(Huge thanks to Alexey Gladyshev for transcribing this episode!)
[0:00] I'm David Torcivia.
[0:02] I’m Daniel Forkner.
[0:03] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky, the end of the world.
[0:13] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be. [0:25] David, we're listening to my backyard. As you can see, I live in a pristine natural Wonderland.
[0:33] It sounds really beautiful, Daniel. I'm sort of jealous, because my backyard is filled with car alarm.
[0:38] Yes well.
[0:40] Doesn't sound like yours is so natural either.
[0:44] Yeah, that was the condenser turning on for the AC at the house that I live in.
[0:52] Well, it should be no surprise to either one of us that it's really difficult to find a place with untainted natural sounds.
[1:00] Yeah that's right, David, in fact, the U.S. National Park Service monitor sound levels at over 600 places in the United States. And over the past decade not a single one of these has been unaffected by the noise introduced by human activity.
[1:18] You know, as humans, we are really good at building things, we’ve constructed a whole civilization. Like look: we’ve invented all this electricity, mechanical things, we’ve got cars, we’ve got planes that fly around the world. It’s really kind of amazing, but I think all of this has this side effect, it's so much we’ve forgotten it is there in the first place, and that of course is the noise that we’ve created. And this might be one of our largest legacies actually in the world right now, with this almost nowhere on this planet that has not been touched by the sounds of civilization and that is the topic that will be exploring in today's episode.
[1:54] It is really quite remarkable, how much sound we’ve put into the world; going back to the U.S. National Park Service, they expect noise pollution in the United States to double every 30 years, and some people estimate that there are only 10 locations in the entire country where you can experience that pristine natural environment without the introduction of human sound, except only for 15 minutes, before eventually you're going to hear a plane fly overhead, or a truck go by, or something. And the Department of Transportation has reported that 97% of the entire population lives among man-made noise.
[2:37] But Daniel, before we begin anything in this episode, maybe, as always, we need to take just a quick step back and ask ourselves, well, what exactly is the sounds all around us, this thing that we call the soundscape? When we think of a place right now, imagine somewhere w here you've been, like a famous tourist location of childhood memory that you stick to; odds are that your memory of this location is something is very visual: there are these landmarks that you see, you can visualize, maybe it's the Acropolis, maybe it's the Colosseum, or maybe it’s just a field nearby your childhood home. You can look at it and you can think, ‘oh yeah, there were these beautiful rocks here, maybe the sun was setting, it was a beautiful blue day with white fluffy clouds in the air’. And your memory of this space is likely a very visual one. But is the same way that we have these visual landmarks associated with any one place, there are very strong individual and unique soundscapes associated with everywhere as well, and these are things that might be the natural world: that is the wind, or the rain, or the Earth itself, the animals that live there; and then that man-made sounds associated with it. So, if I walk down my street outside, I know in some places that the subway is going to be very loud. Or here, in my apartment, I live close to a hospital, so I can often times hear ambulances running by. These sounds are associated with individual places just as strongly as… [AMBULANCE PASSING BY WITH SIREN ON] There's literally an ambulance going by right now, hang on one second. [4:03] Okay the ambulance is finally passed, but these aural soundscapes are just as important to identifying a space as any sort of visual or olfactory kiwiz as well.
[4:15] Right, I mean, in the same way that you have a unique voice, David, from mine, even if we were to sing the same note at the same frequency, we still have different voices. Everywhere we go in the world, the sound that makes up a place is totally unique and it varies from day to day, morning or evening, spring versus fall. And so why does your voice sound different from mine, David? Or why is it that, when I play a note on the piano, it sounds different from the same note played on a guitar? Sound has so many different characteristics: you have a frequency which is how many times the wave cycles per second, which our brains and interprets as pitch; it has the volume, how many decibels it is, how loud it is. Sound has an acoustic envelope, which defines how it acts over time, and of course it has a timbre. Now timbre describes its very unique sound that differentiates it from everything else. And what makes your voice unique, David, is not just that main frequency that kind of defines the pitch as we hear it, but there's all these other waves in between that make up overtones that added up together create a unique sound. [5:31] Our environment is the same way: we've got running rivers, we've got wind, we have all the animals that are vocalizing and trying to be heard. All of this adds up into a very unique sound. And as you'd expect, David, a lot of the soundscapes around the world now incorporate sounds from our human activity. Unsurprisingly, it's impacting the way the natural components exist, in many cases because of our introduction of sound those natural soundscapes fall apart.
[6:04] These are really important concepts that we need to understand in the beginning of today's episode in order to dive in with some of the effects of the soundscapes that we built today or in our civilization and the health effects it has on all of us, as well as the soundscapes that are being lost and changed through a variety of influences, much of them human. And to help us explore this topic is Dr. Bernie Krause who is one of the pioneers of soundscape ecology.
[6:30] It's an honor and a privilege to have Bernie Krause on the show. He is a musician and author and founding father of the science of soundscape ecology. As a musician, he helped pioneer electronic music in the 60s, he introduced the synthesizer to countless bands and musicians and adapted the synth for film scores and other projects. It was in the late 60s though that he discovered the joy of listening to and recording wild natural soundscape. And that launched him into the field of soundscape ecology. Through his work recording, preserving and analyzing the sound of natural soundscapes Bernie Krause has helped to reveal new understandings of the natural world, and introduce new words and concepts into the lexicon. To learn more about his work you might start with his 2013 talk on the TEDGlobal stage, visit his website at wildsanctuary.com and read one of his many books on the subject. Without further ado, here is Bernie Krause.
[7:30] Hello, hold on a second, here we go, yes hello.
[7:34] I would like to just start out by saying that for both of us reading about your work and reading from your books has really opened an entirely new world for us and your work has had a transformative effect on me personally. But when I walked out to a park recently, and David did something similar, I put headphones on and I listened to the sounds of nature through that undiscriminating ear of a microphone, that was the moment I felt like I caught a glimpse of the entirely new reality that I have been blind to my whole life. This is an experience that kind of launched you down your path in career of soundscape ecology, is that right?
[8:11] That's exactly right, but I started off as a professional musician and at one point I was doing an album for Warner Brothers with my late music partner Paul Beaver. The title of the album was “In A Wild Sanctuary” and it was the first album ever on the theme of ecology. So, Paul wouldn't have anything to do with natural world experience or traveling outside, so he left that task to me. When I went out to this...just a park I guess it is, and turned on the recorder, which was the first time that stereo recorders were available by the way, there were portable recorders outside. The experience just changed my life and I just said, you know, what am I doing in music, I got to do more of this. It just makes me feel good.
[8:56] Well, could you describe for us what the three main components of a soundscape are?
