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The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Placesby Bernie Krause
Bernie Krause's The Great Animal Orchestra offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of bioacoustics, soundscapes, and the evolution of music. Krause, a naturalist and recording artist (he was formerly a member of The Weavers and is noted for his pioneering and influential work with synthesizers and in film), developed his niche hypothesis to describe the unique "sound signatures" made up of varying nonhuman animal voices that define a particular time and place (which may shift in response to other environmental factors, including man-made noise). This "biophony," as he termed it, can reflect the staggering diversity and density of biological sounds found within wild habitats and stands in contrast to both geophony ("nonbiological natural sounds" — wind, water, etc.) and anthrophony ("human-generated sound" — e.g., jet engines, automobiles, sonar, and that most abhorrent of human inventions, the leaf blower).
Much of The Great Animal Orchestra contains autobiographical elements that recall Krause's trajectory from musician to soundscape field recorder. Krause provides a history of the specialized subject, as well as some requisite background into the elements and composition of sound. Having recorded in a variety of remote regions throughout the world, he recounts a number of formative experiences that helped shape his interest in and knowledge of his chosen pursuit.
In his explorations, Krause has immersed himself within multiple indigenous cultures, in part, to glean some of the collected wisdom and attitudes that inform these cultures' relationships to sound and the natural world. As the human species was a relatively late development, evolutionarily speaking, they arrived in a world already rich in biological soundscapes. Krause postulates that the human inclination towards music may well have derived from observing, listening, and mimicking the abundant biophonic and geophonic sound sources that made up their habitats.
As with any recent book relating to the earthly sciences, Krause spends a fair amount of time considering the often ill effects modern humanity has wrought upon its nonhuman neighbors. Upon revisiting particular settings and locales where he had previously recorded, he finds, time and again, a marked decrease in both the diversity and density of his acoustic subjects. In two chapters, Krause considers the deleterious effects noise has had on myriad species (our own included), such as the much-publicized cases involving sonar and whales. He decries our "adversarial relationship with the natural world" and advocates for reassessing our disassociation with the planet's wild elements.
The Great Animal Orchestra is an intriguing book likely to appeal to most anyone with an interest in the sciences, nature studies, and biomusicology (specifically evolutionary musicology). While Krause's book may, at times, be a bit heavy on the autobiography and somewhat light on the science, it is, nonetheless, an easily accessible and readable addition to the sparsely populated literature on the subject. The Great Animal Orchestra ought to, at the least, encourage its readers to rethink the role sound and soundscapes have played, and continue to play, as part of our everyday lives — surrounded as we are by a veritable wealth of aural treasures, the likes of which often go entirely unheard.
Synopses & Reviews
Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause is one of the world's leading experts in natural sound, and he's spent his life discovering and recording nature's rich chorus. Searching far beyond our modern world's honking horns and buzzing machinery, he has sought out the truly wild places that remain, where natural soundscapes exist virtually unchanged from when the earliest humans first inhabited the earth.
Krause shares fascinating insight into how deeply animals rely on their aural habitat to survive and the damaging effects of extraneous noise on the delicate balance between predator and prey. But natural soundscapes aren't vital only to the animal kingdom; Krause explores how the myriad voices and rhythms of the natural world formed a basis from which our own musical expression emerged.
From snapping shrimp, popping viruses, and the songs of humpback whales-whose voices, if unimpeded, could circle the earth in hours-to cracking glaciers, bubbling streams, and the roar of intense storms; from melody-singing birds to the organlike drone of wind blowing over reeds, the sounds Krause has experienced and describes are like no others. And from recording jaguars at night in the Amazon rain forest to encountering mountain gorillas in Africa's Virunga Mountains, Krause offers an intense and intensely personal narrative of the planet's deep and connected natural sounds and rhythm.
The Great Animal Orchestra is the story of one man's pursuit of natural music in its purest form, and an impassioned case for the conservation of one of our most overlooked natural resources-the music of the wild.
About the Author
Dr. Bernie Krause is both a musician and a naturalist. During the 1950s and 60s, he devoted himself to music and replaced Pete Seeger as the guitarist for The Weavers. For over 40 years, Krause has traveled the world recording and archiving the soundsof creatures and environments large and small. He has recorded over 15,000 species. He lives in California.
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