Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

(Nature sounds) When I first began
recording wild soundscapes 45 years ago, I had no idea that ants, insect larvae, sea anemones and viruses created a sound signature. But they do. And so does every wild
habitat on the planet, like the Amazon rainforest
you’re hearing behind me. In fact, temperate
and tropical rainforests each produce a vibrant animal orchestra, that instantaneous
and organized expression of insects, reptiles,
amphibians, birds and mammals. And every soundscape
that springs from a wild habitat generates its own unique signature, one that contains incredible
amounts of information, and it’s some of that information
I want to share with you today. The soundscape is made
up of three basic sources. The first is the geophony, or the nonbiological sounds that occur in any given habitat, like wind in the trees, water in a stream, waves at the ocean shore,
movement of the Earth. The second of these is the biophony. The biophony is all of the sound that’s generated by organisms
in a given habitat at one time and in one place. And the third is all of the sound
that we humans generate that’s called anthrophony. Some of it is controlled,
like music or theater, but most of it is chaotic and incoherent, which some of us refer to as noise. There was a time when
I considered wild soundscapes to be a worthless artifact. They were just there,
but they had no significance. Well, I was wrong. What
I learned from these encounters was that careful listening gives
us incredibly valuable tools by which to evaluate
the health of a habitat across the entire spectrum of life. When I began recording in the late ’60s, the typical methods
of recording were limited to the fragmented capture
of individual species like birds mostly, in the beginning, but later animals
like mammals and amphibians. To me, this was a little like trying
to understand the magnificence
of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by abstracting the sound
of a single violin player out of the context of the orchestra and hearing just that one part. Fortunately, more and more institutions are implementing the more holistic models that I and a few of my colleagues
have introduced to the field of soundscape ecology. When I began recording
over four decades ago, I could record for 10 hours and capture one hour of usable material, good enough for an album
or a film soundtrack or a museum installation. Now, because of global warming, resource extraction, and human noise, among many other factors, it can take up to 1,000 hours or more to capture the same thing. Fully 50 percent of my archive comes from habitats so radically altered that they’re either altogether silent or can no longer be heard
in any of their original form. The usual methods of evaluating a habitat have been done by visually
counting the numbers of species and the numbers of individuals
within each species in a given area. However, by comparing
data that ties together both density and diversity
from what we hear, I’m able to arrive at much
more precise fitness outcomes. And I want to show you some examples that typify the possibilities unlocked by diving into this universe. This is Lincoln Meadow. Lincoln
Meadow’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive east of San Francisco
in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at about 2,000 meters altitude, and I’ve been recording
there for many years. In 1988, a logging company
convinced local residents that there would be absolutely
no environmental impact from a new method they were trying called “selective logging,” taking out a tree here and there rather than clear-cutting a whole area. With permission granted to record both before and after the operation, I set up my gear and captured
a large number of dawn choruses to very strict protocol
and calibrated recordings, because I wanted a really good baseline. This is an example of a spectrogram. A spectrogram is a graphic
illustration of sound with time from left
to right across the page — 15 seconds in this case is represented — and frequency from the bottom
of the page to the top, lowest to highest. And you can see
that the signature of a stream is represented here in the bottom
third or half of the page, while birds that were once in that meadow are represented in the signature
across the top. There were a lot of them. And here’s Lincoln Meadow
before selective logging. (Nature sounds) Well, a year later I returned, and using the same protocols and recording under the same conditions, I recorded a number of examples of the same dawn choruses, and now this is what we’ve got. This is after selective logging. You can see that the stream
is still represented in the bottom third of the page, but notice what’s missing
in the top two thirds. (Nature sounds) Coming up is the sound of a woodpecker. Well, I’ve returned
to Lincoln Meadow 15 times in the last 25 years, and I can tell you that the biophony, the density and diversity
of that biophony, has not yet returned
to anything like it was before the operation. But here’s a picture
of Lincoln Meadow taken after, and you can see
that from the perspective of the camera or the human eye, hardly a stick or a tree
appears to be out of place, which would confirm the logging
company’s contention that there’s nothing
of environmental impact. However, our ears tell us
a very different story. Young students are always asking me what these animals are saying, and really I’ve got no idea. But I can tell you that they do