[9:01] Well, sure, the soundscape is a concept developed by a Canadian composer and naturalist by the name of Murray Schafer. And Schafer in 1977 wrote a great book called “The Tuning of the World” to use the first one to describe the soundscape in it and by that he meant all of the sound that reaches the human ear. But when working in the field I wanted to know a little bit more about the sources of sound: what were the main sources of that soundscape, and I began to think about that in the late 90s. I came up with the first concept of biophony meaning the collective sound that all organisms make in a given habitat at one moment, and that is called the biophony. But then working a little bit later, couple years later, on a national park soundscape program, I was working with a fellow by name of Stuart Gage. He's Emeritus from Michigan State University, professor there. And he said, you know, we ought to come up with some other definitions of sources of the soundscape. And he and I are in a paper, that was recently published, came up with the idea of the geophony or the first sounds that were heard on earth like the sounds of water and rain and movement of the earth. And the geophony was around for several billion years before animals appeared and evolved. And then finally, so we have geophony, biophony which are the first two natural sounds and then we have anthropophony meaning human sound. And by human sound we divided anthropophony into actually two subgroups. One is a controlled sound like music, theater and language. The other is chaotic sound that we refer to as noise. It’s really established by electromechanical devices, that we can't seem to do without, and they introduced this blanket of noise in our lives that's just incredible. [11:04] So we have the three terms: the geophony, first sounds on Earth, biophony when organisms evolved and now, we have anthropophony. Anthropophony has only been around really for couple of million years but it's had the most profound effect on the soundscape of the natural world, the biophony, because of the noise, incredible amount of noise we create.
[11:29] Well, I'm fascinated by the way you describe the biophony and how complex, how dynamic it is and how species have learned to adapt their voices to their environment and find particular niches where their voices can be heard. Can you describe what the niche hypothesis is, that you discovered, and how you came about discovering it?
[11:49] The niche hypothesis just expresses the beauty of the biophony and it points to the fact that all of these types of organisms, all of these species find acoustic turf or bandwidth. Within the frequency spectrum they vocalize and they find either frequency spectrum or tempaural niches and so, like for instance, the frogs will vocalize at one frequency, the insects will vocalize at another, birds, mammals – all find their own niche that is occupied only by those creatures. And when habitat is very healthy, when you look at the niches as a spectrogram or graphic illustration of sound it looks just like a musical score, just like you would find if you were listening to Beethoven's 5th. All of the strings are in one niche, the basses are in another, the horns are in another, the percussion in another – and it's just like just like instruments in an orchestra. And, by the way, that is how we learned to compose: by the ways in which we observed animals vocalizing in relationship to one another.
[13:03] Yeah, that's right, and I think it's really important for us to come back to that, the cultural influences biophony has had on us. But first, I think one of the lessons that is so important about this discovery you described here is that the vocalization of species and the way they discriminate their voices: it's really important for their function and their survival, I mean, for example, some frogs will vocalize together as a community, and the way their voices play off each other forms a kind of protective bubble such that it becomes impossible for pray to isolate any one individual. But what are some other ways that animals vocalize to survive and thrive?
[13:41] Well, they each have their own reason for vocalizing and if their survival is a result of behavior that is vocalization, then it's really important for them to find clear channels of communication so their voices aren't mess. And when it comes to chorusing, I mean there is some animals that chorus like insects for instance: you'll hear crickets at night. And what they do is: after a period of time you'll hear the chirping all get into sync so that all the crickets are chirping at the same rhythm. It takes a while for that to happen after sundown because different parts of the habitat are at different temperatures, and the chirping, the stridulation that they do, is temperature dependent. So, it takes a while for all of that habitat to equalize to the same temperature, at which point all the crickets are in sync. And it's really way cool to see how that happens, and they do that again, chorusing, because it's a protective measure. There are other creatures that don't do chorusing or have to do that, and their vocalizations mean other things within the habitat.
[14:53] So these vocalizations and the sounds that all these animals make are important for their survival for a number of reasons, but at the same time a lot of your research is focused on the how the biophonies are being threatened and damaged in large part by human actions. You have this really beautiful example about selective logging that I know you've given several talks and interviews and written about it at length. Maybe you can explain that just briefly?
[15:17] Well it's an example that was taken from a place in the Sierra Nevada mountains just about three-and-a-half-hour drive east of San Francisco. And Lincoln Meadow is a place that we recorded, I recorded there for many years during the 1980s, and in 1988 a logging company came through and tried to convince local residents that there would be no impact from selective logging, which was a new method that they were trying to convince people would have no impact, environmental impact. And so, the community agreed and said fine: try your selective logging here. And they did! In 1988, in June of 1988, I went there to record just before their operation, and a year later I came back after they did their selective logging, and you hear the clear result: even though they took out only a tree here and there – it completely changed the character of the habitat. Such that, I mean a stick or a tree may not look out of place to our eyes, because we're not trained to really pay attention to that, but to the critters that lived there, dependent on the integrity of that habitat, it was devastating, and you can hear it in its voice or the biophony, because it completely changed. I've been back 15 or 16 times since to record in the same place, and the biophony has not yet returned to anything like its normal condition. And what we found was, we found something interesting: when we walked back into the forest some 200 yards away from the meadow where you had a sight line of the trees, the logging company actually clear cut most of that territory that was beyond the sight line of what most humans could see from the road – and they do that a lot. One of the things that happen for me is I was flying back from Germany and I was flying from Frankfurt on a plane, and there is nobody in first class, so they move me up in first class, that was before all this stuff happened, it was a 747 and I was the only one there, so the pilots came out at one point and said you know why don’t you come up to the flight deck, sit with us. So, I went up the flight deck that when you could still do that. And I was sitting in the jump seat there and as we flew over the Northwest Territories in Canada and then back down to Alberta and British Columbia. [17:41] And you can see all along the road, you could see that there was a line of trees, that was maybe 200m in off the road, and then just beyond that everything was clear cut flat for miles and miles. And so it gives the illusion to the people from the road that are driving by, that there's a big forest there. But you only have to walk a couple hundred yards and you'll see, you know, how devastating it really is. So, we’ve done a lot of damage and we have to figure out a way to deal with that.
[18:13] And you’ve lamented the fact that over half of all the recordings you've made since 1968 can no longer be found in nature: those habitats are now silent because of the ways we've altered the environment. And you've recorded examples of habitats bursting with species vocalization and then a plane flies overhead and the ability for species to vocalize immediately breaks down, it takes a long time to recover. I'm curious, did it surprise you when you were first studying this how sensitive and how vulnerable biophonies are to the sound that we're introducing?
[18:46] Well, all of this information is new. Nobody had ever looked at it that way before and so it was always a surprise to me and it was always wonderful to be out in the field, and to just turn on the recorder because every time I did, I learned something new. All of these observations, the one that you're talking about now, the effect of human noise on a population of animals, especially the chorusing ones like frogs and insects, really has an impact. And when their voices are masked, and their survival depends on their voices, it has an impact, like the frogs for instance: when a jet plane flew over at Mono Lake in California, when the jet plane flew over the frogs lost their synchronicity. And we watched under a full moon as, you know, a couple of coyotes came into the field and a great horned owl, some foxes – they picked off, you know, the number of frogs, until they got back in sync. It took fully 45 minutes before they were able to get their synchronicity back again.
