been a strong advocate for my work with acoustic ecology, as his vision has much in common with our intention to listen more clearly to the voices around us.

Learn more about Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology on David’s Alliance for Wild Ethics website; there are a few short videos there as well, providing a quick taste of his uniquely engaged mind and heart.

World Listening Day is this Sunday, July 18

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You are invited to participate in the first World Listening Day, which happens on Sunday, July 18, 2010. The purposes of World Listening Day are:

  • To celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology
  • To raise awareness about issues related to the World Soundscape Project, World Listening Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and individual and group efforts
  • To creatively explore phonography to design and implement educational initiatives which explore these concepts and practices

July 18 was chosen as the date for World Listening Day because it is the birthday of the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Schafer is one of the founders of the Acoustic Ecology movement. The World Soundscape Project, which he directed, is an important organization which has inspired a lot of activity in this field, and his book Soundscape: The Tuning of the World helped to define many of the terms and background behind the acoustic ecology movement.

For more information see this info from the World Listening Project, download a press release that includes links to other sponsors and participating organizations, or contact: worldlistening@gmail.com

American Society for Acoustic Ecology Symposium July 9-11

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The American Society for Acoustic Ecology is pleased to announce ASAE Chicago: Listening for the Future.

This is the first-ever national gathering of the ASAE membership and the general public. Hosted by the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology and the World Listening Project, Listening for the Future will take place from July 9-11, 2010. We think it’s going to be a fantastic three days, with plenty of information and inspiration to go around. We hope you will join us at this landmark event.

Additional details will be posted on the Listening for the Future web page. Please bookmark and check back often as we’ll be making frequent updates from here forward. A registration page will be posted early next week, along with locations of all venues, maps, schedules etc.

Event Highlights

Friday (7/9) – Friday (7/9) – ‘Citizen Sound’ symposium featuring a wine and cheese reception, introductions to each of the ASAE chapters, and presentations by leaders in Chicago’s cultural and advocacy scene. Featured guests include Lou Mallozzi, Executive Director of Experimental Sound Studio and architect Graham Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition. A media lounge, where guests can sample CDs and peruse publications by participants, performers and ASAE members, will be open all night. Following dinner at a local eatery, Read the rest of this entry »

Listen to the Sierras with the Nature Sounds Society this June

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If you’re within easy reach of the Bay Area, here’s an annual event that is always fun, intimate, and rewarding:

Excite your ears—explore nature sound recording and natural quiet at the Nature Sounds Society’s 26th annual field recording workshop

The workshop will be June 25-27 at San Francisco State University’s Yuba Pass Field Station, in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. This year’s theme is “Vision of Sound.”

Featured speakers at this year’s workshop are “The Sound Tracker,” Gordon Hempton, Emmy award-winning nature recordist and author of One Square Inch of Silence and the subject of a new documentary film, Soundtracker, by Nick Sherman. Hempton and Sherman will present the film at the workshop. The program also includes John Muir Laws, illustrator, naturalist and teacher, author of The Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and the new Laws Pocket Guide; director Gina Farr of Farr Visions and the creator of Wild Sound Stories; and Dan Dugan, renowned sound designer. Each guest has a unique point of view of the natural world and vividly expresses him or herself through art, environmental activism and education. As an additional option, participants may choose to take an overnight backpack on Sunday June 27th to a recording location free from mechanical sound, organized by Steve Sergeant of the Sierra Club.

The “early bird” (prior to June 1) cost of the workshop is $175 for NSS members, $200 for non-members, and includes a one-year NSS membership. After June 1, the cost is $200 for NSS members and $225 for non-members. Lodging in tent cabins and meals are included. The optional Sunday night backpacking expedition will be an additional cost.

For more information, contact the Nature Sounds Society at (415) 821-9776 or e-mail Dan Dugan

Nature Sounds Society: http://www.naturesounds.org

Listening in on Antarctica

Arts, Science 1 Comment »

The latest podcast from Touch Music, a British label that’s been the source of many of the best soundscape releases over the past decade, is a wonderful 45-minute radio documentary style piece from Chris Watson, who recently spent time in Antarctica.  The Disquiet blog has a nice introductory post and embedded audio, so go there to listen to Chris share his experiences in words and sounds.  His narrative descriptions of landscape and his travels (including flying into the south pole), and of course his stellar recordings of penguins, seals, and creaking ice, are well worth spending an hour with!

