Just one generation and everything is different

It is crazy to think about how just under 100 years ago, people didn’t have an easy way to just record a sound they heard,  they had to carry around a whole bunch of recording equipment sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds. The story about the researchers trying to record the ivory beaked woodpecker really interested me, because it made me think about how much has changed in just the last decade, and how that bird is now most likely extinct.

We have changed a lot about the Earth, and what is scary about that is it has happened so fast. We are in the period right now of the Great Acceleration. This period only started in the 1950s, which is only about 70 years ago now. That the population has changed from less then 3 billion people in 1950 to almost 7.5 billion in one lifetime is crazy. We are currently witnesses to the most influential period of humans on Earth. We are changing things so fast because we as a population is growing so fast, but there has to be a limit to all of this. There is no finite system that can handle infinite growth. We are already seeing the consequences of climate change, as well as the world domination of humans.

The story of the ivory beaked woodpecker is an example how of how we are changing as a species and a culture. A century ago the researchers were excited to try to record this rare bird even though the technology made it difficult. Now, we have the power to record any sound we want to at the touch of a button on our phones, but we don’t care to, and we also don’t seem to care about the millions of animal species that are going extinct because of us. It is ironic that all these species will soon be gone, and now that it is easier to record their sounds, we don’t care enough to do it.

Let us make this be a reminder to think about and notice things before they disappear, possibly for good.


Nature HD Surround Sound System

I have always wondered how they record nature sounds: the ambient noise of whales, rain on a canopy, or waves hitting a rocky shore are contained on tracks that we play and replay when we need to relax. But I don’t mean wonder with regard to the instruments and how the recording process worked. What I mean is that it honestly baffled me as to where people go to record the sounds of nature undisturbed by man. It seems that there are so few places left in this world that are left untouched by the permeating sounds of humanity.

Which is the entire reason that nature tracks even exist. Supply and demand. There isn’t a lot of access to nature, so if you can corner the market on capturing that then big bucks are in store. We listen to the tracks are because we find comfort in the sounds of nature; it takes us away from our daily lives full of industrial noise and man-made intrusions upon our eardrums.

How did this even become so perverse? We pay money to listen to something that is freely available to us. So why do we do it? Accessibility is one answer I suppose. However, I think the further underlying cause is that we are slowly eliminating what once used to be so accessible.

The reading talked about how the natural sounds were obscured by a dam, oil spill, or some other human influence. When it happens, the absence of the sound of nature is felt. As time goes on though, the absence of sound becomes a norm, and eventually the absence is replaced by the sounds of growth and human prosperity.

Our world hasn’t always been as busy and aggressive as it is now. We made it this way. So now the only way that we can get a piece of the former ambiance is to go into the few places left with recording devices in order to capture the last remaining pieces. I suppose this is what is necessary if we are to relieve the stress of the life we have created. But thank goodness we have Bluetooth speakers to aid with that!

Singing Shrimp may win the next, “America’s Got Talent”

In The Great Animal Orchestra, Bernie Krause writes, “Pound for pound, one of the loudest organisms in the animal kingdom is, oddly enough, the inch-and-a-half-long snapping shrimp”.  He notes, “It (The shrimp) generates a signal (sound) with its large claw that can meet or exceed 200 dB underwater—a sound pressure level equivalent to around 165 dB in air”.  The decibel output of the shrimp is so great, it can be compared to that of a symphony orchestra, which is known to generate up to around 110 dBA.  And when compared to the decibel output of a screaming human, the shrimp still measures 48 dBA greater.  In a final comparison, Krause explains the true incredulity of the feat this “inch-and-a-half-long snapping shrimp” is able to accomplish.  Few other natural sounds generated in air—negating a volcanic eruption or crack of thunder— hold the potential to cause hearing damage.

To me this is truly amazing.  I may live my whole life without seeing this shrimp.  But thanks to people like Krause, I may not lose the ability to witness the soundscape this incredible shrimp creates each and every day.  While this shrimp lives day in and day out underwater, subjecting the marine life around it to the resonating snap of its claw, ground dwellers are ignorant to its song.