[19:49] Well, Bernie, speaking about how all this is new, is seems that the academic literature is just barely catching up to the implications of the impact we're having on biophonies. I want to read you a quote from an academic study published in May of this year that looked at the relationship between human sound and the interactions of lady beetles, aphids and plants, quote: “Among the least studied aspects of global change are the ecological effects of anthropogenic sound. Anthropogenic sound is increasingly recognized as a major component of global change in both urban and rural environments but its consequences for species and their interactions remain relatively unknown. Studies that have evaluated interspecific effects of anthropogenic sound largely focused on vertebrates, such as bats, birds, and frogs Almost nothing is known about the effects of sound pollution on some of the most abundant animals, insects.”, end quote. So, two-part question, Bernie. You started this work in the sixties and when you first made the connection that biophonies are complex and interrelated soundscapes, your academic supervisors did not immediately take it seriously. Why do you think the research has been so behind in this area? And second, since you have been studying these trends so long, what do you think are some of the biggest consequences of our sound impacts on insects? Since there's not a lot of research on this.
[21:15] Well, there's much more research on this in Europe. Not a lot here in the United States for some reason or other. Because the models that were here in the United States were, species-specific models. In other words, you take a creature out of context, you record it with a parabolic dish isolated from all the others. And there are huge collections, collections like at Cornell University and at the British Library of Wildlife Sounds for instance, which are predicated on the model of, you know, we can understand the natural world if we pull it apart deconstructed, but the problem is that when you do that, like I say in my TED talk, it's a little like trying to understand the magnificence of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony by abstracting the sound of a single violin player out of the context of the orchestra and hearing just that one part. That's what we've been doing, and so when I first began to show colleagues this work, in the form of spectrogram, because they hadn't used spectrograms in that way, they were very suspicious of it and really didn't understand it. And finally, as the spectrograms became more detailed, and you are able to see all of the imagery that represented the soundscape, they began to realize that maybe there was something there. But again, most of this work and all of the stuff that I'm doing right now, all of the support that I get is from France and Germany, not here in the United States. We still can't get traction on this archive and the value of it here in the United States. Are all these institutions: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan – all of these institutions have Environmental Studies programs. Absolutely none of them have a dedicated program to soundscape ecology. That's not true in Europe, it's beginning to happen in Europe now. But it's not happening here.
[23:08] But I think it was in Europe too, that big study, that came out just a year or two ago, showing the dramatic decline in insect populations generally. This just kind of shocked the world.
[23:19] 70% of the insect population in different parts of Germany have now disappeared. And you know, we're sitting here right now having this discussion. A year ago, exactly a year ago my wife and I were victims of the California fire: we lost everything in the fires here. We lost our home, we lost our cats, I lost all of my original analog recordings. All of my equipment: I had a wire recorder that went back to 1899. Yeah, I mean we had some really nice stuff, everything that we had is lost. And I can tell you, without hesitation, that the night that we escaped and drove through that wall of fire, we looked at the malevolence of global warming. Let me tell you: its impact is felt all over the place, not only in terrestrial environments, but marine environments as well. Because of ocean warming and acidification and pollution coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. And, you know, even what they're selling now in Australia for the Great Barrier Reef is “come and see it because it's going to be gone in a couple of years”. And so, everybody's rushing to see the last bits of the Great Barrier Reef. They are commercializing its demise which is hideous to me.
[24:42] And you of course recorded so many beautiful soundscapes of marine environments. And I think it would surprise many people to know how much sound is being vocalized in environments like caural reefs. And, I mean, I was fascinated just by the way you describe how every place like every beach just from the geophony has a very unique sound signature. And, you know, related to climate change, when we spill oil in the Gulf – that has a dramatic impact on the way the animals vocalize, because they have adapted themselves to a very unique and a very specific sound signature, and in relation to each other and just a smallest amount of changes, of course that's not small that's pretty dramatic, impact their ability to survive.
[25:22] Absolutely. And it takes them it takes them a very long time to orient themselves to another habitat or another environmental situation, and so, you know, we're losing things in an alarming rate and I don't know quite how to even deal with it.
[25:39] Yeah that's something that I know we both struggle with all the time, we talk about these questions all the time: that's a lot of what the show is about.
[25:48] And probably one of the most important aspects of the show might be the ways in which the administration right now is denying not only climate science but science in general.
[26:00] Yeah, absolutely.
[26:02] I can tell you this right now, that a year ago March when I saw this happening and I heard from my colleagues that NASA and also the EPA both were getting all of their data offshore, I made a copy of my archive, a complete copy of it, and got it offshore to France, to a safe house in France where I thought it would remain, you know, uncompromised because I felt that strongly about the fact of what was happening here and it's really kind of like the Dark Ages, so incredible.
[26:34] Yeah everyone is worried about their grants and their research and access to satellite information and stuff: it's a rough time in ecological science at the moment. But to expand on the idea that animals are impacted in these negative ways by the cacophony that occurs with our anthropogenic effects on these biophonies. I mean, humans themselves – we're animals too, we're not that far removed from these creatures that are all around us, and the noise that we've created is a detriment to our health and the chaotic sounds that occur especially in the city, I mean, I'm in New York right now, has a very specific health effects that were just starting to catch on to so I was wondering if you can maybe speak on to any of that.
[27:19] Yeah sure, I'm writing about that right now in a new book called “The Book of Sound” which will be out at the end of next year. And, you know, until very recently we were part of the biophony. And until we emerged, you know, at the end of the last ice age and began to focus our attention on agriculture and so on, and larger communities. The most recent noise issue came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution about 250 years ago. And that's when it’s really exploded. We're looking at things right now, I mean, again it's an issue that the United States doesn't deal with very well, because until 1982 we had as an office within the EPA the Office of Noise Abatement. And when Reagan came into office, he wanted to ensure that a lot of these agencies would be defunded because he didn't like the regulation. So, James Watt became Secretary of the Interior, and he defended the Office of Noise Abatement, which was created to help America quiet down and to become more conscious of the effects of noise, that were having terrible health effects on lots of people in quickly and noisy cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit and so on. [28:44] Well, when Watt was asked why he did that, his answer was very illuminating, I think. He said: “noise is power, and the noisier we are as Americans the more powerful we appear to be to others”.
[28:59] That sounds like a cultural pathology to me.
[29:04] Well, you know, the late Paul Sheppard wrote this wonderful book called “The Others: How Animals Made Us Human”. I remarked at one point and he said “you know, the further we draw away from the natural world the more pathological we become as a culture, if you don't believe that just watch the news at night”.