While pondering Antarctica, I want to also mention a recent CD release that will appeal to the science-minded among you: Andrea Polli, an educator and sound artist with a special interest in sonification of scientific data, especially as related to climate change, spent much of her time in Antarctica following working scientists around as they pursued their many fascinations.  Her CD, Sonic Antarctica was released last year on the fantastic German Gruenrekorder label; the CD is a uniquely satisfying immersion into the sounds and science of the southern continent.   Andrea’s site 90 Degrees South is also a great place to go to read and hear posts on her time there, and to view a short film she created, Ground Truth, which focuses on why  people go to remote, uncomfortable and often hazardous locations, to do what is known as ‘ground truthing.’

It seems that hooking a grant-ride on the Antarctic Express has become quite the rite of passage for many sound artists in recent years.  Doug Quin was among the first, going down in 1996 and again in 1999 to be there at the turn of the millennium. More recently,  Craig Vear, from the UK, created the most elaborate artistic response to the place with his DVD, CD, and book Antarctica: Musical Images from the Frozen Continent, which features compelling imagery, historic films, and a half-hour audio-video piece combining field recordings and spoken remembrances from Antarctic scientists.

A Topology of Sound Maps

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Very cool collection of various approaches to sound mapping, recently posted at Weird Vibrations.  Here’s the first post, sharing their overview of several sound mapping models, including collaborative documentary, composition, preservation, and policy-oriented.  And here’s a follow-up post of others sent in by readers.  And to go one step further, here’s a delicious link from a commenter, to his own collection of sound maps.  And, oh, what the heck: here’s the current list of sound maps from AEI’s main site!

Paris Sound Map (click to read 1st post)

Paris Sound Map (click to read 1st post)

Those of you who were attracted to this particular post topic may well also enjoy checking by Weird Vibrations this week, where they’ve just begun an “open thread” on Acoustic Ecology, centered around their upcoming reviews of Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch book, and a book on sound weapons; the initial questions posed are promisingly provocative: “ First, is understanding sound as an ecosystem practical? In other words, can this formulation help us deal with noise in a just fashion? How does the ecological metaphor sit with you? Second, does acoustic ecology’s focus on “natural” preservation make it essentially conservative? This is a charge that’s latent (if not explicit) in some recent Sound Studies work that foregrounds technology. What do you think?”

Soundtracker Gordon Hempton video and interview

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Gordon Hempton, aka The Soundtracker, is featured on the Newsweek website this week.  Gordon shares his well-crafted gospel of quiet in both an interview and a very nice little video produced by Newsweek (there will be a pause after you click the play button, during which you will see a blank screen, rather than the commercial viewed at the Newsweek site):

Lynda Barry Leads Wisconsin Wind Farm Resistance; Pens Cartoon Featuring Suffering Neighbors

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Well-known cartoonist Lynda Barry lives in rural Wisconsin, and while her home is not in the midst of a wind farm, she has become a leader of local resistance, with a focus on the noise that keeps people awake, and strange physcial sensations, including one that she herself experiences when near operating turbines. ”You know how sometimes, around your eye, you’ll get this little tic that kind of wiggles?” says Barry. “It was like having that in your ear and your chest. A pulsing. It’s the weirdest feeling!”  She experienced this while visiting a home 1100 feet from the nearest turbine, one of many homes she’s visited and spent the night in as she has worked to understand what some wind farm neighbors are living with.  Her work is highlighted in a recent feature article in Isthmus, a Madison weekly, which is illustrated with a classic-style Barry cartoon in which each panel highlights a different neighbor’s story.

Animals Finally Respond to Music: It Just Has to be Written for Their Species!

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Fascinating discovery of the day: music written for monkeys, based on their vocalizations, finally triggers a notable response.  What follows is straight from the website of the composer, who also makes music for cats.  You can hear an NPR story on the monkey research here.

Many previous experiments on animal response to music composed for humans (hereinafter, “human music”) have been conducted, but none of these studies had demonstrated significant responses. Very recently a study of the effect of human music on cotton-topped tamarin monkeys was conducted at Harvard. The tamarins showed a slight preference for Mozart over German “techno” music, but preferred silence to either. This study was consistent with the findings of all previous studies: animals are largely indifferent to human music.

We performed tests at the University of Wisconsin on the same species of tamarins. As with all previous studies, the tamarins showed a lack of interest in the human music. By contrast, the effect on them of the species-specific music composed by David Teie was remarkably clear and convincing. They displayed a marked increase of activity in response to the music that was designed to excite them, while the “tamarin ballad” music induced a significant calming. This calming effect was measured against the baseline of silence; they moved and vocalized less and orientated more toward the audio speakers during and immediately following the playing of the tamarin ballad.

