Forest For the Trees

Like many dissatisfied scientists before him, Bernie Krause devised his most important theory after becoming frustrated with the research modus operandi in his field. Before he arrived on the scene, field work as a “bio-acoustician” usually involved honing in on and studying very particular sounds. Scientists were concerned with Individuals species and did their utmost to isolate vocalisations from the sum total of sound around them. This tendency can be attributed to the greater ease with which it is possible to grasp and measure individual, isolated recordings within rigid academic convention, which values measurable results and concrete conclusions, usually for a very good reason. But such methods yield questionable efficacy when it comes to studying making sense of natural soundscapes . As Krause notes:

Abstracting the voice of a single creature from a habitat and trying to understand it out of context is a little like trying to play Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings” absent a violin section as part of the orchestra

Without its accompaniments, the individual part is virtually devoid of meaning. Krause suggests that the great composers know this. I would add that audio engineers, always seeking to find the ideal balance of a many-layered mix, and indeed any great artist must also know this.

Considered from the principles of its conception, Krause’s Niche Hypothesis can serve as a guide and inspiration for those frustrated by short sightedness and singular goals mired in specific, immutable presumptions. This is not to advocate some spacey new age approach to everything and specialised research plays a hugely important role in scientific development. But you and I and the scientific establishment might just occasionally benefit from venturing outside established norms and taking a holistic approach, as Krause has done. In this way, we may just see the forest for the trees.


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