In summation to the artfully written chapter, Sound as My Mentor, I feel Krause conveyed a  strong urgency for us all to increase our appreciation for a medium we do not see.  “(Sound) plays a key role in the ways societies express themselves; it is fundamental to the collective voice of the natural world, to music, and to acoustic notes of all kinds”.  And from what I gather, the sounds which we don’t hear could be our biggest loss.  My question however, is how do you get people to stop and listen? And if we all do take brief moments to appreciate the sounds and breath of nature, how do we take the next step to protect each sound and maintain the nature of Earth’s ecosystem?

“The fourth major sound property, acoustic envelope, determines the shape and texture of a sound through time”.  With that in mind, what will the acoustic envelope of the Anthropocene be?  I hope the final notes are anything but silent.

And Can You Hear the Wolf Cry?

The power that how sound possesses has always astonished me. From the way we interpret and process language(s), the powerful effect of instrumental music, to the sounds of a healthy forest. It moves me, and to think of the evolution of language into an irreplaceable part of us honestly blows my mind. The ability to create sound is just a vital to us as it is to an insect. Sound also has the ability to shape our imagines of any place, heightening the overall experience.

I personally have never heard anything more beautiful than an undisturbed, old growth tropical forest. I was absolutely mesmerized. If it was not set before that moment, my purpose on this Earth is to help preserve that. That healthy, living, complex ecosystem that creates some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I have also experienced the complete opposite of the scene above. Many a night I have fallen asleep to the sounds of passing semitrucks and cars on the neighboring highway. Not the most “natural” sounding environment, but it was familiar. It was familiar enough in fact to act as a lullaby most nights. Those cars flying by created a comforting noise. It was something that was always there and never thought twice about its significance.

Also, sound can play a huge role in identifying health or danger. Silence in the middle of nowhere can often indicate something bad is about to happen, such as a bear attack, or that minimal to no life is present in that area. That can be an indication of the state of the health of the surrounding environment, however, most of the time nature creates noises leading to complex songs that paint a mental picture regardless of the presence or absence of sight. We and everything we have created, us being a part of “nature” and whatnot, have added to complexity of sounds on this Earth. It is up for debate about the benefits of these additions, buy often, our sounds interfere with and harm the communication of other organisms using sounds for hunting or mating. This further demonstrates the power of sound in nearly all living, communicating organisms. Life on Earth would not exist the way it does without the presence and processing of sound.

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SHHHHHHH! Mother Nature Is Talking!

While the science behind how sound transpires in nature completely went over my head, I could at least relate on a personal level to the beauty of natural sound in my own life. There are two locations I have visited in my lifetime that I will never forget, in part due to the visual amazement, but also the incredible sounds associated with them. The first is located at The Inn at Spanish Bay, which is right in between Monterey Bay and Carmel Bay California. Here, there is a fancy golf resort perched on a cliff overseeing the Pacific Ocean, as well as a 17-mile scenic drive known for its majestic cypress trees. My family visited this resort to eat at a restaurant for a birthday celebration. Afterward, we walked to a bench overseeing the incredible sunset as it was slowly swallowed up by the sea. Even though the image of a beach sunset usually takes the spotlight for most people, it was the sounds associated with the setting that blew me away (literally!). On that particular evening, the winds were strong, and the waves crashed onto the sand with such an aggressive force. Seagulls were traveling back and forth to muster up any meal they could find. When food was found, their excitement was not lost in the crashing of waves. Their voices would sometimes echo louder than the waves themselves. The overall contrast between a tranquil setting and a bellowing orchestra was an event you would have to witness firsthand to understand. The second location I alluded to earlier was located at the heart of The Yosemite Valley. This National Park located in California is well known for its astounding views overlooking its valleys and peaks, including the iconic Half Dome and El Capitan. However, it was my visit to the bottom of the valley that truly resonated with me. Sitting in a patch of grassy brush, I marveled alone at how beautiful this valley was. It is humbling to say the least when looking up at the towering granite walls surrounding you on both sides. With the valley acting almost like a bowl for sound to travel around, you never missed a beat. The simplest bird chirping for its friends or deer stepping on a branch did not go unnoticed. I was very fortunate the other people in the park with me were respectful and quiet, as to not overshadow the sounds this cathedral of nature made, as John Muir once described it. After reminiscing my past travels, I definitely have a much larger gratitude towards the sounds nature provides us each day. The science behind it all still remains a mystery to me, but I can at least appreciate the impact sound has on the world we live in.

