Thanks for the responses. I'd like to pick up on Blaine's (?) comment; for me
it highlights the crux of the issue:
>> I disagree. Unless we purposefully listen to the cacophony of the whole what
>> we normally do is listen to the individual sources in a soundscape, picking
>> them out and perhaps studying their interrelationships with other sounds.
>> That we would process sounds much like we process sights or even scent or
>> other senses might be more logical.
>> B. Hebert
We certainly can listen like that, and 'normally' do. But I reckon it is a
degenerate use of our sense, and contributes a limited perception of the world
around us, particularly the natural world. Our ancestors very likely had a more
expansive listening sense (as indigenous people can still display), and it is
this holistic sense that I enjoy in listening to nature.
A key appreciation here is that in nature, the whole is NOT a cacophony. The
natural soundscape is structured, ordered, refined and rich in information.
Bernie Krause has done fascinating work in exploring this understanding, and
put it so well in his recent book, so I'm sure most of us are aware of it.
Holistic listening is something we are familiar with in music: you wouldn't
claim to appreciate Mahler by spending an hour and a half with a symphony ONLY
listening to the oboist. Or their relationship with the flautist seated nearby.
With music, the meaning is found in hearing the whole.
The same is true of nature. As Gordon Hempton has said simply; a broad,
'landscape-scale' listening is about just taking the whole thing in at once. It
is more about being than analysing.
By contrast, our urban soundscapes are full of sounds that are disconnected and
unrelated. If we practice expansive listening in a modern city, we'll learn
about the status of our computer fan, the air conditioning, flightpaths,
traffic build up in the street outside, any local building works and when
someone's being rushed to hospital. All of which gives us information, but it
is fragmented, and more crucially, not relevant. So we filter it out as
'noise'. We focus on what is 'interesting'. Our perception becomes linear and
pointed. To use Blaine's word: logical.
Unfortunately, there is a cost in this. Many costs actually.
As individuals, I suspect the relaxation people associate with listening to
nature sounds, has more to do with the brain taking a well-earned break from so
actively filtering out noise.
Collectively, we seem to have developed a kind of autism to life and nature
around us. I just don't think we modern humans 'get' nature - our relationship
with it and our responsibility to it. I'm sure I'm not alone here in saying
that I repeatedly get shallow responses from people when I say I record nature
sounds. I'm pigeon holed into various birdo/relaxation/new age or film/TV
associations. Even my own mother used to say to me "yes, but who buys your
So I'm keenly aware that the way I hear the natural world is not widely
reflected in our popular, cultural paradigm!
Coming back to discussing the technology of nature recording - focused
listening is facilitated by directional microphones and parabolic reflectors,
even multi-input/recorder rigs (which this thread began discussing long ago),
whilst expansive listening is represented in single point stereo or binaural
There - we're back where we started. Now I need to attend to some house
cleaning. We're having friends over for dinner tonight and we'll be listening
to music. Appropriately - Mahler.
Best to all,
Andrew Skeoch & Sarah Koschak
P.O. Box 188
tel: +61 3 5476 2609