I remember as a child, being asked by teachers, ‘Can you see it?” Rarely though would they ask, “Can you hear it?” We have come to rely on sight a great deal, our over busy brains stimulated by visual glitter everywhere we go, and mostly at the expense of listening.
I never learned to really listen until I was in my late twenties, I still remember the moment. I was bird watching with two serious ’twitchers’ on a spring morning, we were stopped on a quiet rural road. The three of us jumped out of the car, I raised my binoculars searching for hidden birds. The other two listened, pointing an ear into the forest beside us. After a few seconds, I heard the tiniest, non descript sound, and then one by one the two birdwatchers start to name the species, “Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Parula, Swainsons Thrush, Swamp Sparrow”, on it went until they had exhausted all the species in that particular thicket.
I was dumfounded. How could they possibly tell from those inaudible peeps and whistles what species those birds were? I spent the next several years teaching myself bird song using tapes, eventually I became quite good.
My point in this story is how much we miss in our daily lives because we just don’t know what we are missing. Learning to listen has added a wonderful richness to my walks in the woods. To that very first Hairy Woodpecker call, heard on my first birding trip, I am eternally grateful, it has opened up a door that otherwise may have stayed shut.
Science seems to be catching up with the study of listening to natural sounds. Studies have shown that natural soundscapes calm us. Could it be that thousands of years of living close to nature, that we humans have a natural inclination to feel calm when we hear birdsong? Does birdsong trigger a distant biological memory or is it the actual quality of the sound that calms us? You can find birdsong in hospitals and classrooms these days; I have even used recordings in my art shows to give the viewer a deeper experience.
Listening intently seems to be a forgotten art we could use to reconnect to the places we live, although, it is awareness of these sounds that brings us to that moment to actually stop and listen. I would love to hear your own stories of natural sound discoveries.
Here is a world map of nature sounds you must have a listen too, I was going to say ‘look at’, you get my point! Below you can see the film, ‘Standing With The Trees’, made whilst recording the ancient soundscape of an old growth forest. It covers the process of actually being there on location and how I go about recording the soundscape. In the final part of this series, how natural sounds can also be an indication of the health of eco-systems.
End Quote, “Still the noise in the mind: that is the first task – then everything else will follow in time.”
R. Murray Schafer.