Sound may be just as important to an ecosystem as anything else

When I picture an ecosystem—for example, a rain forest—my first thought is the lush greenery and animals prowling around, or the humidity in the air. Even though sound is an integral part of that kind of habitat, it’s never the first thing that comes to my mind. However, sound presents itself in every little thing. It’s an incredible sensory experience that adds so much depth to biology. The science of sound is quite interesting as well, and I immensely enjoyed reading the first couple chapters of Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra.

It’s a bit unbelievable to imagine that there’s a whole world of sound that we can’t noticeably hear with our human ears. As the reading said, our ears can only hear a range of sounds from about 5 to 20,000 decibels. There’re some whales, though, that can hear up to 200 kHz, nearly four octaves beyond the highest pitch we can hear. What are we missing out on? On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a realm of minute sounds that we don’t notice—breathing, a bird’s wings beating. Sound provides a whole different way to interpret the world.

One of the most interesting things I found in the reading was the idea of sounds being completely individual to the environment that they’re in. For example, Krause explains that hilly habitats produce more contained sounds, whereas flat, open areas disperse the sound a lot more. The density and type of vegetation affect sounds as well, in addition to the area’s basic geological features (rocky, hilly, or mountainous). When nighttime comes it changes the whole atmosphere of sound as well. These are things I never considered—in the past if you asked me about sound I wouldn’t think that it would be so different depending on where you were. It just supplies so much more depth and importance to ecosystems.

This is another factor that makes saving the environment so important. If climate change alters the environment in which species reside, even the sound of the space they live will change. Animals, although able to adapt, have built up reliance on the space they live in. Sound makes it possible for lions to detect their prey nearby before they even see it. It makes it possible for birds to communicate with one another while focusing on their path of flight. Global warming is already altering the temperatures, the sea levels, and causing more natural disasters, but we need to consider that even the minute details of ecosystems, such as their unique sounds, will change too. It’s such precious and important thing that we need to save.

The hills are alive with the sound of nature

As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, I feel that the sounds of nature can’t be beaten by any type of music. One of my favorite things to do when I backpack is sit down, close my eyes, and just focus on the sound. Describing the sounds of nature is difficult, but I feel that they are real, emotional, interesting, calming, and uplifting. I find that focussing on rhythmic, methodical sounds from the outdoors really helps me get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life as well as connect with nature on another level.

I played cello for 14 years and often used the sounds in nature as inspiration for my musical expression. For instance, when playing a “powerful” song, I often thought about how a wild thunderstorm made me feel and tried to recreate that feeling through my cello. Similarly, for a more calming song, I may take inspiration from the gentle flow of the ocean and use more legato to make the piece more peaceful like the waves.

One aspect of the sounds found in nature that I really enjoy is they remind one of how little we as humans matter and how unimportant all of our worries our on the grand scale of life. I may be very stressed about homework one day, but after exposing myself to the sounds of the forest or the wisp of the winds over the hills, I am reminded that my existence on Earth is very short-lived and that I should focus on the positives in life.

Up Next On Your Spotify Playlist:

From a young age, I have enjoyed music and the emotions it cultivates. However, I have never thought about geophony or the marine soundscape. It makes sense that the origins of beautiful sounds come from nature in thousands of ways. If you listen to what is currently on the radio or popular music, it initially sounds incredibly different from what one would perceive as sounds of nature. As I pondered this for longer, I realized that the number of sounds created in nature is unlimited and there are so many sources.

