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

Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
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.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes