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  • Writer's pictureSimon

The Great Animal Orchestra

In preparation for the workshops connected to the soundwalk project in autumn I have a list of most interesting books to ingest. One of them being The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause, who is one of the most acclaimed nature recording artist, having spent the most of his life travelling the whole world, establishing a vast collection of natural soundscape recordings.

In of his TED talks Bernie says poignantly:

"Soundscapes reveal 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.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures."

Exactly this underestimated, and for the most part ignored, potential of hearing and listening inspires my work as a musician and listener. We have forgotten how to listen and to decipher all the messages floating around in the air, vibrating in the ground and water. Of course, if we really opened up for listening, we would be deafened by the cacophony of modern urban life. That's why we have learned to isolate ourselves from the noise, but at the same time also from all sounds that carry valuable information. It is important to sensitise ourselves again in order to understand our condition as noise-polluted societies and to be able to perceive our capacity for changing it.

Halfway through the The Great Animal Orchestra I get one of those chills running through my whole body when Bernie mentions how Indigenous people in many places of the world have most likely derived their musical expression from their surrounding natural soundscape with their very site and time-specific biophony and geophony, sounds of living organisms and unanimated landscape (wind, water etc.).

I got transported back to my high school years, when I first encountered yoik-singing from the Sami people in the North of Scandinavia and Russia, while researching for a talk on my favourite Finnish music group at that time. I was fascinated by the close connection between musical performance and the environment they were inhabiting and the essential and everyday spirituality being expressed through that meeting of people and nature. It was great to be reminded of this beacon of interest that shone through already in my teenage years.

Bernie also describes how we probably got the pentatonic scales from birds and found our ways singing and dancing into our niche of the very elaborate and subtle surrounding soundscape by way of imitation. He quotes ethnomusicologist Jean Piaget:

"We mimic, because we want to make ourselves understood, to make our presence known to others."

Probably imitation exercises will also become a part of my listening-workshops to help realize what an amazingly adaptable instrument the voice is. I am looking forward to all those explorations.


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