Profile, £12.99

The Great Animal Orchestra, By Bernie Krause

This musician-turned-naturalist finds via his fieldwork that calls and cries can be matter of wild life and death.

Bernie Krause started his journeys into sound as a guitarist, only to be told by music schools that the guitar was not a musical instrument. That was in the 1950s; in 1963 he joined The Weavers, and played alongside Pete Seeger the night the folk group imported "Guantanamera" from Cuba to the United States. Then, in the mid-1960s, he got into electronics and the newly-developed Moog synthesiser.

Together with his collaborator Paul Beaver he produced a series of albums, including the 1967 Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music, whose accompanying booklet about sine waves and cycles reads like an engineering lecture delivered in a windowless room.

Beaver died suddenly in 1975. Krause had tired of the music industry, having "been fired and rehired more than half a dozen times during the making of Apocalypse Now alone". He opened himself up to nature. "You might think I left the world of music behind for that of natural sound," he reflects. "Instead, that is where I truly found it."

He found it through technology, though, communing with nature via headphones. This allows him to hear all the sounds together, instead of picking out individual sonic figures from the acoustic background. Perhaps artificial mediation makes it easier to get away from what is, after all, a perfectly natural way to organise incoming signals into patterns.

It also helped that he was still in touch with his studio roots. At first he followed standard practice, seeking out individual species the way birdwatchers tick off their lists, but grew bored with that pursuit. Thinking like a music producer, he set up a pair of stereo microphones and took in the sounds as a whole.

As he explored soundscapes around the world, he became a sonic ecologist. Recordings revealed that human disturbance could leave an environment acoustically degraded even though the place might look as though it had recovered – ironically, the evidence emerges when sounds are represented in visual form, as sonograms. Disturbance disorganises soundscapes, their patterns breaking down.

Krause was struck by how the space is filled in a healthy acoustic environment. It seemed that animals made acoustic niches, seeking out unoccupied parts of the sound-space to maximise their chances of being heard; the more species there are, the fuller and more extensively partitioned the space will be. Biophony, as Krause calls the sounds made by animals other than humans, will sound orchestral. The comparison is an illusion rather than an analogy. Musicians in an orchestra work together for a common purpose. Animals signal mainly to their kind. A biophonic orchestra is one in which flautists play to flautists and cellists to other cellists.

This can work to their advantage if they all sound alike to predators' ears. Spadefoot toads synchronise their quacking calls into a chorus – an acoustic smokescreen from which predators have difficulty picking out individual targets. Their lives may depend on achieving harmony. One of Krause's sonograms shows how the chorus at Mono Lake in California was blotted out by a military jet flying low nearby. The spadefoots took about three-quarters of an hour to align their voices again. During that period Krause watched a pair of coyotes and a great horned owl move in to pick off acoustically exposed toads.

Krause believes that disrupting soundscapes is bad for humans as well as for animals. He writes, eloquently of what we lose by making noise and what we can gain by hearing music in nature. If you love landscape and are dismayed by the image of a jet tearing the air above it, his thoughtful protests will resonate with you. But there are many people for whom, as bumper stickers proclaim, jet noise is "the sound of freedom". It all depends on what sounds mean to you. The bass drone of a frog chorus in a garden pond can sound remarkably like motors idling in a jam; the difference in how the two are perceived arises from knowing one is animal, the other mineral.

The Great Animal Orchestra is a wonderful advertisement for the effects of natural sound upon its author. Krause writes like the field naturalist he is, attentively and with a light tread. Moving between music, memoir, science and a humanistic spirituality, he can be forgiven for not acknowledging the dog-whistle in the title metaphor to those for whom an Orchestra implies a Conductor. The optimism of his spirit is infectious: this is one of those books you are grateful to have read, rather than relieved to have finished.

Marek Kohn's 'Turned Out Nice' is published by Faber & Faber

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn