One of the world’s leading natural sound recording authorities, Dr. Bernie Krause began capturing the sounds of entire habitats nearly five decades ago. Rather than the older single-species fragmented models, he suspected that there was a more compelling narrative to be found in the more holistic recording model. ‘To do otherwise,’ he suggests, ‘is a bit like trying to understand Beethoven’s 5th Symphony by taking a single violin player out of the context of the orchestra and hearing just that one part.’ Krause wanted to hear the whole ‘orchestra’.
It was through this process that he discovered that each vocal species establishes its own frequency and/or temporal bandwidth – the instantaneous and organised expression of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals he refers to as the biophony. This, in turn, led to the connection between natural soundscapes and human music; the thesis that the animals taught us to dance and sing.
As mimics, we learned to adapt sound and arrange human and instrumental voices into finely structured acoustic expressions in much the same ways that events unfold in the natural sonic world. This link is illustrated by comparing biophonic organisation in the wild with that of a typical orchestral arrangement through the lens of spectrograms, graphic illustrations of sound, and then contrasting those with the features of an orchestral score.
In less than half a century, more than 50 per cent of Dr. Krause’s collection of nearly 5,000 hours consists of entire habitats that are now completely silent or can no longer be heard in any of their original form largely because of human endeavour. The collection has sometimes been referred to as having attained the status of a World Heritage attribution.
The Great Animal Orchestra: Symphony for Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes, is the first symphonic piece to address those ideas. Based on Krause’s book of the same title, it is a collaboration between composer, Richard Blackford, and soundscape ecologist, Bernie Krause.