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The Eternal Story, in its Original Language

by Jim Cummings
from the liner notes to The Dreams of Gaia

We live in a world within a world. With each passing decade, our human lives become more insulated from the uncertain chaos—and the connective context—of the biosphere from which we so recently sprung. We've protected ourselves from the wind and the rain, made our countrysides safe from occasional predation by large carnivores, and created vast webs of human sprawl nearly devoid of plant and animal life, save some hardy insects, urbanized rodents, and less particular birds.

Yet still we remember. . . . Something deep and true within us is awakened by the surf line on an early morning beach, by the deepening night of a woodland lake, by the fearsome, exhilarating heart of a ridgeline thunderstorm. Among us are a lucky few—and within each of us a tenacious core—that never lost touch with the voices of the world around, that somehow escaped the deafening effects of the human world; these ears remain open to the songs of the wind, the tales of the frogs, the sudden visitations of the raven.

One of the greatest tragedies, and greatest follies, of our modern era is the extent to which we’ve forgotten how to hear, and be a part of, the ongoing stories of our home places. Metaphors grope toward a reality that once was concrete beyond needing expression. It’s the Great Conversation, the voicing of the dream of life, the simple audible breathing of the planet. It wasn’t so long ago that we knew all our companions well, that we welcomed each as we now find delight in a phone call from a friend. But lately, we've traded deep knowledge of our Home for a broad but shallow understanding of the planet as a whole.

Offering touchstones on a path of remembering, a new breed of sound artists has emerged in the past twenty years. Their work is inspired from many sources, including early nature sound artists such as Irv Tiebel (Environments), social commentators such as R. Murray Schafer (The Tuning of the World), electronic and minimalist composers, and most of all, by their own varied personal ways of being in, and exploring, the world.

These sound sculptors have spent thousands of hours seeking, responding to, and recording the sounds of our world—from mountains to subways. They then dance with their muses in the studio, weaving sonic essays and aural portraits in a delightful range of styles. These new place-inspired artists deserve a spot alongside the writers, photographers, and filmakers whose works have enriched our sense of the connections—and the rifts—between humanity, nature, and spirit. Through sound (perhaps our most integrative and expansive sense), they are helping us to remember that language is not only a human expression. Birds surely speak, coyotes have much to say, trees find their voice in the wind and in stillness, even the rocks sing when caressed by waves and roar when shaken from below. The voices of the planet offer gifts of joy, wonder, and peace; they also can take us into—and out of—ourselves, to places of reflection, uncertainty, and new awareness. Mostly, the song of each place connects us with a expansiveness and mystery that lies beyond our human world. In this, we may find ourselves once again a part of a greater story, one in which humanity is just one of the players.

Whether you live in a city or at the edge of the wilderness, or, like most of us, in a place where the human world is expanding ever deeper into various local remnants of the primal richness that once filled your region, the work of these sound artists will help you notice the voice of the place you walk in day to day. There is beauty and context to be found in the whispering of pines, and also in the sounds of the street. Only by beginning where we are, might we find our way back to the community of life that speaks to us in the howling teeth of a storm and the dreamsongs of caribou.

And so it is with all of the voices of the Earth: they come before words, they make our human words seem so small, so fragmentary, so. . . human. For in the wild, as in these recordings, are the pieces we’ve been missing, the voices we’ve forgotten to include in our human monologue. To meet them again is to reclaim the chance that we might find a way to live in balance among them. And that, in these latter days of the crazy-making century we live in, is our greatest need.

About the Author - Jim Cummings is founder of EarthEar, and arranger of the CD The Dreams of Gaia. This essay is drawn from the liner notes to that disc.

Speaking in Animal Tongues - Further reflections on the ways that humanity has distanced itself from our relationships with our home places. [WEBPAGE]

The Big Picture - Peruse more writings on soundscapes. [WEBPAGE]

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