English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2013

Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

Filmed
Views 1,031,037

Bernie Krause has been recording wild soundscapes -- the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the subtle sounds of insect larvae -- for 45 years. In that time, he has seen many environments radically altered by humans, sometimes even by practices thought to be environmentally safe. A surprising look at what we can learn through nature's symphonies, from the grunting of a sea anemone to the sad calls of a beaver in mourning.

- Natural sounds expert
Bernie Krause's legendary soundscapes uncover nature’s rich sonic tapestry -- along with some unexpected results. Full bio

(Nature sounds)
00:14
When I first began recording wild soundscapes
00:19
45 years ago,
00:22
I had no idea that ants,
00:24
insect larvae, sea anemones and viruses
00:26
created a sound signature.
00:30
But they do.
00:32
And so does every wild habitat on the planet,
00:33
like the Amazon rainforest you're hearing behind me.
00:37
In fact, temperate and tropical rainforests
00:40
each produce a vibrant animal orchestra,
00:44
that instantaneous and organized expression
00:47
of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.
00:50
And every soundscape that springs from a wild habitat
00:55
generates its own unique signature,
00:58
one that contains incredible amounts of information,
01:01
and it's some of that information I want to share with you today.
01:04
The soundscape is made up of three basic sources.
01:09
The first is the geophony,
01:12
or the nonbiological sounds that occur
01:14
in any given habitat,
01:17
like wind in the trees, water in a stream,
01:19
waves at the ocean shore, movement of the Earth.
01:21
The second of these is the biophony.
01:25
The biophony is all of the sound
01:28
that's generated by organisms in a given habitat
01:31
at one time and in one place.
01:34
And the third is all of the sound that we humans generate
01:38
that's called anthrophony.
01:43
Some of it is controlled, like music or theater,
01:44
but most of it is chaotic and incoherent,
01:48
which some of us refer to as noise.
01:52
There was a time when I considered wild soundscapes
01:55
to be a worthless artifact.
01:58
They were just there, but they had no significance.
02:00
Well, I was wrong. What I learned from these encounters
02:04
was that careful listening gives us incredibly valuable tools
02:07
by which to evaluate the health of a habitat
02:12
across the entire spectrum of life.
02:15
When I began recording in the late '60s,
02:18
the typical methods of recording were limited
02:22
to the fragmented capture of individual species
02:25
like birds mostly, in the beginning,
02:29
but later animals like mammals and amphibians.
02:33
To me, this was a little like trying to understand
02:38
the magnificence of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
02:42
by abstracting the sound of a single violin player
02:45
out of the context of the orchestra
02:48
and hearing just that one part.
02:50
Fortunately, more and more institutions
02:53
are implementing the more holistic models
02:56
that I and a few of my colleagues have introduced
02:58
to the field of soundscape ecology.
03:01
When I began recording over four decades ago,
03:05
I could record for 10 hours
03:10
and capture one hour of usable material,
03:12
good enough for an album or a film soundtrack
03:14
or a museum installation.
03:17
Now, because of global warming,
03:20
resource extraction,
03:23
and human noise, among many other factors,
03:25
it can take up to 1,000 hours or more
03:28
to capture the same thing.
03:30
Fully 50 percent of my archive
03:33
comes from habitats so radically altered
03:36
that they're either altogether silent
03:39
or can no longer be heard in any of their original form.
03:42
The usual methods of evaluating a habitat
03:47
have been done by visually counting the numbers of species
03:49
and the numbers of individuals within each species in a given area.
03:53
However, by comparing data that ties together
03:57
both density and diversity from what we hear,
04:00
I'm able to arrive at much more precise fitness outcomes.
04:03
And I want to show you some examples
04:09
that typify the possibilities unlocked
04:11
by diving into this universe.
04:13
This is Lincoln Meadow.
04:16
Lincoln Meadow's a three-and-a-half-hour drive
04:18
east of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,
04:20
at about 2,000 meters altitude,
04:23
and I've been recording there for many years.
04:25
In 1988, a logging company convinced local residents
04:28
that there would be absolutely no environmental impact
04:32
from a new method they were trying
04:35
called "selective logging,"
04:36
