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Bernie Krause - Soundscape Particles of Dawn

Bernie Krause is both a musician and a naturalist; a visionary in both disciplines. A leading figure in West Coast folk during '50's and '60's he gradually left the industry to travel the world and capture the sound of disappearing landscapes and environments. His archive of environmental sound is one of the most important collections in private hands. These recordings consist of excerpts from three dawn choruses and will completely transport you.

The Soundscape

"The soundscape defines the acoustic environment in which we live. It includes all of the signals that reach the ear of any living organism at any one time. And it is made up of three primary points of origin. The first is the geophony, the non-biological sounds produced in any wild habitat like those of wind in the trees, water in a stream, waves at the ocean shore, or movement of the earth. Geophonies were the first sounds generated on earth. Those sounds, in turn, would have been received by non-human organisms, which, themselves, each produce a unique acoustic signature. The collective signals that these life forms produce together in any wild habitat at given times is referred to as the biophony.



And finally, there is the special class of sound that humans generate. Called anthrophony, some of these expressions can be thought of as controlled sound, like music, theatre, or language. However, most human-generated signatures are incoherent and chaotic, often expressed as noise because they transmit very little, if any, specific useful information apart from an indication of mere presence.

There was a time when our culture dismissed wild soundscapes as being worthless artifacts. They were just there. But they had no significance. We were wrong. What we're learning from these encounters, is that careful listening gives us extremely valuable tools – a type of Rosetta Stone – by which to unlock the secrets embedded in an unexplored sonic universe that extends beyond the narrow limits of the disciplines we have typically drawn from. Wild soundscapes, the voices of the natural world, provide remarkable new perspectives through which to connect with the living planet. Think of wild soundscapes as stories – powerful narratives that tell us how we humans are doing in relation to the natural world around us, tales that can heal us, reveal the voice of the divine, and teach us how to dance and sing and even speak."
- Bernie Krause

Background to the life and work of Bernie Krause

Bernie Krause is both a musician and naturalist; a visionary in both disciplines. During the 1950s and 1960s, he devoted himself to music – jazz, pop, blues, and folk – and became successful in many styles. He earned the Pete Seeger slot in The Weavers, the premier American folk group of the 50s and 60s – introducing "Guantanamera," with Seeger and other members of the group at their 1963 Carnegie Hall reunion. But it wasn't until he was introduced to electronic music by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros, that he broke with our conventional musical heritage. His new interest led him to the Moog synthesizer, of which — with his late music partner, Paul Beaver — he was an early champion, having introduced the instrument to pop music and film communities on the American West Coast, New York, and the UK.

His credits appear together with a Who's Who of artists, having worked on music with George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, Barbra Streisand, the Doors, David Byrne, and many others. Nearly everything Krause has subsequently done in the world of music and natural sound has been marked by the idea of fusion.

Since 1968, Dr. Bernie Krause has traveled the world recording and archiving the sounds of creatures and environments large and small. Working at the research sites of Jane Goodall (Gombe, Tanzania), Biruté Galdikas (Camp Leakey, Borneo), and the late Dian Fossey (Karisoke, Rwanda), he identified the concept of biophony (a/k/a the Niche Hypothesis) based on the relationships of individual creature sounds to the total biological soundscape within a given habitat.

Through his company, Wild Sanctuary, he has recorded over fifty natural soundscape albums and creates interactive environmental sound sculpture commissions for museums and other public spaces throughout the world. Utilizing proprietary delivery technology, his sound sculpture commissions can be heard in museums all over the USA.

For the past thirty years, Dr. Krause had led bioacoustic expeditions throughout Alaska, Africa, the Amazon, Indonesia, and locations throughout western and eastern North America. He is the author of a number of books including Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of Natural World (Wilderness Press, 2002, Notes from the Wild (1996 Ellipsis Arts), and Into a Wild Sanctuary (1998 Heyday Books), The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places, (2012 Little Brown/Hachette in the US, and Profile Books in the UK. Also, translations into French, German, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese). Krause also served on the advisory board of Harvard's Institute for Music & Brain Science.


In June, 2013, Krause presented a TED Global talk on this subject at the conference in Edinburgh.
It can found at this link.

Krause's archive of environmental sound is one of the most important such collections in private hands with over 4,500 hours of holistic habitat recordings and in excess of 15,000 species. Most significant, is that over 50 percent of the material recorded over the past four decades comes from sites so badly compromised by various forms of human intervention, that the habitats are altogether silent or the soundscapes can no longer be heard in any form. By itself, this collection is so rare that it might be considered a national treasure.