Following are quotes from a research paper about these experiments that will soon be submitted for publication. The psychologist Charles Snowdon, who conducted the testing and authored these statements, is a highly respected but extremely cautious and skeptical scientist not normally given to making sweeping statements: “Our predictions were supported. Music composed for tamarins had a much greater effect on the behavior of tamarins than music composed for humans. …tamarins displayed significant behavioral change only to the music that was specifically composed for them and were unaffected by human music.”

To the best of our knowledge, this marks the first time that an art form has been shown by scientific test and observation to engender the measurable appreciation of any species other than human. (Ed. note: true, little science has been done; yet there have been some compelling examples of animals themselves enjoying doing art: the painting gorillas and Thai Elephant Orchestra come quickly to mind.)

John Luther Adams: The Place Where You Go to Listen (new book)

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An AEI book review of The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music
by John Luther Adams

Fairbanks-based John Luther Adams is likely the most place-based composer of his generation.  His music for orchestra, small ensembles, percussion, and electronics is music of the wild north, not merely from Alaska but seemingly drawn forth from the land, people, animals, and sky.  From explicit works like Earth and the Great Weather, with its incantations of native place and animal names, to subtler pieces such as In the White Silence, Adams has created a musical vernacular that is all his own, in service of knowing and expressing the land that seems to absorb him into its own deep rhythms.  The New Yorker carried a wonderful extended profile of him last year, and now Wesleyan University Press has released his second book, which invites us into his creative process during the design of a permanent installation at the Museum of the North.  In a long, slightly curved room, Adams and his collaborators created a space in which the earth and sky outside “compose” an eternal musical reverie.  Drawing on his decades of cultivating a musical voice that utilizes long, slow changes, carefully considered intervals, and percussion, Adams programmed electronics that transform various aspects of the surrounding environment into musical gestures, which together sing a song of this place.  In short, widely ranging diary entries, The Place Where You Go to Listen invites us into the two-year process of pondering, and then realizing, this grand expression of his compositional vision.

Click on Cover to order from Amazon

Click on Cover to view book on Amazon

The installation takes its name from a poem Adams wrote years ago (and which was a core inspiration in my own ode to soundscape art, The Dreams of Gaia).  The poem shares the tale of a woman who hears the world in the direct, complete ways that have become distant for too many of us.  The composition-cum-programming that fills this space at the Museum of the North with sound and light contains sonic representations of the core expressions of the region’s land- and sky-scape, including:

  • The Choirs of Day and Night: Pitch and amplitude of parts of the music respond to the presence and height in the sky of the sun, including deep tones when it is below the horizon.  Meanwhile, the moon triggers its own choral textures; of course, at times they share the sky, and the room, and at times they are absent, while the extent of cloud cover also colors these tones.
  • Aurora Bells: Magnetometers in five locations across Alaska measure geomagnetic activity; when the magnetic field of the region is active, the listener hears shimmering veils of sound floating across the ceiling.  These sounds occur whether or not the aurora are obscured by clouds; as Adams notes, “The Place doesn’t illustrate the visible.  It doesn’t amplify the audible.  It resonates with the inaudible and invisible.”
  • Earth Drums: Seismic data from five other places in Alaska trigger virtual drums in The Place: “During moderate to large earthquakes, low-frequency sounds rumble and boom through the space as different stations receive the seismic vibrations at different times and intensities.”  Smaller seismic events, imperceptible to humans, also trigger the Earth Drums in a more transient, localized way; the distance to the mini-quakes, as well as the three-dimensional movement of seismic waves, alter specific aspects of the sounds.

The book draws us into Adam’s world with frank discussions of the challenges inherent in “tuning” scientific data into music, as well as the nuts and bolts of designing and building The Place itself, alongside generous (but never indulgent or rambling) glimpses into his family life, reflections on the political and environmental tenor of our times, and his all-important times in the wild.  Taken together, these varied musings add up to a rare and valuable opportunity to enter the mind and heart of an artist as he grapples with both the mundane and the profound.  I took my time working through this two-year journey alongside John Luther Adams, and by the end I was surely itching to spend a day (or a season!) listening to The Place.  In his Afterward, I enjoyed sharing his delight that visitors “often hear things I haven’t heard before, and they understand The Place in ways I hadn’t understood it myself.”  And, even more wonderful,  ”by now, there are a number of people who have spent more time inside The Place than I have…..Some who work at the museum visit The Place almost every day.  Others who work nearby visit once or twice a week.  Some people meditate, others write or sketch, or just listen.”

Most importantly, though, his words—and his compositions—do far more than invite us into his world. They also point toward ways that we each might experience more fully the places  where we go to listen.  And for this we can thank him for his generosity in sharing his own difficult yet rewarding exploration into his work, and our world.