taking out a tree here and there
04:38
rather than clear-cutting a whole area.
04:40
With permission granted to record
04:43
both before and after the operation,
04:45
I set up my gear and captured a large number of dawn choruses
04:47
to very strict protocol and calibrated recordings,
04:51
because I wanted a really good baseline.
04:55
This is an example of a spectrogram.
04:57
A spectrogram is a graphic illustration of sound
04:59
with time from left to right across the page --
05:02
15 seconds in this case is represented —
05:05
and frequency from the bottom of the page to the top,
05:07
lowest to highest.
05:10
And you can see that the signature of a stream
05:12
is represented here in the bottom third or half of the page,
05:15
while birds that were once in that meadow
05:19
are represented in the signature across the top.
05:23
There were a lot of them.
05:26
And here's Lincoln Meadow before selective logging.
05:27
(Nature sounds)
05:30
Well, a year later I returned,
05:45
and using the same protocols
05:47
and recording under the same conditions,
05:49
I recorded a number of examples
05:51
of the same dawn choruses,
05:54
and now this is what we've got.
05:56
This is after selective logging.
05:58
You can see that the stream is still represented
05:59
in the bottom third of the page,
06:01
but notice what's missing in the top two thirds.
06:03
(Nature sounds)
06:08
Coming up is the sound of a woodpecker.
06:13
Well, I've returned to Lincoln Meadow 15 times
06:23
in the last 25 years,
06:25
and I can tell you that the biophony,
06:27
the density and diversity of that biophony,
06:30
has not yet returned to anything like it was
06:33
before the operation.
06:36
But here's a picture of Lincoln Meadow taken after,
06:38
and you can see that from the perspective of the camera
06:41
or the human eye,
06:44
hardly a stick or a tree appears to be out of place,
06:46
which would confirm the logging company's contention
06:48
that there's nothing of environmental impact.
06:51
However, our ears tell us a very different story.
06:54
Young students are always asking me
07:00
what these animals are saying,
07:02
and really I've got no idea.
07:04
But I can tell you that they do express themselves.
07:08
Whether or not we understand it is a different story.
07:14
I was walking along the shore in Alaska,
07:17
and I came across this tide pool
07:19
filled with a colony of sea anemones,
07:21
these wonderful eating machines,
07:24
relatives of coral and jellyfish.
07:27
And curious to see if any of them made any noise,
07:29
I dropped a hydrophone,
07:32
an underwater microphone covered in rubber,
07:33
down the mouth part,
07:36
and immediately the critter began
07:37
to absorb the microphone into its belly,
07:39
and the tentacles were searching out of the surface
07:41
for something of nutritional value.
07:44
The static-like sounds that are very low,
07:46
that you're going to hear right now.
07:49
(Static sounds)
07:51
Yeah, but watch. When it didn't find anything to eat --
07:55
(Honking sound)
07:58
(Laughter)
07:59
I think that's an expression that can be understood
08:02
in any language.
08:04
(Laughter)
08:06
At the end of its breeding cycle,
08:11
the Great Basin Spadefoot toad
08:12
digs itself down about a meter under
08:15
the hard-panned desert soil of the American West,
08:17
where it can stay for many seasons
08:20
until conditions are just right for it to emerge again.
08:22
And when there's enough moisture in the soil
08:25
in the spring, frogs will dig themselves to the surface
08:27
and gather around these large, vernal pools
08:30
in great numbers.
08:34
And they vocalize in a chorus
08:36
that's absolutely in sync with one another.
08:40
And they do that for two reasons.
08:43
The first is competitive, because they're looking for mates,
08:44
and the second is cooperative,
08:48
because if they're all vocalizing in sync together,
08:49
it makes it really difficult for predators like coyotes,
08:52
foxes and owls to single out any individual for a meal.
08:56
This is a spectrogram of what the frog chorusing looks like
09:00
when it's in a very healthy pattern.
09:03
(Frogs croaking)
09:06
Mono Lake is just to the east of Yosemite National Park
09:16
in California,
09:20
and it's a favorite habitat of these toads,
09:21
and it's also favored by U.S. Navy jet pilots,
09:24
who train in their fighters flying them at speeds
09:27
exceeding 1,100 kilometers an hour
09:30
and altitudes only a couple hundred meters
09:33
above ground level of the Mono Basin,
09:35
very fast, very low, and so loud
09:38
that the anthrophony, the human noise,
09:42
even though it's six and a half kilometers
09:45
from the frog pond you just heard a second ago,
09:46
it masked the sound of the chorusing toads.
09:49
You can see in this spectrogram that all of the energy