[29:22] Well speaking of Paul Sheppard, I want to read a quote from his book “Nature and Madness” where he says, quote: “Quality of attention means cultural and habitual differences in the style of day-to-day hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching the surroundings”, end quote. And so, I wonder about our inattention to the natural world, how big of an impact is that having just on our day-to-day relationship to the world in ways that we don't even realize and could be contributing to some of these chronic illnesses and pathologies rising around the world that we don't understand.
[29:55] Well, if you want to see that just walk into a restaurant where families are gathered at the table and every single person has a has a cell phone or a smartphone, and their faces are buried in their smartphone. The distractions of our electromechanical world are like infinite. And again, the further we draw away from that, from this natural world phenomenon – more pathological we become. And we are meeting those criteria every single day. I mean it's really, I think it's nuts and I have to say that, again, the only work that's being done in this field right now is with the World Health Organization in Europe. And they've done the major studies and the only support that we're getting for this work in the Arts and Sciences is in Europe, not here. They're 20 years ahead of us.
[30:53] Right. I want to ask you about some of the research that the WHO supporting, because we're seeing a lot of reports, as you've both mentioned, that this man-made sound like airplanes and traffic is having a big impact on our health. And a lot of reports seem to point towards a 55 decibel threshold of this noise, but I'm sure there are a ton of natural habitats in biophonies out in the world that exceed 55 decibels. So, I'm curious, that that can't be the whole story, right? There must be a significant difference between the way listening to a natural habitat versus, you know, the sound of cars going by has on our health. Can you tell us what that difference might be?
[31:32] That's a great question. With biophonies, I recorded biophonies as high as 80 or 85 DB which is pretty loud, and what's interesting about those, that in a healthy habitat the biophonies are organized sound. So, the difference between organized sound and anthropophony, the part of anthropophony that is noise is a sound that’s chaotic and it has no information in it, so it's very distracting and that component itself is unhealthy to us because our minds can't grasp what the sound means. And it's all-encompassing around us now. So the difference when you go into a habitat, I mean, even if you going to a habitat where the sound is 80 or 85 DB and you're sleeping, you're trying to sleep in a hammock at night in the jungle somewhere, it turns out to be very relaxing, and for me with this terrible case of ADHD that I've had all my life, the only thing that helps stem that the anxiety that results from that attention deficit disorder, the only thing that helps is natural sound and when it's especially organized it helps even more. And it's amazing how that works for me, you know, I was heavy into medication for a very long time and then in 1968 I finally began to work in the field and more that I began to work in the field the healthier I felt. [33:01] Now, to be sure, not everybody can get out into the field and hear this stuff, but you can get these recordings and listen to them in a quiet space in your own home, if you have the ability to turn off all the other noise in your life like your smartphone and your television, and all the rest of the stuff that's so distracting.
[33:21] I want to come back to something that you mentioned earlier about our connection with nature and music, and in your book “The Great Animal Orchestra” you tell us in part how human music and dance and even our own language came from the sounds that natural soundscapes gave us. And you’ve shown some really powerful examples of that like the ways spectrograms of human music compared to soundscapes. A 40000-year-old bone flute which plays the pentatonic scale and the Potoo bird that vocalizes a very bluesy melody. You've also described how the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is reminiscent of counterpoint and fugal elements heard in nature and that the structure of humpback whale songs is as complex and intricate as our own music. Can you tell us a little bit about our musical roots and cultural roots that are found in these biophonies and geophonies?
[34:13] Well you're not going to hear our roots in any of the music that we compose now. That said, I've just composed a symphony with Richard Blackford which was commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra called “The Great Animal Orchestra: Symphony for Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes” which is a 70-piece orchestra led by natural sounds, which is pretty cool. And we also did a ballet called biophony which uses all-natural sounds to which the Alonzo King LINES Ballet choreographed the piece, and it was performed, by the way, earlier this summer in Central Park, so there you have it, but our music in general, has no relationship to the natural world experience now. The music of people who live closely connected to the natural world however, like the Bayaka who live in the Central African Republic, or the Kaluli who live in Papua New Guinea, or the Jivaro who live in the Amazon basin – all of these groups use the natural soundscape as a karaoke orchestra to which they perform. Their music, it's a backup group for their performances of music and dance. [35:25] They use the sounds of the natural world as an analgesic: they go there when they want to heal. And the sounds not only help them orient themselves spiritually but also medicinally they provide the same kinds of benefits as herbs do in the forest so there's a lot of connection here.
[35:44] Speaking about the Bayaka, and you've written about how some of their cultural connections with nature were deteriorated when the modern world of market suddenly took an interest in them. And one thing to the subject struck me as profound is how you write about early institutions of our society which actively suppressed music and dance that they saw as being too wild. And I'm curious, we tend to think that losing our connection to nature is just the kind of unintentional side effect of civilization, but this seems to suggest to me that perhaps our institutions might be actively suppressing our connections with nature as part of their foundations. And I'm wondering if maybe the ways in which we’re living should be questioned in a way that can get us closer to the natural world.
[36:30] Well, I certainly suggest looking at that. For instance, in religion one of the most important aspects of church architecture in the 11th, 12th, 13th century was to build these huge stone walls to shut out the influence of the natural world and to enclose and then encompass only our own voices, which were reflected back on ourselves because of the big echoey reverberant halls of those buildings. And that was the only thing because those sounds, the humans’ sounds, were considered to be the sounds of the divine. I'd argue, that the only divinity that's ever struck me as being important is being in a rainforest and hearing the sounds of the natural world. To me that’s my church, that's my synagogue, that's my mosque. And if I want to hear the voice of the divine that's where I go.
[37:26] Bernie, half of all the recordings you've made since the 60s can no longer be found in nature but have you been able to capture examples of restoration? Is there hope that we can bring these soundscapes back before it's too late?
[37:41] I don't know. The world is changing so radically and so fast that we've even given up on the idea of baseline studies, because you record a baseline today and it's going to be changed in 6 hours. So, we really don't know. I have seen examples of reforestation in places like Costa Rica. It has been fairly successful from a vegetation perspective but I haven't seen a lot of evidence that the birds come back or the insects come back and repopulate that area. But then, I'm only 80 years old, I haven't been around long enough to be able to see what's happening and my hope is that I can live another couple of hundred years and I'll let you know.
[38:25] We hope to find out and, Bernie Krause, thank you so much for joining us.
[38:37] You are welcome.
[38:38] David, there's one thing that kind of stuck out to me.
[38:42] Just one, Daniel?
[38:43] I guess not just one, but there's something I've been kind of mulling around in my brain about this topic which is, you know, you see articles and you can you hear people talk about the natural world in terms of how it benefits us. Oh, if you're feeling stressed, you know, maybe you've been in the city too long, go to the forest, it'll restore you it will give you some benefits, you know, you'll feel relaxed, you'll be able to come back into the city and be efficient again, be productive again – you just need that, you know, kind of reset with the natural world. And what stands out to me now is that when we're talking about connecting with the natural world we're talking about as if we're adding something to our lives, like we have a normal life and we're adding some benefit on top of it. When in reality, we're returning to something that is more normal, we've become normalized to the fact that living in industrial societies has taken something from us, has taken a connection to the natural world and that is actively harming us.
