Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places

_The Great Animal Orchestra:  Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places_ by Bernie Krause
NY:  Little, Brown and Co, 2012

(18)  We're so sight-oriented that most of us who have reasonable vision tend to hear what we are looking at.

(22)  …and we know that the attributes of many sounds include frequency (sometimes referred to as _pitch_, but that tends to be a more relative term), timbre, amplitude, and envelope….

Pitch is closely related to frequency, but the two are not the same thing.  _Pitch_ is mostly used in the comparative framework of sounds or tones that make up a musical scale.  So while frequency is a physical property of sound - it's a measurement of the number of cycles per second of a sound wave - pitch refers to what we hear.

(23)  Timbre is the emblematic tone, or voice, generated by each type of instrument or biological sound source.

(24)  Loudness, or amplitude, is measured in decibels.  One decibel, or dB, is the smallest discernible unit by which humans can detect a change.

(25)  The fourth major sound property, acoustic envelope, determines the shape and texture of a sound through time, from the moment it is first heard to the time it fades out.

(44)  A friend and fellow recordist Martyn Stewart, who had gone to the Louisiana shore along the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 BP oil disaster, remarked on the surf's odd sound at the beaches affected by oil.  He described it as having a slurpy, muddy, sluggish signature, almost as if the water were choking on itself or gasping for air.  Aside from the initial absence of wildlife sounds, the muted slosh of the water-oil mixture at the beach was the most devastating impression he came away with - what he heard was far more powerful than what he saw.  I had a similar chilling acoustic experience in Prince William Sound in the late spring and summer immediately following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I had never before heard any part of Alaska so eerily quiet.

(61)  Complex listening is one of the few operations that advanced life forms can do simultaneously with other functions - the organisms interpret information that conveys complex data, can change the coding of the signal instantaneously, and perform other tasks such as determing the usefulness of the received information relative to aspects of their survival.

(66)  With the snowy tree cricket, for example, you can count the number of chirps that occur in fifteen seconds, add forty to the number, and arrive at the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

(70)  A year later, after the logging operation was complete, I returned to Lincoln Meadow on the same date, at the same time, and under the same weather conditions to record again….  When I arrived I was delighted to see that little seemed to have changed.  However, from the moment I pushed the "record" button it was obvious that the once-sonorous voice of the meadow had vanished.  Gone was the thriving density and diversity of birds.  Gone, too, was the overall richness that had been present the year before.  The only prominent sounds were the stream and the hammering of a Williamson's sapsucker.  I walked a few hundred feet back into the forest from the meadow's edge, and it became quite apparent that the lumber company had wrought incredible devastation just beyond the meadow's sight line, where extensive patches of ground had been left exposed.  While not exactly a clear-cut, many more tree were taken than had been promised…  Over the past two decades, I have returned more than a dozen times to the same spot at the same time of year, but the bioacoustic vitality I captured before logging has not yet returned.

(71-72)  Photos represent two-dimensional fractions of time - events limited to available light, shadow, and range of the lens.  Soundscape recordings, if done right, are three-dimensional with an impression of space and depth, and over time can reveal the smallest feature along with multilayered ongoing stories that visual media alone can never hope to capture.  A well-tuned ear and attention to minutiae within the larger picture will always uncover any deception.

(78)  Currently, at the time of this writing, the poles are reported to be moving at a rate of almost eight-tenths of a mile a week.  The consequences are not immediately clear, although if true this type of phenomenon alone may already be affecting some migration patterns.

(88)  Gradually the growing body of my work validated the idea that creatures vocalize in distinctive kinship to one another, particularly in older, more stable habitats.

(92)  The gibbons of Indonesia are sunrise singers.  Their songs are so beautiful that ancient Dayak myths speak of the sun rising in reply.  In the remaining viable rain-forest habitats of Borneo and Sumatra, every dawn chorus is filled with the near-field and distant strains of long descending and ascending vocal lines as bonded gibbon pairs connect through elaborately developed vocal exchanges unique to each couple - alluring duets of affectionate concord.