One of the most intoxicating aspects of Dr. Krause's long odyssey is his discovery of biophony – "…the collective sound that whole groups of living organisms generate in any biome at a given moment." As poet Gary Snyder has pointed out, human language is wild – organizing and reorganizing itself independently of human will. Krause suggests that the naturally occurring acoustic structures within certain undisturbed biomes form the basis for that paradigm – a constantly changing, reflexive syntheses of correlated sound.

It was through Krause's insight that he brought to our understanding of the natural world his identification of "acoustic niches," the ways in which different species within a single soundscape jostle for sonic territory – unoccupied bandwidth and times in which they can communicate unimpeded. By recognizing the function of this partitioning, something creative and important emerges: the realization that Soundscape Ecology is as important as spatial ecology, with animal communication as significant a factor in defining territory, habitat, and ecological integrity as, say, trophic structure. In fact, territory, habitat and ecological integrity may no longer be definable in three spatial dimensions alone. Krause's vision of the soundscape adds a fourth.

Bernie Krause takes us deep into a wilder world beyond the mundane and the merely visual, suggesting, as the visions all great naturalists have, that the wild natural is both more complex and more compelling than meets the eye. In Krause's words: "While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a natural soundscape is worth a thousand pictures."

Recording in the wild

"Recording in the wild takes time and practice to do it well. But, really, anyone who can hold a small recorder in their hand can record wildlife and become a citizen-scientest. And the good news is that for £150 ($250USD), one can now buy any one of a number of very decent digital recorders that come equipped with microphones, too. This introductory gear can weigh as little as 6 ounces (170 grams). And there are now batteries that will allow continuous recordings of 24 hours or more.

This is a far cry from the analogue days when we had to carry recorders that (with 12D cell batteries and plastic 7 inch reels of audio tape that lasted only about 20 minutes) weighed 22Kg. Keep in mind that one set of batteries with that type of recorder (a Nagra IVs) lasted only about 5 hours. In 1987, when I recorded with analogue gear in Rwanda (the late Dian Fossey's research camp, Karisoke), I had to carry 170 lbs (77Kg) of recording gear for a month in the field. If I had to do the same trip now, I could likely do the same thing with under a dozen pounds of equipment (about 5Kg).

But remember, the main problem is not necessarily the gear. It's finding a place where there is wonderful density and diversity of wildlife sounds and little or no human noise. And where human noise is minimal or non-existent, the recordist (you or me) has to learn to sit or stand absolutely quietly for long periods of time, or stay far enough from the mics so that your movement or breathing, or scratching, or shuffling of feet cannot be detected. " - Bernie Krause

Soundscape Particles Of Dawn: Scenes from The Great Animal Orchestra

Particles of Dawn: Scenes from The Great Animal Orchestra, consists of short excerpts from three dawn choruses – two sites of which are threatened with bioacoustic transformation so radical that unless their current ecological trajectories are soon mitigated, they will become altogether silent or so significantly altered that their collective signatures – the biophonies – will no longer be recognisable.

1. In the Atlantic Rainforest (24:56) – Recorded in early 1990 in an area of Brazil called the Mata Atlantica along the Atlantic coast, this rare habitat has been reduced to a small fragmented remainder of a dry rainforest that once stretched some 400 kilometers south to Rio de Janiero. Aside from the natural soundscape, many species from this area, like the wooly spider monkey, can now be found on the endangered list.

2. In the Desert Southwest (24:59) – This short example was captured in the New Mexico panhandle ¬– a confluence of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts in North American continent. It is represented, here, because it is an illustration of what is possible when habitats are left to recover under thoughtful stewardship. For several hundred years the area of northern Mexico and the southwestern US was severely impacted by ranching and intense cattle grazing. Over the past century and with the help of NGOs like the Nature Conservancy, the focus has been directed to lightening that impact and letting the land return naturally, over time, to a more resonant state of dynamic equilibrium. As a result much of this particular southwest area is healthy, again, as can be heard in the lovely density and diversity of this desert dawn chorus.

3. In Zimbabwe (24:24) – Since the political uprising in the 1990s, many sites in Zimbabwe have been bioacoustically transformed into habitats eerily quiet. This is an example from one site, Gonarezhu, parts of which, because of a combination of poaching, deforestation, and land transformation, can no longer be experienced in ways captured in this recording.


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