09:53
that was once in the first spectrogram is gone
09:56
from the top end of the spectrogram,
09:59
and that there's breaks in the chorusing at two and a half,
10:01
four and a half, and six and a half seconds,
10:03
and then the sound of the jet, the signature,
10:06
is in yellow at the very bottom of the page.
10:09
(Frogs croaking)
10:11
Now at the end of that flyby,
10:21
it took the frogs fully 45 minutes
10:23
to regain their chorusing synchronicity,
10:27
during which time, and under a full moon,
10:29
we watched as two coyotes and a great horned owl
10:32
came in to pick off a few of their numbers.
10:35
The good news is that, with a little bit of habitat restoration
10:38
and fewer flights, the frog populations,
10:42
once diminishing during the 1980s and early '90s,
10:44
have pretty much returned to normal.
10:48
I want to end with a story told by a beaver.
10:52
It's a very sad story,
10:55
but it really illustrates how animals
10:56
can sometimes show emotion,
11:00
a very controversial subject among some older biologists.
11:02
A colleague of mine was recording in the American Midwest
11:07
around this pond that had been formed
11:10
maybe 16,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
11:12
It was also formed in part by a beaver dam
11:16
at one end that held that whole ecosystem together
11:18
in a very delicate balance.
11:21
And one afternoon, while he was recording,
11:24
there suddenly appeared from out of nowhere
11:28
a couple of game wardens,
11:32
who for no apparent reason,
11:34
walked over to the beaver dam,
11:36
dropped a stick of dynamite down it, blowing it up,
11:37
killing the female and her young babies.
11:41
Horrified, my colleagues remained behind
11:45
to gather his thoughts
11:47
and to record whatever he could the rest of the afternoon,
11:50
and that evening, he captured a remarkable event:
11:53
the lone surviving male beaver swimming in slow circles
11:58
crying out inconsolably for its lost mate and offspring.
12:02
This is probably the saddest sound
12:08
I've ever heard coming from any organism,
12:11
human or other.
12:14
(Beaver crying)
12:18
Yeah. Well.
12:34
There are many facets to soundscapes,
12:35
among them the ways in which animals taught us to dance and sing,
12:38
which I'll save for another time.
12:41
But you have heard how biophonies
12:44
help clarify our understanding of the natural world.
12:47
You've heard the impact of resource extraction,
12:51
human noise and habitat destruction.
12:53
And where environmental sciences have typically
12:56
tried to understand the world from what we see,
12:58
a much fuller understanding can be got from what we hear.
13:02
Biophonies and geophonies are the signature voices
13:06
of the natural world,
13:10
and as we hear them,
13:12
we're endowed with a sense of place,
13:13
the true story of the world we live in.
13:16
In a matter of seconds,
13:19
a soundscape reveals much more information
13:21
from many perspectives,
13:24
from quantifiable data to cultural inspiration.
13:26
Visual capture implicitly frames
13:30
a limited frontal perspective of a given spatial context,
13:33
while soundscapes widen that scope
13:37
to a full 360 degrees, completely enveloping us.
13:39
And while a picture may be worth 1,000 words,
13:45
a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures.
13:48
And our ears tell us
13:53
that the whisper of every leaf and creature
13:55
speaks to the natural sources of our lives,
13:59
which indeed may hold the secrets of love for all things,
14:02
especially our own humanity,
14:07
and the last word goes to a jaguar from the Amazon.
14:09
(Growling)
14:15
Thank you for listening.
14:29
(Applause)
14:31

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Bernie Krause - Natural sounds expert
Bernie Krause's legendary soundscapes uncover nature’s rich sonic tapestry -- along with some unexpected results.

Why you should listen

With a stellar electronic music resumé including work with The Byrds, Stevie Wonder and many others, Bernie Krause is assured a place in the pop culture canon. But Krause continues to make history by capturing the fading voices of nature: studying sonic interplay between species as they attract mates, hunt prey, and sound out their roles in the ecosystem.

Krause’s recordings are not merely travelogues or relaxation tools -- they are critical barometers of global environmental health. His documents of vanishing aural habitats are a chilling reminder of shrinking biodiversity. As he tells the Guardian: "The fragile weave of natural sound is being torn apart by our seemingly boundless need to conquer the environment rather than to find a way to abide in consonance with it."

More profile about the speaker
Bernie Krause | Speaker | TED.com