express themselves. Whether or not we understand
it is a different story. I was walking along the shore in Alaska, and I came across this tide pool filled with a colony of sea anemones, these wonderful eating machines, relatives of coral and jellyfish. And curious to see
if any of them made any noise, I dropped a hydrophone, an underwater microphone
covered in rubber, down the mouth part, and immediately the critter began to absorb the microphone into its belly, and the tentacles were
searching out of the surface for something of nutritional value. The static-like sounds that are very low, that you’re going to hear right now. (Static sounds) Yeah, but watch. When it
didn’t find anything to eat — (Honking sound) (Laughter) I think that’s an expression
that can be understood in any language. (Laughter) At the end of its breeding cycle, the Great Basin Spadefoot toad digs itself down about a meter under the hard-panned desert
soil of the American West, where it can stay for many seasons until conditions are just
right for it to emerge again. And when there’s enough moisture
in the soil in the spring, frogs will dig
themselves to the surface and gather around these
large, vernal pools in great numbers. And they vocalize in a chorus that’s absolutely in sync
with one another. And they do that for two reasons. The first is competitive,
because they’re looking for mates, and the second is cooperative, because if they’re
all vocalizing in sync together, it makes it really difficult
for predators like coyotes, foxes and owls to single
out any individual for a meal. This is a spectrogram
of what the frog chorusing looks like when it’s in a very healthy pattern. (Frogs croaking) Mono Lake is just to the east
of Yosemite National Park in California, and it’s a favorite
habitat of these toads, and it’s also favored by U.S.
Navy jet pilots, who train in their fighters
flying them at speeds exceeding 1,100 kilometers an hour and altitudes only a couple hundred meters above ground level of the Mono Basin, very fast, very low, and so loud that the anthrophony, the human noise, even though it’s six and a half kilometers from the frog pond you
just heard a second ago, it masked the sound
of the chorusing toads. You can see in this spectrogram
that all of the energy that was once in the first
spectrogram is gone from the top end of the spectrogram, and that there’s breaks
in the chorusing at two and a half, four and a half,
and six and a half seconds, and then the sound
of the jet, the signature, is in yellow at the very
bottom of the page. (Frogs croaking) Now at the end of that flyby, it took the frogs fully 45 minutes to regain their chorusing synchronicity, during which time, and under a full moon, we watched as two coyotes
and a great horned owl came in to pick
off a few of their numbers. The good news is that, with a little bit
of habitat restoration and fewer flights, the frog populations, once diminishing
during the 1980s and early ’90s, have pretty much returned to normal. I want to end with a story
told by a beaver. It’s a very sad story, but it really illustrates how animals can sometimes show emotion, a very controversial subject
among some older biologists. A colleague of mine was recording
in the American Midwest around this pond that had been formed maybe 16,000 years ago at the end
of the last ice age. It was also formed in part by a beaver dam at one end that held
that whole ecosystem together in a very delicate balance. And one afternoon, while he was recording, there suddenly appeared
from out of nowhere a couple of game wardens, who for no apparent reason, walked over to the beaver dam, dropped a stick of dynamite
down it, blowing it up, killing the female and her young babies. Horrified, my colleagues remained behind to gather his thoughts and to record whatever he could
the rest of the afternoon, and that evening, he captured
a remarkable event: the lone surviving male beaver
swimming in slow circles crying out inconsolably for its
lost mate and offspring. This is probably the saddest sound I’ve ever heard coming from any organism, human or other. (Beaver crying) Yeah. Well. There are many facets to soundscapes, among them the ways in which animals
taught us to dance and sing, which I’ll save for another time. But you have heard how biophonies help clarify our understanding
of the natural world. You’ve heard the impact
of resource extraction, human noise and habitat destruction. And where environmental
sciences have typically tried to understand
the world from what we see, a much fuller understanding
can be got from what we hear. Biophonies and geophonies
are the signature voices of the natural world, and as we hear them, we’re endowed with a sense of place, the true story of the world we live in. In a matter of seconds, a soundscape reveals much more information from many perspectives, from quantifiable data
to cultural inspiration. Visual capture implicitly frames a limited frontal perspective
of a given spatial context, while soundscapes widen that scope to a full 360 degrees,
completely enveloping us. And while a picture may
be worth 1,000 words, a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures. And our ears tell us that the whisper
of every leaf and creature speaks to the natural
sources of our lives, which indeed may hold the secrets
of love for all things, especially our own humanity, and the last word goes
to a jaguar from the Amazon. (Growling) Thank you for listening. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

