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Bernie Krause's fascination with sounds in the wild has inspired him to record soundscapes where the wind, the trees and the beasts create their own soundscapes, literally find their own bandwidths for what becomes The Great Animal Orchestra ….a veritable symphony that has influenced what we call music.
He has been one of the world's leading bioacoustic recorders for four decades, chronicling what he calls the biophony ... the great, unscored symphony of non-human life that buzzes, chirps, roars, clicks, rustles, croaks, trills and howls all around us if we're close enough -- and closely attuned enough -- to hear it.
In Krause’s world, everything is seen through the lens of sound. He even maps by ear. In one fascinating passage, he surveys a Costa Rican jungle, dispensing with the “100-meter square grids,” which anyway “nonhuman animals don’t understand.” He ends up with “amoebalike shapes, each an acoustic region that, while mutable, would tend to remain stable within a limited area over time.” Yes, I thought, as irritable honks floated up Broadway and through the window of my apartment: we all live on mutating maps, in the land of the audible, whether we like it or not. Krause offers endless odes to sonic nuances: the timbres of waves crashing on the world’s beaches, the echo effects brought on by dew, the acoustics of night and day, the dry, hot rattles of deserts, the way baboons bounce their voices off granite outcroppings, to send them deep into the forest. But at the same time that he wants us to feel sound’s sensual pleasure, he wants us to respect it as an indispensable tool of knowledge. Krause records a forest, before and after environmentally sensitive, “selective” logging. Though the forest appears mostly unchanged to the eye, the soundscape is devastated; the true damage can only be heard.
the healthier the habitat, the more “musical” the creatures, the richer and more diverse their scores. Sound complexity is a measure of health. As a musician, I am vulnerable to the argument that musicality should be the arbiter of everything, though I am aware the world does not agree. Krause does not shy away from corollary judgments. He critiques all of Western music, calling it “self-referential” and complaining that we “continuously draw on what has already been done, traversing a never-ending closed loop that turns in on itself like a snake devouring its own tail.” (Is that a bad thing?) It lacks “true holistic connections to the soundscapes of the wild.” As an alternative, Krause describes the Ba’Aka (the Babenzélé Pygmies), attuned to every rustle and croak: “The biophony was the equivalent of a lush, natural karaoke orchestra with which they performed.