Sound is an extremely powerful sensory experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this excerpt of literature. The sections describing certain natural scenarios engulfed me in memories of experiencing those similar sounds. For instance, the description of how the shoreline waves change depending on the depth brought memories hearing the waves crash on the beach.

The story of the native american people sharing their connection with nature to others served as a valuable indication of the importance of geophony. It was crushing to read about the disappearance of their waterfall from the implementation of a dam. This reminded me about last week’s topic of indigenous people and the threat posed to their culture through the environment. Where we read about the importance of language diversity, this seemed to be reflected in the sounds experienced by the native communities.

I have never heard of soundscape albums, and I am eager to listen to one. I found the part about the Japanese removing these albums from the shelves (for reminding them too much of war sounds) to be fascinating. This presented a clear example which illustrated the powerful impact which sound can have. White noise surrounds us as we go about our day, but sometimes we manage to actually listen. When you tune into your surroundings and listen, you can hear the crunch of your footsteps or the leaves rustling. Geophonies are most likely overpowered by other disruptive sounds of bustling cities and humans, but maybe if we try hard enough we can still learn to appreciate the sounds of nature.

Listening to In a Wild Sanctuary

I’ve been playing the clarinet for about ten years now. I play in a lot of musical groups on campus, and these chapters made me completely rethink the concept of music. The kind of music we make now is so refined, so edited, and we practice and rehearse to perfection. As much work that goes into an Oregon State Wind Ensemble concert, for example, is in a way nothing compared to the work that has gone into the soundscape of natural environments that has been changing and evolving for millions of years.

I especially like reading about the difference in sound of all the different oceans. Lots of weathering and wear went into making each coast sound unique. I tried to find some of the sounds that Krause refers to in this book, I would absolutely love if we could listen to some in class! I think I would understand the idea of differing soundscapes better if I could hear what he was talking about.

I’m listening to Beaver and Krause’s album In a Wild Sanctuary as I write this reflection. It’s really cool that I can hear some of the things he mentions in his book- like the sound of thunder, and the synthesizer that was so popular in the 60’s/70’s when it was being produced. I actually looked into buying a copy of the CD, but found that the cheapest I could find it for is about $100. I am curious as to why that is.

I think we can tie this piece back into the idea of the Anthropocene in terms of biodiversity. Many of these places that produce such spectacular sounds are in danger, and I think it’s important to protect and appreciate them while they’re still around.

Sorry this reflection was very scattered and had a lot of unconnected thoughts, but that’s what this writing provided for me. Multiple realizations and ideas came to me in a random order while reading this and thinking about music. It was very interesting to read.

Their Loss is Our Loss

Typically, when we think of climate change in respect to a loss of diversity, we associate it with a loss of biodiversity of floral and faunal species. We are a great risk of also losing our diversity. The unfortunate fact is we have already greatly diminished or completely lost a lot of our diversity. We are risk of losing even more.

The indigenous way(s) of life are undoubtedly different from modern society. Most rely greatly on the stability and pristineness of their surrounding environment for many aspects of their cultural, such as hunting/harvesting from the area, religious practices and events, and other cultural components that make an indigenous group who they are. Their ways of life, religion, and language are at risk of dying out or being erased if they cannot carry out their cultural necessities.

This risk stems from two major factors, a) colonization and b) climate change. Colonization (and even modernization or westernization) has contributed greatly to losses in indigenous cultures. For centuries, people from other languages and cultures traveled far and wide to take what was not theirs. Indigenous people were taken as slaves if they were not killed off by acts of violence or by the foreign diseases, and they were forced to conform to the cultural practices of their “new rulers.” If not, they faced death. Many languages, practices, and physical characteristics were overpowered by the ways of the old world. Some remained lucky and were relocated or allowed to maintain their way of life in a secluded, unknown area. Today, our industrial-based practices have sent the natural world into peril. The once pristine, long-standing environments are being quickly killed from pollution, overharvesting/deforestation, and change in climatic conditions/events. Not only are floral and faunal species losing their homes, the indigenous are as well.

