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 & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Arts & Entertainment
Gian Sammarco plays Adrian Mole in 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'
books

Sue Townsend's much-loved character will live on
Arts & Entertainment
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show
TV

Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK

Arts & Entertainment
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Favour Asikpa and Thandie Newton in 'Half of a Yellow Sun'
film

Review: Half of A Yellow Sun

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act