(94)  In older, healthy habitats, where the biophonic bandwidth is well established and all the animals are more likely to vocalize together, each call is heard distinctly and each creature thrives as much through its voice as through any other aspect of its behavior.  The connections of a particular species' vocalization to survival and reproduction only become clear when we understand the function of an animal's voice and its relationship to all others in its natural habitat.  If an organism needs to be heard to successfully defend its territory or to communicate its viability to potential mates, then it requires clear acoustic bandwidth or noise-free time to do so.  The same kinds of relationship occur in marine environments, such as flourishing coral reefs, where multiple species of fish and crustaceans thrive and generate acoustic signals.
NB:  a bloat of hippos

(99)  It turned out that nearly every tropical and subtropical habitat I had captured on tape was made up of a variety of partitioned voices that formed collective sound signatures, each of which uniquely defined a place and time and served as a unique voice print - a territorial sound-mark.  I had made thousands of recordings before my Kenya trip, and subsequent travel to many wild sites over time added weight to my thesis, which, by the late 1980s, I had renamed the _niche hypothesis_ - thanks in large part to the inspiration of Ruth Happel. who was still a graduate student at Harvard studying primatology during our trip to Borneo.

(101)  On listening to playback, analyzing the notes from on-site observations, and comparing spectrograms, we found that the combined creature voices defined territorial boundaries quite differently than the geographically detailed maps we held in our hand.  For one thing, it was clear that the margins characterized by the soundscapes didn't align with the human grid lines of other rational borders we might create.

(103)  While mapping, we noticed again that insects tended to create niches that remained constant in each biome for long periods during each day and night.  Also, when one sound source dropped out at the end of its cyclical performance, another usually began to vocalize, typically within seconds, leaving the impression that replacement was necessary to keep some underlying acoustic-bandwidth structure intact.  Over these "group" performances we could hear animal "soloists" who appeared for brief periods - often transient birds, mobile amphibians and mammals, and other organisms that would move in and out of the primary acoustic field. Like an eight-bar blues solo on guitar, their voices, too, seemed to fit into acoustic channels or temporal niches where little or no conflicting aural energy was present…..

Sometimes all that insect and amphibian racket creates _intermodulation_, where two or more signals are so close in pitch that they occasionally beat against each other, momentarily canceling each other's signal - a totally different acoustic effect than any of the original sources sounding individually.

(110)  …music, in the human realm, is simply nonlinguistic and conscious _control of sound_….

In the end, it turned out that our definition was missing at least two other important factors:  structure and intent.

(119)  But in the 2006 book _The Singing Neanderthals:  The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body, the archaeologist Steven Mithen elaborates on the possible evolutionary origins of music by suggesting that language was preceded by something neither specifically linguistic nor musical but an amalgam he termed "Hmmmm":  Holistic, multimodal, manipulative, musical and mimetic.  Another researcher, Christopher Small, devised an even better term, _musicking_, by which he meant "to music."  He asserts that singing, humming a tune, tapping one's feet to a rhythm, playing an instrument, performing in an orchestra, and composing music all reflect a single activity that can be captured with the verb _to music_.

In a review of Mithen's book, William Benzon, a cognitive scientist and musician, walks us through his own discoveries and hypotheses on the origins of music.  His explanation begins with rhythm, specifically that of walking, where the coordination of biped muscles is central to balance and pacing.  Drawing from rhythm, members of modern human groups would synchronize their pacing, clapping, shuffling, walking, or leaping in coordination with one another, a kind of musicking that resulted in the united of individual personalities and in their merging harmoniously with the group - a cooperation with reciprocal benefits.

(128)  A bone flute found in a cave in Germany and fabricated from the wing bone of a vulture dates back nearly forty thousand years.  Yet the five holes carved in the length of the tube generate a crude pentatonic sequence of notes, and the V-shaped notch at one end presumably allowed the musician to create various tones and textures.

The pentatonic scale itself comes directly from the wild, reflecting not only the rich biophonies of the forest but also certain animal soloists such as the common potto and the musician wren….

(146)  Luc Ferry, the French ecophilosopher, put it more succinctly when he observed in _The New Ecological Order_:  "Nature is beautiful when it imitates art."
NB:  Probably the other way around.

(148)  The third movement of Ives's Fourth Symphony is one of my all-time favorite pieces of twentieth-century music.