When we lose the indigenous people and their cultures, we as a whole lose the diversity that makes us all so unique and beautiful. For some, it is an entire loss of their identity. Languages, religions, rituals, etc., will just be an old wise tale or something one can only read in books. We also lose the ability to learn and understand differences ways. We also lose the ability to understand the history of the human race and all its “glory”. The indigenous people have knowledge and wisdom unknown by all, and they could give some insight to the environment. We do not know how everything works nor do we know all the species that are out there. They could provide insight to what is there and how it is changing in a way that can help us all combat climate change. They could also provide insight to how to live sustainably. Indigenous groups should not be made to bear the weight of the actions of others who contribute so many times more to climate change than they ever would.

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climate change is an injustice to those most vulnerable

While this week’s reading was a bit heavy with technical words and confusing language, the basic idea of environmental justice makes sense to me. The fact that the people most affected by climate change are some of the least impactful people to the cause of it, is definitely an injustice. The fact of the matter is that the indigenous peoples all over the world hold nature as an important part of their culture. While this may mean that they take from nature in order to survive, but they do it in ways that are sustainable and not influential to climate change. This directly opposes how the rest of the developed world impacts the earth, as we culturally feel further away from it, and so we don’t think about how much we are abusing it.

Unfortunately, some of the efforts by indigenous people to preserve their environmental heritage and identity are met with violence and harsher regulations. However, the fights fought by the indigenous people for their culture are fights that should be fought by all people in the developed world that want things to change. In order for things to change quickly enough for the earth to not feel very dramatic changes, the government and corporations who control the environmental regulations that strongly affect climate change need to feel direct opposition. This hopefully should not come to violence, but in order for things to change we need to start feeling culturally attacked when decisions are made that go against sustainability and reducing the impacts of climate change.

This is an issue bigger than us

Indigenous knowledge is immensely important in that it provides traditional arts, languages, folklore, and customs of cultures that expand and enrich human nature and society. It’s no question that said cultures that rely so heavily on the environment are feeling the effects of climate change much more than urbanized communities. And yet, those urbanized people are contributing the most to increased carbon emissions that are exasperating the problem. The reading defines environmental identity as the amalgamation of cultural identities, ways of life, and self-perceptions that are connected to a given group’s physical environment. Yet, in the wake of climate change, extensive damage is posed to the ecological relationships that bind indigenous knowledge and culture.

One of the most overwhelming and urgent problems, in my opinion, is partial and total displacement of climate refugees. For example, in the South Pacific, over 2500 Carteret Islanders have been relocated to Papua New Guinea due to tsunamis and rising sea levels that are flooding coastal cities. Where goes the environment, so goes the culture. And yet, likely those islanders contributed little if at all to global warming in the first place.

This problem is not only an environmental one, but equally a social one. It requires empathy and caring by those that aren’t so vulnerable to climate change to make a difference to those that are. For example, tribes that require good water quality for religious and cultural reasons previously had no control over the discharges that came from non-reservation point-sources, because those decisions were made in Washington D.C., an area far removed from the reservation both physically and socially. Environmental justice is a good approach to understanding the cultural loss to indigenous people that face the direct adverse consequences of global warming due to their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. It’s painful to imagine the cultural losses are mostly due to the inability of the indigenous peoples to make decisions that affect them personally, and mostly urbanized communities that aren’t feeling the blow of climate change (yet) are doing the most to contribute to it.

So, what do we do? Well, the simple answer is to care more. I also have the feeling that not enough people are informed on this issue, which means that the more complex answer is to get informed and share what you know in order to influence others to change as well. Not for ourselves, but for individuals that encompass cultures and languages more important to humans than the carbon we pump into the air to power our sports cars.