[39:47] In fact, you know, this is almost something that has become sort of a medical condition when you're specifically talking about sound. And the fact that we're surrounded so much by all this noise and the lack of this natural beautiful biodiversity in a soundscape, that is associated with that, is we've developed this thing called learn deafness where we’re constantly tuning out all this noise around us. And it makes actually that much harder to hear and enjoy this beautiful biophony when we're back in nature. And this is a coping mechanism that we've developed in order to try and survive in this chaotic, loud, constantly changing, noisy, cacophonous world. But of course it still has mini stress effects on us which is something we'll get on to later on in this episode.
[40:28] We know speaking about having to tune out this cacophony of noise, you know, we didn't get to discuss this with Bernie but he's brought up in the past that just because we get used to something consciously doesn't mean that the effect it’s having on our body doesn't linger. And in fact, the fact that we're getting used to something like the sound of traffic noise may be a sign that our brains are working overtime. You see, one of the benefits of going out into nature with headphones and a microphone is the fact that the microphone does not do this discrimination. See, our brain, as we adapt to our world, it starts figuring out what to filter and what to emphasize, and that takes energy. When we're walking down a sidewalk in all this traffic noise that’s going on around us and we're trying to talk to the person next to us, our brain has to employ all these systems to figure out, of all the sound coming into our ears what does it need to suppress, so that it can hear the important part which is the person you're speaking to. And that takes a toll on our body.
[41:29] When we were recording this episode, Daniel, and we were going out and actually recording our very amateur field recordings: me around my city, you around your neighborhood. And, like you mentioned several times, the actual act of pressing record on this non-discriminating microphone was really eye-opening. And for me it’s changed how I've been listening for the past couple of weeks because of this. When you're sitting there and you think you know a space, right, and so we’re actually going to try this right here, I mean, imagine standing on the side of the road, it's evening. [41:59] You have this very, like we talked about before, mental image of what this looks like and also what this sounds like: maybe there are crickets in the background, there's an occasional car passing – and that’s about what you brain pays attention to. But so, we're going to play clip here, and this is a recording that we've made of this, and I want you to really dig in. Listen to this hard. And now that your brain isn't filtering out this sort of background noise, you going to start to notice lots of little details and even in the individual cars passing by: you can tell how big they are, you can tell details about them just from hearing them. Use the things you normally wouldn't pay attention to, but now that it's brought front and center, and your brain is able to actually just listen instead of having to shove it out in the background as useless noise, you can really begin to appreciate the soundscape and see just how much information you can pull out of this thing that we normally throw away as garbage. [SOUND CLIP OF THE NIGHT STREET PLAYING] [YOU CAN HEAR DIFFERENT SOUNDS OF A TRUCK NEARBY, LOTS OF PEOPLE TALKING AND CHEERING IN THE BACKGROUND, CRICKETS] [THE TRUCK SOUND FEELS VERY LOUD COMPARED TO EVERYTHING ELSE]
[43:16] Yeah that's good, David, you know, I did something similar as well when we were researching this topic. I went into the park in my neighborhood, we have a nice little park there with some walking trails. And I took the microphone and my headphones, this was the first time I did it, it's what I referenced when we were talking to Bernie Krause, and when I pressed play on the microphone it really blew my mind: I was hearing things I had never heard before. One of the things that stuck out to me is that at one point during the recording it sounded like it was raining. Course it wasn't so I looked up and I noticed that the wind was very gently blowing through the tops of the trees and it was causing all these leaves to fall, and the microphone was picking this up: all these hundreds and hundreds of leaves knocking into each other, other branches created the sound like rain. Of course, that's a big part of that natural soundscape that we just kind of tune out. And then I noticed a plane go overhead, so let's play the clip from my park. You can hear the nature sounds and pretty soon you're going to hear a plane go overhead, and consider how loud it is compared to everything else is going on. [SOUND CLIP OF THE PARK PLAYING] [YOU CAN HEAR AT LEAST 3 DIFFERENT BIRDS VOCALIZING, HUM OF CICADAS IN THE BACKGROUND AND THEN A MUCH LOUDER SOUND OF PLANE FLYING BY] [44:39] That plain is super loud and what it means is that just because we don't always notice it, because we are filtering these sounds out, for the species within an environment it has a dramatic impact on them. As Bernie Krause elaborated, the species within a habitat, they have adapted their voices to fit a certain niche: it can either be a frequency niche, so if they have a deep voice, they're looking for a space within their environment where their voice can be heard so that it doesn't run into something else, and at the same time they're also trying to find tempaural niches, meaning when one bird is singing another bird might wait and then sing once the other one finishes, or maybe an insect will vocalize in triplet patterns so they are distinct from another insect which vocalizes in some other pattern, so everyone's adapting their voice to this very particular niche. But then something like a plane flies overhead, and those very low frequency rumblings just rip straight through the entire habitat and disrupts all these very delicate balances. And all the sudden now those birds, well it might take them a long time to recover: they might not know what to do, they might be waiting to see how they can interject their voice again and be heard. And just like those frogs that can now be picked off by predators, it affects their ability to function and survive. That's for example, well, they use sound as we know to catch insects and other things but they also use echolocation to identify which plants to pollinate. [46:09] So disrupting their patterns would also impact the pollination of plant species all around us which as we've discussed about in our episode “Irreplaceable” is a huge crisis going on around the world right now. And of course, the introduction of anthropogenic sounds also has an impact on the stress levels of animals, but we’ll get to it later on in this episode, some specific things that have been identified in academic papers affecting animals. But why don't we talk a bit about how this noise pollution impacts human health, because as Bernie Krause pointed out, that WHO has declared noise pollution a health crisis second only to air pollution. Very serious one as we've discussed in our episode 38 “Dead Air”. But how can noise be such a dramatic health crisis that the WHO is concerned about it? How is that possible, David?
[47:02] Well, Daniel, instead of trying to explain exactly why and how this might be the case, let’s instead take an advantage of this wonderful medium that we have and play actually a clip submitted to us from one of our listeners of what it's like to live right next to a busy highway. [SOUND CLIP OF HIGHWAY PLAYING] [47:32] Yeah, it's easy to see how that could get annoying. But maybe we can turn up the volume even little bit more. This is a clip I recorded here in New York in Times Square. [SOUND CLIP OF TIMES SQUARE PLAYING]
[47:54] David, that's why when I visit New York I don't go to Times Square because that's sounds awful.
[47:59] Nobody goes to Times Square. If you are coming to New York just to skip Time Square.
