This Chris Watson Interview is a must watch for anyone interested in field recording, sound design or general innovations in sound art practice. Watson (who I have blogged about before) is arguably the world’s best field recordist and his tips and ideas are definitely worth a quick listen.
Wind Farm - Photo by freefoto.com (CCBY)
Following on from a previous post about the sonic detritus of windfarms, I’ve just been alerted about this upcoming film
which documents the plight of a small community at the hands of these towering metal giants.
There’s little info available at the moment but it looks as if the film is presented in a quasi-horror feel. Definitely one to watch out for.
Animal Composer - Photo by Richard Levine (CCBY)
It’s been a while since I posted on Bernie Krause but I just received his autobiography from Amazon and its sparked new interest in his work. A quick perusal of the net lead me to this video I watched a few months ago and which is definitely worth a look for anybody interested in acoustic ecology (soundscape ecology as Krause calls it) and the environment in general.
Krause has a book coming out with the same title. Stay tuned for an update on that.
Two major issues inevitably arise in any discussion of the viability fo wind-farms as signifciant sources of renewable energy. The first is the issue of their aesthetic impact upon the landscape. This issue was the impetus for a recent campaign lead by ex All-Black Anton Oliver and others to halt plans for large-scale wind farms in Central Otago.
The second issue is the sonic impact of wind farms. They are notoriously loud. I wasn’t aware of how loud until I saw this video and it made me rethink my position about wind-farms.
I actually like the sight of sleek, modern windmills dotted throughout scenic landscapes. But I wouldn’t be so keen on them if I were forced to deal with this kind of noise. But then, we’re going to have to make some sacrifices somewhere if we are to make a significant switch to renewable energy sources, so where will these sacrifices come?
Another site that I’ve aleady linked to in my resources section, but which I think warants further mention, is the grand sounding Western Soundscape Project.
The site is an attempt to collect and showcase the environmental and animal sounds and soundscapes of America’s vast west. The site’s archive is claimed to host “more than 90% of the West’s bird species, all of the region’s frogs and toads, and more than 100 different types of mammals and reptiles”. It’s a comprehensive directory and one well worth checking out for anyone interested in wildlife and soundscape recording in general.
The effects of human made noise on wildlife is nigh on impossible to accurately gauge. The range and intensity of responses exhibited by animals to our many cacophonous engagements is too varied to draw any concrete conclusions. Policy makers are paralysed to do anything, the public is unconvinced that its noisy activities can seriously affect wildlife and scientists lose faith in their ability to prove what some already know through intuition.
These are the principle conclusions from Autumn Lyn Radle’s 2007 article, “The Effect of Noise on Wildlife: A Literature Review. And what frustrating conclusions they are, the kind that compel this blogger to consider making this academic article the last he ever reads. But then, it’s not Radle’s fault. Nor is it the fault of the scientists whose largely inconclusive studies constitute the subject matter of Radle’s aggregation of largely inconclusive studies. Least of is it the animals’ fault. They can’t help inhabiting environments where countless factors dictate towards behavioural and physiological traits, making it difficult to ascertain which factor contribute towards which traits, and whether human noise is a significant one.
So we know very little about how man-made sound affects wildlife. But we do know some things. We know that man-made sound has more sources than we might initially think. As well as the obvious – recreational noise from motorboats
Recreational boating is a key noise culprit
or holidaymakers; military noise; and commercial noise from airplane flyovers, mining operations and logging – there is also evidence that scientific research (usually with the intention of assisting wildlife) is in some cases noisy enough to pose a possible threat to some species.
We also know that noise can be hugely detrimental to humans. Look at the case of Cairo, a city where the average noise level between the hours of 7am and 9pm is 85 decibels – just louder than a freight train passing by 5 metres away. Of the city’s 7 million inhabitants, two-thrids are estimated to suffer from some sort of sleeping disorder. Indeed, the city has just opened its first sleep clinic, the first state-sanctioned one in the world.
But regardless of the current state of knowledge, knowledge isn’t necessary for action. Our reluctance to act on this issue due to a lack of concrete evidence is proof in itself of our anthropocentric worldview. If we took a view more sympathetic to the rest of the living biosphere we would, in Radle’s words, “intuitively understand that a cacophony of noise, even if not life threatening, cannot provide for a decent quality of life for any organism”. These words have a certain resonance to them. Since the advent of the Industrial Age our actions have caused sometimes irreversible damage – to our landscapes, waterways and atmosphere. In those cases, much of the damage was done before we had proof that any damage was being done. While the evidence is not concrete, intuition provides a valuable clue here. If we pay heed to it, we may be able to stop the relentless advance of man-made noise before its effects on the biosphere begin to resemble those other horrors.
A lot of the content I’ve linked to so far has dealt with the science of sound, soundscapes and the world of acoustic ecology. But there is a thriving international community of individuals who see the field recording as a kind of art. This makes sense. When choosing to record something, one makes a decisions about content, context and framing akin to those made in photography. Those who opt for sound over sight are phonographers.
Phonography.org provides a good introduction to the world of phonography. As well as profiling key phonographers (such as the brilliant, peerless, Chris Watson), the site provides links to key recordings and information about the gear necessary to make field recordings of your own. It’s a great starting point for all you would-be field recordists.