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‘Sounding Nature’ is the world's largest collection of nature sounds
"Human beings are a very, very noisy bunch and we're getting louder all the time," says composer Stuart Fowkes, creator of the "global collaborative sound project" Cities and Memory.
Since its inception in 2014, Cities and Memory has created sound maps focused on protests, holy sites and photographs. His newest project, however, moves away from humans and instead focuses on areas where the natural world is undisturbed. Sounding Nature is the world's largest collection of nature sounds, with nearly 500 sounds from 55 countries, from jungles to glaciers to underwater shrimp recordings.
The map has two parts: the field recording of the sound itself, and then the musical remix that it inspired.
The Verge spoke with Fowkes about the new project and how noise pollution is disrupting the natural world. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Can you tell me about the origins of this project?
First, we wanted to try to show what a map of the world would look like if you couldn't hear humans. That's very difficult to do because humans are a very, very loud bunch and we get louder all the time. Noise in the ocean has doubled every 10 years for the past 50 years, and the trend continues even in remote areas.
The flip side is that we wanted to illuminate how the noise we make as human beings can have a serious and dramatic impact on the natural world. We are not only talking about the animals being irritated, but we are talking about changes in habitat and physiological changes.
What kinds of physiological changes are we talking about?
The first and most obvious is hearing loss, which we don't think about often with animals, but animals must also be able to hear to avoid predators.
There are changes such as increased stress in animals. There are behavioral changes that can vary depending on the species.
An example was made in tree frogs exposed to traffic noise over a period of days. In the end, they experienced a 19 percent drop in the efficiency of immune responses, which is a big deal.
Where is noise pollution the biggest problem?
I imagine it is linked to urban development. That would be the right thing to do. I don't think it's a huge problem in Antarctica. And if you go to New York City, you will find that noise pollution levels are so high that the animals have adapted.
I think the danger is when the sound increases suddenly, like fast-growing areas. Surrounding the non-urbanization issues are drilling sites and the oil rig in remote rural areas.
It's impossible to completely overstate how novel it is in a marine environment to have this sudden surge in intrusive noise. There is strong evidence that the window of time without noise pollution is closing.
A friend of mine recorded the sound in Hamburg, and one of his favorite things is to record the early morning chorus, when you wake up at dawn and all the birds wake up and start singing at the same time. It is a magical sound and he found that there is a window of only about 25 minutes, after which the first flight from Hamburg approaches and ruins everything. This window is getting smaller and smaller.
What are some of the sounds included in the map?
The project as a whole covers 55 countries and almost 500 sounds. There are exotic sounds like hippos and hyenas, things like nightingales and robins, and the sound of the geyser in Iceland and Hurricane Harvey as it passed over Texas.
It has been a privilege to be able to share the world of some field recorders who dedicate their lives to recording the sounds of nature and camping to try to capture things like baboons that freak out.
Some of the more specialized recordings are, say, shrines in Senegal, but there are also sounds from urban areas that people have captured on their iPhones.
The second part of the project is a remix inspired by the sound of nature, right?
Yes. You hear the original recording and the recomposed version in which someone has taken the original and created some kind of artistic response.
You'll find everything from full house and techno tracks to human compositions that base tracks on Shakespeare's plays. It's amazing. I can give the same sound to 10 different people and they will come back with 10 completely different artistic inspirations. It is a delight to send all these things.
What's next for cities and memory?
A lot of the things I've done with Cities and Memory have been around the idea of what is unique, what is out there that is not like everything else. I feel like something we're interested in right now is the sounds that define a particular city. When you think of your city, what do you think? Will those sounds be heard forever, and if not, why?
Original article (in English)
By angela chen