Nature’s Soundscapes in Danger

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In case you’ve not come across the term soundscape, I would like to start with an illustration:

You wake up in the morning to a cacophony of sound: birds singing and calling; a dog barking somewhere outside; a neighbor starting his car; a truck stopping in front of your house. These are some of the overlapping sounds that exist in your environment. They are part of the soundscape of your neighborhood.

In wild nature the neighborhood includes the elements that make it possible for organisms to find food, shelter, and protection, and where they can reproduce and raise their young. The natural soundscape is made up of all the sounds produced together by the organisms within their neighborhood, or habitat.

Soundscape ecologists study the sounds that come from a particular habitat. Typically, a researcher will traipse to a habitat of interest, set up field microphones and recorders, and listen.

Soundscape ecologist, Bernie Krause, has spent almost fifty years recording soundscapes. He has amassed an inventory of almost four thousand field samples, which he calls the intricate symphonies unique to each habitat.

In a healthy habitat, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals create their own sonic territories – called niches – where they can hear each other unimpeded by their neighbors’ voices. These are essential for their survival, Krause explained. In degraded habitat this cohesion breaks down.

An unintentional outcome of Krause’s work has been the discovery that, over the years more than half of the habitat soundscapes he has captured have been totally silenced or severely damaged by human activity.

The natural soundscape is very fragile, said Krause, and it’s disappearing very quickly.

For your listening/viewing pleasure: Bernie Krause and Nature’s Orchestra

Bernie Krause Ted Talk


4 thoughts on “Nature’s Soundscapes in Danger”

  1. Loved reading your blog this morning. My first thought was, must finish tasks! But I’m so glad I read Soundscapes and the rest and Gary Snyder’s Haiku. Now I can smile as I recycle et al. Thank you!

  2. Apparently, it’s “thing”to hike out on trails with music blaring from a backpack. I encountered this last year and freaked out. I mentioned it to a couple of friends…yup. It’s common.
    What a bummer.

    1. One of the problems is that people don’t talk about it or don’t try to change it. A couple of years ago I was part of a multi-family campout, and when I mentioned that perhaps it would be best if we didn’t allow electronics or any other kind of entertainment gadgets, everyone jumped on me and said I was too controlling. How are kids going to learn to listen to and enjoy nature if they aren’t encouraged to spend a couple of days without their ‘stuff.’

  3. The concept of soundscapes is new and fascinating to me. Thank you for this post. I will look for the work done by Bernie Kraus.

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