  1. We need movement against deforestation and human population explosion ….This is most urgent need of the time…

  2. I suspect those that can hear the call behind these processed recordings already had the ears with which to listen properly in the first place.

  3. One could say that because human beings are animals, anything that we produce is also a form of nature, not unlike a bird's nest. It's a matter of perspective, really.

  4. I don't think I needed audio recordings to teach me that throwing a stick of dynamite at a family of beavers is bad for beavers.

  5. This is brilliant …. We are so ignorant of life, we are all concerned with our credit cards and our fast foods that we forget this world does not belong to only 1 species … Humans are horrid …

  6. Fuking soft science. Wut a joke. If u keep on saying men r bad, god wil smite u bittch. Man is gd. So fuk off

  7. I disagree b/c an automobile, airplane or computer is not a form in nature. As a matter of fact, they harm nature. I think this video even showed the effects of low level flying jets on the sounds frogs make.

    We readily want to justify our technological progress & call anything we produce a form of nature. Yet this includes toxic waste & mass amounts of garbage & pollution.

    If anyone seeks enlightenment or "to find God", a retreat into the forest or mountains is an absolute must for a year.

  8. Ha ha! I've even heard or people who can't fall asleep unless they hear city noises! Having said that, I grew up with the whir of air conditioning always in the background, even when sleeping; it's amazing how white noise can be so calming. I recently saw this with my brother's baby: crying incessantly until a hair dryer was turned on near it. It's not so much the volume, I wager it's the change in pattern or abnormalities we detect, when waking suddenly to "unusual" sounds.

  9. By the way, one of the most amazing creatures on the planet, the Australian Superb (and Albert's) Lyrebird, reacts in a very unique way to human encroachment.

    As it is able to mimic pretty much any sound, including the other bird species within its habitat (including the Kookaburra, which has very hard calls to copy). It is able to reproduce even mechanical instruments like chainsaws.

    I take the diversity of the Lyrebird's songs as an indication of the health of the habitat. See for yourself

  10. Fair enough, but consider the other side of the coin. The low-flying jets were harmful to the frogs because it made them vulnerable to predators such as owls and coyotes, but it could also be said to be helpful to the owls and the coyotes, because they get more food as a result. Garbage attracts insects, which feed seagulls. Even out CO2 emissions don't "create" more carbon. They simply accelerate the planet's existing carbon cycle. Maybe we're not "harming" nature, but just changing it.

  11. Not you maybe, but if game wardens – of all people! – are doing it for amusement (really, it boggles the mind), then it clearly needs to be demonstrated as viscerally as possible. Hard to believe, though, wow.

  12. btw, humans have different vocal cords than animals dumb shit. obviously animals cant sound sad like we do.

  13. That's true what you're saying. Nature is very adaptive and much is relative. We live in an interdependent world.

    But I don't think we should fall into the trap of self justification when it comes to our influence of global stability and global warming. I see this dynamic of justification with many things in our human history such as the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki in 1945. (Like maybe radioactivity and mass death was good in the long run)

    I appreciate your thoughts, take care. Namaste.

  14. It would be interesting to see this type of technique used for urban or human habitats. Would we be able to 'hear' differences when political atmosphere change? or when a critical even happens in news or some other media? If we can use this to determine the fitness of 'wild' habitats, why not our own?

  15. The sound of the beaver is haunting. I've heard humans making similar sounds, just on a larger scale when they are in mourning.

  16. I completely agree. People have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals which is stupid and disrespectful to animals.

  17. I have never seen a beaver writing a book or reading one so not so much like me. Until they do, they are food, nothing more.

  18. I have absolutely NO idea why this comment 'has received too many negative votes'?! when it is the absolute truth. I can only assume the audience for this particular talk had no idea as to what it would be about or were confused.

    As to the TOP comment, yes humans are nature too, it's just such a shame that we are the only species going around wantonly destroying it.

  19. Thanks, agreed. I think most people have become overly domesticated in their own homes. For some just the very thought of camping out is such a big ordeal. People can't get away from their air conditioning, their big screen TVs or their cell phones. It is pretty sad considering people of greater character survive without such luxuries. It is materialism to the extreme. Reconnecting with nature is truly reconnecting with one's true self. Btw a monotheistic "God" is a delusion born from propaganda

  20. Air conditioning, readily-available food and medicine, and other things we think of as luxuries have allowed humans to expand their life spans far beyond what was possible even a century ago.

    I don't think human society is just 'different' from nature. When constructed responsibly with respect for the natural world, it's better.

  21. Well thanks for that. Nice to see some intelligent responses on here for a change.

    BTW, the word 'God' far too easily tossed around and dislike the term. However, being a fan of quantum theory, like this 'God' is a concept, an idea, an unintelligible sphere known to the mind whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere, and the centre is right where you're sitting, and each of us is a manifestation of that mystery.

  22. The sound of the male beaver mourning his dead family will haunt me for a while. Gods, why are we so destructive as a species?

  23. No, he's not: when you define a concept in such a broad manner it looses its meaning completely. Distinctions cease to have meaning… it's a badly used reductio ad absurdum. I believe such reductions where one of the basis of Newspeak in Orwell's "1984".