[48:04] Well you know it's interesting you mentioned earlier how listening to the microphone allows you to pick up things that we've learned to train out of our hearing. And I guess because it was on my mind as I was walking to my office today to do this interview with Bernie Krause and do this recording with you, sound was on my mind and so as I was walking to my office I noticed all the traffic sound, that my building is like 50 feet from, so I ran and got my mic and recorded that for you so here's a recording of the traffic that's going by my office building and for future reference this is about 77 decibels. [SOUND CLIP OF HEAVY TRAFFIC PLAYING]
[48:50] Okay, Daniel. I think we’ve played these Loudness Wars long enough here and I'm going to spare our listeners’ ears from anything more. But we can quickly see how living in this world, the chaos that occurs and the random nature of all these vehicles driving by, the sirens, the different people making noises – it's very clearly chaotic and stressful. And we can understand from there how, especially after Bernie’s explanations of the synchronicity that occurs in a natural and healthy ecosystem in the soundscapes, that this noise is that we built through our civilization could have negative health effects on all of us.
[49:27] Right. So, let's get into the facts. Like I said, that traffic going by my office building was registering 77 decibels from where I was standing. Well, The World Health Organization recommends noise levels below 30 decibels for communities and warns that exceeding 55 decibels is dangerous to human health. Unfortunately, according to the WHO 40% of people in Europe are in communities with noise above 55 decibels and 20% above 65.
[49:57] Daniel, decibels-smecibels. Nobody actually knows what those numbers mean so maybe we should give just a real quick baseline of exactly what is 55 decibels. [50:10] Oh, yeah, 55 decibel – light traffic. [BOTH HOSTS LAUGHTING]
[50:13] We’ve hit the age of circle where everything a circle reasoning from now on. Everything is self-referential. That's actually one of the problems though, David, that in one of the books that I was reading that Bernie Krause wrote, he talks about, and this is what he kind of alluded to in the interview which is, we don't have music nowadays that really reflects the natural world because it's all self-referential, right? It used to be that we would look to the natural world, and then we adapt our music and our dance to that and keep referencing that. But now we've created some music and things outside of that, and so when people want to create new music a lot of people look to what is already created, they reference that and create new music, so we’ve really gotten away from the natural influences on culture.
[51:01] Bernie just hates remixes. We have to cut that out! We love you Bernie! You are our hero. [51:07] Okay so here's a chart of decibel sound, just to quickly give you an idea. So, this is a logarithmic scale so a small increase can be dramatic volume or perceived volume increases. And just to set a baseline a very quiet sound, so whisper is something like 25 decibels. [51:25] A really quiet night in the suburbs is about 40. And that 55 threshold that we talked about: that's like standing right next to an old, kind of loud refrigerator right when it turns on – it's annoying, it's a background noise but it's enough that we can ignore it if we need to. As we start getting above that we start getting to be these higher volumes, so 62 to 65 is like a loud business office or maybe like a normal conversation from 3 feet away. So, you can see how that over prolonged periods can start to get annoying and stressful. Let's jump up to 75 decibels now, so this is what Daniel you were talking about right outside your office building. That's the same volume as a loud vacuum cleaner. Definitely something annoying, distracting and it's going to cause stress to you. So, going up from here, we start getting to the area which can actually cause hearing loss over sustained exposure. So anything about 80 decibels can cause this, a lot of people listen to music much too loud, it's in this volume and that will cause hearing effects as time goes on. A subway train – well that's getting very loud now, we're up to 95 decibels, a lawnmower is 107 decibels, a chainsaw – a 110, and then we start getting close to where actually a physical pain occurs in your eardrums: it's about 125 decibels, a jet is a 140 and what we're way past what we need to be talking about on this episode. But your alarm clock that you hate so much every morning, that's right around 80 decibels. And this is that marker of anything louder than this can cause hearing damage. A rock band, the next concert you go to is probably pretty loud: between 110 and 120 decibels – something that very quickly causes hearing damage.
[52:58] David, that's really interesting. So why don't we look at, again, some of the specific health consequences of being exposed to these decibels over a prolonged period of time. And remember, recall what Bernie Krause said that these decibels that were experiencing, the sound of the anthropophony, the effect it’s going to have on us is so much different from the dynamic, interconnected and complex sound signatures of a natural and wild soundscape. But okay, so let's look at this, scientist examined over 6 million people over the age of 65 residing near one of 89 airports in the United States to determine that the sounds of airplanes had an impact on health. What they found is that for each 10 decibel increase in noise the risk of hospitalization from heart problems increased by 3.5%.
[53:47] Similarly, a 2015 paper, published in the European Heart Journal, examined 8.6 million people in London and concluded that road traffic noise over 60 decibels raise the risk of stroke between 5 and 9% for people living in these areas versus those who were exposed to less than 55 decibels. In addition, long-term exposure to traffic noise during the day increases the risk of all causes of mortality.
[54:16] A 2017 study published in European Heart Journal suggests that noise pollution could contribute to increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the blood, which can damage the body's regulation of insulin. Blood samples of over 140,000 people were looked at. And a significant positive association between road traffic noise and this insulin response was found. The data suggest that a 10 decibel increase in traffic noise can result in an 8% higher risk for diabetes.
[54:48] Daniel, I feel like every episode we do is basically about something that gives you diabetes. Like literally, air pollution, carbon dioxide, here we are with noise pollution, that sugar episode – I mean constantly we're just figuring out that everything gives us diabetes, I think heat was one of them.
[55:08] Right. I mean it seems to be that being under chronic stress, right, I mean, has this impact on us and so much of what we've introduced into the world is…
[55:19] Endless stress.
[55:21] And if you live in a city, you're not escaping the sounds of this traffic noise and jackhammers – they are all around you, unless you can find some noise cancelling headphones for example or soundproof your apartment building.
[55:34] Well, anyway, to get back to all these specific health effects, it shouldn't be surprising that many studies have found links between noise pollution and weight gain. And similarly, in terms of very obvious things that scientists have discovered, is well, you know, noise pollution has a pretty big effect on our sleep. Of course, I mean we talked about sleep a couple weeks ago in episode 41 “Dead Tired”, but a French study in the 1980s found something worth mentioning here. So, this study looked at a number of participants who were exposed to traffic noise over long period of time. And eventually they claimed that they got used to the sounds and it no longer bothered them or interfered with their sleep. But when the scientist measured their stress levels, they found that the brain was experiencing the same levels of stress as when they were first exposed to the noise, suggesting that everyone who falls asleep in even slightly noisy environments could be experiencing mild levels of chronic stress without even realizing it.
[56:32] An association between regular exposure to noise above 55 decibels, and male infertility was found in 200,000 men in South Korea over a four-year period, suggesting, David, that my issue with sperm count has nothing to do with me personally. It is not a character flaw but it could be related to the anthropophony that is forced upon me which I have no choice but to interact with.