(149)  Unexpectedly, the best performance [of Ives' Fourth] of all was the Oakland Symphony Orchestra's 1967 version conducted by the late Gerhard Samuel… [unavailable]

(161)  Our auditory processing system is conditioned over time to know which signals are meaningful and which are not.  Yet even as our attention is focused on what we see, our brains are working overtime to retrieve and process desired information, eventually causing a consequential effect such as the onset of weariness.  In a 1998 Swedish noise study of fifty thousand state employees, twenty thousand of the respondents working in environments where the random background noise level was measured between 60 and 80 dBA - considered moderate (like an average residential city street) in the United States - commonly complained of fatigue and headaches, even after just a couple of hours of exposure.

(164)  The report [WHO report of March 2011 "Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise"] went further, concluding that exposure to excessive noise not only impairs learning in young humans but can also - due to epidemiological level increases in blood pressure and release of stress hormones - lead to heart attacks, a negative environmental condition rated second only to air pollution.
NB:  A beneficial side effect of zero net energy buildings is sound insulation

(186)  The impact of noise on my work has increased exponentially:  taking into account the effect of habitat loss due to land development or resource extraction, I'm sorry to say that to record one noise-free hour of material now takes more than two hundred times as long as it did when I first began more than four decades ago.

(209)  Later, in another recording, Elizabeth [Wilson from the Nez Percé] also made a remarkable comment about a melody revealed in the misty breath of a buffalo in winter-morning sunlight.  "A kind of whistle and sigh," she said, her eyes looking off into the distance.  "A whole song in a whistle and a sigh."  She didn't elaborate.  Yet these types of meaningful aphorisms were innate parts of every story she told…

Angus and Elizabeth mused how the wind taught the water to sing sad songs, an emotion expressed often.  Then the water, lonely because it wanted to sing with spirits other than the wind, taught the insects, who in turn taught the frogs, who taught the birds and the bears and the squirrels.  The Nez Percé learned their music and dances from the geophony and their animal guides - the sounds of the natural world always driving forces in their lives, until contact with "modern" humans altered the soundscape.

(210)  When I began recording in 1968, fully 45 percent of our old-growth forests in the Lower 48 were still standing.  By 2011 there were less than 2 percent of those forests remaining.

(216)  [Chris] Watson's further investigations, involving medical practitioners and psychologists, confirmed that there were certain sounds - such as breathing, footsteps, a heartbeat, birdsong, crickets, lapping waves, and flowing streams - that people described as tranquil.  Researchers demonstrated that such sounds stimulate the limbic system in the brain, resulting in the release of endorphins and a feeling of serenity.  Watson eventually concluded that tranquillity refers to a basic layer of sound - an elemental acoustic foundation - upon which we can rest our mental processes.  The content of that base sound is akin to the impression of hearing the rhythmic patterns of rain on a roof.  It's nearly always a muted but harmonically rich low level of ambience.

(217)  In fact, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), founded in 1926, devoted itself to those places [of tranquillity], promoting a "sustainable future" for the English countryside.

(225), the Nature Sound Society (, and the World Listening Project (world

(233)  Frank Keim:  In the spring, whenever sunlight warms the ice, it travels through the surface, first warming up motes of surface dust that absorb heat more quickly.  Bits of dirt or dust penetrate the ice vertically, causing the ice to melt in pencil-thin shapes.  At the base of the ice, there's an awful lot of algae, and the algae begin to bloom.  With the blooming of the algae, the crustaceans - like copepods - eat the algae.  The fish eat the crustaceans.  The seals eat the fish.   And then, of course, the polar bear and humans eat the seals.  If this ice doesn't exist - and it's quickly disappearing because of global warming - if you don't have the ice, you don't have any of that.

(251)  Chuma McIntyre's Drums Across the Tundra

(255)  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge soundscapes

(264)  Bernie Krause world soundscape collection
Louis Sarno _Bayaka:  The Extraordinary Music of the Babenzélé Pygmies_, Ellipsis Arts, 1996
Elizabeth Wilson _Nez Percé Stories_ Wild Sanctuary, 1991,
British Library of Wildlife Sounds:

(265)  Macaulay Library (Cornell University):
Michigan State University Envirosonics program:
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources:
Wild Sanctuary:
World Forum for Acoustic Ecology:
World Listening Project:  world listening@yahoogroups

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