  24. He's not. Check out the dictionary definition I included:
    1. the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
    2. the natural world as it exists without human beings or civilization.
    3. the elements of the natural world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.
    4. natural scenery.
    5. the universe, with all its phenomena.

  25. Alright. Alright. I suppose I wasn't being 100% literal.
    What I was implying is that it's interesting to think that all the human accomplishments are a product of just an animal that happens to be intelligent, and the animal is a product of nature.
    In this sense, everything seems to be natural.
    Now if you're talking dictionary definitions, that's a different matter.

  26. Is not a pointless semantic debate since his whole (invalid) argument is using a word out of its proper context. Linguistics without definitions and boundaries are meaningless.

  27. Thank you all, for your support and responses. For those with questions or who seek more concise information on this subject, read "The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places," or go to the Wild Sanctuary web site.

  28. That beaver is very sad. Don't forget all animals in slaughterhouses that cry to similar or worst way. Is our commitment to preserve our Nature Mother. PEACE

  29. Hi Bernie! Was touched by the mourning beaver so I had to share this! While walking around Columbia University in NYC some years ago, we saw a crow had been hit by a car and killed, and it's flock, consisting of three crows, were up in the trees making a sound we had never heard from crows before! A moaning sound! My wife and I agreed that they were mourning the death of their comrade. We firmly believe that animals have emotions irregardless of biologists!

  30. Want to hear a sad beaver story than listen to Techno Beaver @robertAbooey throw out the 1st pitch or his love tape to win back an x-girlfriend! Other wise you can listen to a Sea Anemone choke on a micro phone and barf it up out of a tide pool! Now lets all go out and stick are micro phones in the oddest of places and post them on youtube or soundcloud that is where you will find me "itscrazytrevor on soundcloud"

  31. @ 10:50 … A most haunting, poignant story and sound one might ever hear… the utterly heartbreaking cries of an inconsolable, beaver father.

    Quote from Bernie Krause regarding the loss of wilderness and the wild creatures:

    "A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening. Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence."

  32. This is the best talk I have seen and I feel this line of work/study should be much, much better known. Really invaluable work.

  33. listening to Bernie Krause makes me very very sad since it shows me what we have lost in our human greed to expand, build, rule and dominate. Yet, it is the reality of our world. One day , people will flock to museums – or to internet web pages – to hear true nature's sounds. Mr. Krause is not only a nature lover but also a philosopher and ethnologicst, who in his work elaborates on how we – in the industrialized countries – have lost the appreciation of the auditory sense, as visual perception dominates.

  34. Thank you, Bernie. The call of the bereaved beaver was indeed heat-breaking.
    For me, the most poignant sound I ever heard was of rhino that had ben attacked and its horn removed with a machete.
    For days it had been suffering, and its cry haunts me still.
    Thank you.

  35. Critical information/science in preserving our rural spaces . . . this work is so important to what's going on right in Bernie's backyard . . . I would love to see him present at some of the meetings I've attended where the supervisors and Fish and Game are making decisions about oyster farming, mono-culture and other critical decisions that will effect our Sonoma County landscape now and into the future . . . his story about the destroyed beaver dam was absolutely heart-wrenching . . .

  36. that's such a deep talk reminding me a perspective that was ignored to understand the beautiful world I am so priviledged to live in. The talk is really underrated….

  37. There are a bunch of websites online with databases of audio bird calls. Here's one:

    I remember hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts. Hiking for hours in the natural quiet. Then hearing a quail out of nowhere. Sound was piercing, powerful, incredible…

  38. Хроническая тугоухость – это диагноз.. впрочем, как и хронический эгоизм.. Chronic deafness is a diagnosis .. however, like chronic egoism ..

  39. When I was a kid, a family of deer walked in front of the car in our neighborhood so we stopped. The deer walked by except for one baby. A sports car speeded through 30 miles over the speed limit and flipped the baby in the air! It landed and broke all 4 of it's knees. It tried to run on it's knees but it couldn't. We called the police who "took care of it"-whatever that means… During the impact, the mother deer made a sound ten times more sad than that beaver… That was the only time in my life I heard a deer make a noise… and it was a scream…

  40. I cried for the first time today after my father died in 2003. The sentence: "Fully 50% of my archive comes from habitats so radically altered that they are either altogether silent or could no longer be heard in any of their original form" moved me to tears!

  41. I've only just today discovered that your work even exists. But I can already see the enormous value of this. I think what you are doing is not only wonderful – but vital, for our understanding of human impact upon the environment. Please. Keep up the good work.

  42. Thank you Bernie! I read your book some years ago. Today I cried with Papa Beaver. Thank you for sharing your inbaluable perspective.

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