[56:57] A meta study on the effects of noise on children found that quote, more than 20 studies have shown that children with chronic aircraft, road traffic or rail noise exposure at school have poorer reading ability, memory and performance on national standardized tests.
[57:14] And of course it is from this diversity of academic literature that has led the World Health Organization to calculate, that at least 1 million life years are lost, 1 million healthy life years are lost every year just in Western Europe because of noise pollution. [57:31] And the European Environmental Agency links 10,000 premature deaths, 43,000 hospital admissions, and 900000 cases of hypertension every year on noise pollution. And as usual with these topics, which honestly, David, we could do a better job of reminding people, is that minorities and the poor are the most heavily impacted. A 2017 study found that low-income neighborhoods are exposed to higher decibels than higher income neighborhoods, black communities that are 70% black experience an additional 4 decibels at night then communities with no black residents. There could be a number of reasons for this: for one, the land that's immediately surrounding a highway for example is going to be much cheaper than the one, you know, in the gated communities far away from the unfortunate noises of airport, factories and road traffic. And while minorities and the poor might have higher exposure to this noise pollution, the biggest impacts are those who are more vulnerable with in our communities like our children who need more sleep. And who suffer more consequences when that sleep is disturbed. The shift workers in our economy who might have irregular or sensitive sleep schedules already. And this noise pollution just compounds the health impacts of that. And of course, the elderly and the ill who are more sensitive to stress.
[58:55] But as vulnerable as humans are and especially the minorities among us, maybe those most at risk are those who live entirely in the natural world: that is the animals that make up the biophony itself.
[59:07] That's right and it's important to point out here, David, that when we list these health consequences to individual species – that's just where are the academic literature is, right? But ever since Bernie Krause started his natural soundscape recordings, he has criticized the way we isolate species when we study them. As he likes to point out: you can't just isolate the sound of one bird and try to study that to understand it because that bird does not sing in isolation. The primates in the jungle, they don't beat their chests and they don't make the noises they make by themselves – all the animals in their habitats, they vocalize in response to one another and in response to their environment. We have to take the whole to truly understand. Now that doesn't mean we discount what we learn about individual species but as we go forward discussing these negative health impacts on the species we love, just keep in mind that what's missing is the health of entire habitats the biophony at large.
[1:00:11] That's right, and Daniel, we are changing the world so dramatically that other mammals are adapting their sleep patterns to avoid it. Remember a couple weeks ago, Daniel, when we discussed the assault a modern world commits against healthy sleep patterns in humans, how the patterns of industrialization have forced us to conform to a sleep pattern different than one actually may be natural? Well apparently, we are also having the same impact on animals. On average now, mammals are 1.4 times more nocturnal than they used to be which is altering their eating patterns and no doubt their stress levels as well.
[1:00:48] Speaking of stress, David. There was a 2002 study that examined the stress response of elk and wolves in Yellowstone National Park in response to the sounds of snowmobiles. Scientists measured the amount of glucocorticoids being secreted by each animal and found that the sounds of snowmobiles significantly increase the level of the stress hormone in this population. You just like humans, for animals like elk stress can be a normal and healthy response to something in the short-term but when stress becomes chronic, it leads to a ton of problems like immune suppression, reproductive suppression, breakdown of muscle, ulcers and much more.
[1:01:27] Daniel, and of course it isn't just elk but so many animals. Another one affected that we have a lot of literature on are tree swallows. Tree swallows when exposed to our loud and anthropogenic noises, they lay fewer eggs and the birds that do hatch are underweight and grow fewer feathers. At the same time traffic noise causes the bird’s stress hormones also to accumulate.
[1:01:49] Last week David in episode 43 “FUBAR” we discussed the way that our militaries around the world wreak havoc on the environment even when they're outside of war, never mind when they're actually dropping the bombs. [1:02:05] In part because they do drop bombs in peacetime, when they're blowing up islands to test the effectiveness of their mighty missiles and rockets. Well, another way that they're impacting our environment is the way they add sound to our marine environment. According to the US Navy, the amount of noise in the ocean doubles every 10 years thanks to our activity. And the US Navy itself is the biggest user of sonar technology in the ocean. In 2012 the Navy reported that marine animals were exposed to sonar 2.5 million times, and that in general marine animals are exposed to sound levels likely to cause injury at least 500 times each year. Whales that are caught in the crossfire of our solar technology can experience death. Whales have extremely impressive vocal skills and hearing abilities. They can speak to each other across an entire ocean basin, they can detect the sound of a storm from 1,000 miles away. But this sensitivity also makes him extremely vulnerable to things like sonar. The animals experience muscle and brain hemorrhaging, bleeding of the brain, an organ lesion. They become confused, get lost, cannot communicate with each other. Whales use their own forms of sonar to migrate, they use it to locate prey, a mating partner – all of which breaks down with the introduction of sonar technology.
[1:03:29] And speaking of whales and other marine animals, as we discussed in our very first episode, sea ice is melting at alarming rates and some industries see this not as a tragedy but as a business opportunity. The shipping industry as well as the oil industry is looking to the Arctic for new trade routes and new oil fields, and of course this will be traumatic and disastrous for the sensitive marine life in that area. A paper came out this year in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined 80 populations of seven different species in the Arctic and try to model how their lives would be impacted with the introduction of the ships and their sonar technology. More than half appear to be at great risk including narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales.
[1:04:16] And that 2018 lady beetle study that we referenced for Bernie Krause, it studied the relationships of those beetles to their target prey, the aphid, and the plant species they interact with. But what happened is that when rock music was introduced to their environment, lady beetles became less effective at locating their prey which caused aphid populations to increase, which then ate way more plant biomass than in controlled environments. This has resulted in the most amusing paragraph in an academic paper ever.
[1:04:51] When exposed to music by AC/DC, who articulated the null hypothesis that “rock and roll ain't noise pollution” in a song of the same name, lady beetles were less effective predators resulting in higher aphid density and reduced final plant biomass relative to control at which there is no music. Well it is unclear what characteristics of sound generate these effects, our results reject the AC/DC hypothesis and demonstrate that altered interspecific interactions can transmit the indirect effects of anthropogenic noise to a community.
[1:05:26] Or, to sum it up, David, rock and roll is noise pollution.
[1:05:31] There are many examples of the studies, of a negative effect that our increasingly loud world has on the natural environment all around us. But there is not nearly enough research being done into the interaction between sounds and the animals and insects that live among us.
[1:05:47] As Bernie Krause was quick to point out and criticize, it's something that desperately needs attention, that seems to be simply ignored in our major academic institutions, at least in the United States. But you know what, David? Maybe if our academic institutions won't pick up the slack, it doesn't mean that we as citizens and as people of the earth can't ourselves, just as you and me, we both went into our environment and we put on the headphones, we used the mic, we recorded the sounds around us, well, you, our listener can do the same thing even if you don't have a microphone even if you don't have headphones. When you go into the natural world try to use your ear and see what you find. Personally, I was walking through a nature trail just a couple of days ago and when I heard the crickets, when I heard the bird songs, when I heard the squirrels jumping from limb to limb, I suddenly felt like I could hear it in a new way. Once I knew that is possible to listen to the sound of crickets and detect the ambient air temperature, once I learned that it's possible to listen to the sound of insects and trail a prey because of the way that moving animals cause insect vocalizations to shift, once you learn that there's so much information to be gleaned from the natural world it takes on new significance. A profound significance. [1:07:11] We can listen to that, and we can appreciate that. And in appreciating it and telling our friends and family to appreciate it maybe we can work towards a world that appreciates it and actively preserve the quickly fading natural sounds. [1:07:26] We get a lot of Joy from listening to the sounds of birds: it calms us, it relaxes us, it connects us to the world that we belong to. But it goes so much beyond the aesthetics. This is how our animals survive, this is how a healthy natural world functions: not just through sight, but also through sound. It’s how species organize themselves, it's how they adapt their voices, that's how they mask themselves, that's how they find their prey, find their mates. And it's long past overdue that we recognize that our activity on this planet has consequences. And we must adjust ourselves accordingly before it is too late.
[1:08:09] I think it says a lot about all of us, Daniel, and about our civilization and society in general, that we quite literally learned to be deaf. That learned deafness idea we talked about the opening of this episode. The natural world around us is crying out. It's screaming and then it's going silent, but we can't hear it because we've learned to be deaf to everything that's going on immediately outside of our electromechanical civilized society. The world outside of our cities and towns and highways might as well not exist. We don't think about it, we don't interact with it. The closest we get is popping down, turning on Netflix and watching the latest Blue Planet documentary. But this is the world. This is the natural state, this is the land that has been here for millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of years, making sounds long before we were here and will continue to hopefully long after we're gone, these are the sounds that we grew up into as a species, as a culture. And we've left them behind, lost contact with them, separated ourselves from what is natural and beautiful. And then we wonder why we're all so sick, so depressed, so out of sync with the world. Because we build these walls, disconnected ourselves and then learned to be deaf to everything around us. When we cover up all that is natural and healthy with the sounds of industry and technology, the sounds that some might call growth, sounds of power. [1:09:37] Is it any wonder that we feel so alienated from our world and from each other? Last week we talked about military’s campaign to destroy the island of Pagan for training purposes. How disconnected do they have to be from the earth that bombing the island and the natural species that live there sounds like a healthy, good and productive idea? Of subjecting tens of thousands of citizens to the endless sounds of combat just a few miles away because they have bombs to drop and bullets to fire. [1:10:07] Everything we do, everything we talked about in this show is really about this learned deafness, about how we learned to ignore everything that isn't immediately shoved down our throats by the industries and consumerism that controls so much for modern society. But we can call that back! Just like we learn to be deaf, we can learn to hear again, to witness this, to believe in this world once more and be connected with what is natural, what has always been and what is healthy for all of us. And it does not mean just humans, it doesn't mean our society and culture, but also the entire natural world and everything that lives within it. Only by reconnecting to our world, by learning to hear again, by feeling one with that natural environment can we ever even hope to begin to move in the direction of saving it. Cause if we continue to consider ourselves living outside this natural world, in these walled cities we constructed: walls of sound, walls of distance, walls of technology, well, then the earth and all of us don't really have much of a hope.
[1:11:09] If any of you decide to go out to the natural world and make some recordings of natural soundscapes, send them to us and maybe we'll start an album on Soundcloud where we can compile recordings from all over the world.
[1:11:22] This has been a really therapeutic practice for both Daniel and me. There's a lot of relatively inexpensive tools you can use to go out and do this but even just your phone: walking outside, sitting somewhere silently, pressing record and then just taking a moment to think and experience the world around you is a really beautiful meditative thing and I highly recommend to each of our listeners to go out and try this at least once.
[1:11:43] So, David, what else can we do?
[1:11:45] Well, I mean, beyond our individual experience of the natural world, learning to hear again, there's a lot of things that Bernie alluded to that we can bring back. So, noise abatement programs in the government that work to make sure we live in a quieter and more sonorous world are absolutely something that we should be looking at, a lot of cities have built walls around highways for example, that do have a big impact on how loud the soundscapes around them are for residents, that's important.
[1:12:12] The state of Texas has experimented with new ways of laying concrete highways that reduces the sound of traffic by 6 decibels which is equivalent to a 70% reduction in traffic on the old concrete methods.
[1:12:26] There are lots of earthworks being built around airports to try and help with those low frequency rumbles, that's an area of research. But making sure that we are paying attention to sounds in the first place: both in the academic community, like Bernie mentioned, there's a huge lack of research in this topic, especially in the United States – almost all the studies we pulled for this episode were European studies, because this idea of sound is something that could be making us sick just really doesn't seem to exist in the United States. Which is a shame, because this is one of the louder places on Earth, even places like India, Egypt – they’ve woken up to just how debilitating sound can be for people there. And sounds are very loud in those cities in particular, and they’ve realized this and they're working to try and understand this problem better and then also do practical things. One of these cities, there's a several-year jail time for exceeding sound levels at certain hours in certain areas. So, taking this as a serious problem and making sure that we have the money to look into it and the interests of people – is a huge important step in fighting this and returning back to these more natural soundscapes.
[1:13:32] So there's definitely things, projects and ways of going about our society, but it has to begin with awareness of this problem in the first place, like you’ve mentioned, David. As we both said it's been therapeutic for us to go out and listen to nature. We encourage everyone to do this any chance you get, try to listen to the natural world and recognize that your brain may have learned be deaf to the natural world, but you can get it back. See what you can hear, try to point out the different species you hear, see if you can notice: are they changed as you go about the environment. And of course, listen for what has been lost: it'll teach us to preserve what remains.
[1:14:12] As always, that's a lot to think about. If you want to read about any of these topics, listen to sound samples or check out Bernie’s TED talk, you can do all of that on our website as well as read a full transcript of this episode at ashesashes.org.
[1:14:26] A lot of time and research goes into making these episodes possible and we will never use ads to support the show, so if you like it and would like us to keep going, you, our listener, can support us by giving us a review and recommending us to a friend. Also, we have an email address, it's [email protected], and we encourage you to send us your thoughts, we’ll read them and we appreciate them.
[1:14:50] You can also find it on your favorite social media network app @ashesashescast. Next week we're beginning a three-part series on the world of healthcare and you’ll definitely want to tune in for that. Until then, this is Ashes Ashes.
[1:15:06] Bye bye
[1:15:08] Or, to sum it up, David, rock and roll is noise pollution.
[1:15:13] Burnout, burnout. I'll rub letter. I don't know the words…
[1:15:38] Da da, chica chica.
[1:15:40] You don’t know that song, do you?
[1:15:42] What song? we're doing a real song?
[1:15:44] That was a real song.