The recordings of Beatrice Harrison and nightingales in the 1920's demonstrate a shift from a limited form of interspecies communication ("If you play it they will come.") toward an appreciation of nature and ambient sounds as sufficient and meaningful in their own right (the poetics of gardens and wars). (Go to feature)
Interviews with artists, composers, researchers and scientists
Ethnomusicologist from Goldsmith's College, London, Dr. Baily discusses the role of birdsong in traditional Afghan music where 'bulbul' or nightingales are included in musical performances. He describes reactions of Afghan musicians when played recordings of birdsong and bird-inspired music by Olivier Messiaen. He also tells the story of Beatrice Harrison, the English cellist who performed on the BBC with live nightingales in the 1920s.
Wisconsin inventor and agro-sonic researcher Dan Carlson, is the proprietor of Sonic Bloom. This is a technology that combines the use of sound (in the range of birdsong frequencies) to open the stomata of plants with the application of an organic foliar nutrient to realize the plants' genetic potential. Crops typically increase by 700%. The technique is the number one project for the government of Indonesia and Carlson expects Sonic Bloom to solve the problems of world hunger. In this interview he talks about the resistance he has met with when trying to convince the industry and government that sound might have a role to play in improving our lives.
Composer and bioacoustic researcher David Dunn of Santa Fe, New Mexico, talks about the connections between listening, language, the environment, and art-making. He describes his wilderness performance events (from the Grand Canyon to freshwater ponds) and how they relate to interspecies communication and a heightened sense of place and memory. He summarizes the history of listening as a human activity and the roles of art and science in bringing us a greater awareness of our ecosystem. He also talks about his Arts-Science Laboratory and the work he is doing with understanding the wood bark beetle infestation of the piñon forests through the medium of sound.
Minnesota classical composer Steve Heitzeg promotes environmental peace and justice through his music. He writes large scale orchestra music, often combining nature recordings (such as manatees or crop circle sounds) or using instruments made from natural materials (such as cornhusks or seed pods). He also creates eco-scores, conceptual musical scores that use creative notation to advocate for a greater appreciation of nature; sometimes performed in natural settings, sometimes in your head.
English superstar of the early music world Emma Kirkby gives her perspective on attitudes towards music and nature during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Having sung a vast majority of the repertoire she is especially aware of the connection between poetic imagery and the conventions of how they were represented in musical terms. She outlines the shift from mediaeval notions of the music of the spheres towards art as a humanistic force for moral improvement.
New Zealand-born composer Annea Lockwood talks to Warren Burt about her experiences growing up with natural phenomena such as mountains and rivers, and recreating those states of listening in her performances.
New York composer performer and proponent of Deep Listening Pauline Oliveros talks to Alan Baker about kinds of listening: focused and global. She details the differences between hearing and listening and states that how a community of people listens is what creates their culture.
Dutch composer Paul Panhuysen talks about connections between science, nature and art: art as expression and art as a method of learning. He describes the world of animals and birdsong and his own work with involving birds, jumping beans, and other non-human collaborators. He discusses the essential role of listening in human survival and different kinds of intelligence: individual (e.g., for sophisticated mammals) and communal (for simpler organisms).
Dutch music writer Rene Van Peer talks about the necessity of listening inclusively in primitive times, as a matter of survival, and how that kind of global attention is returning in modern times through the medium of technology and nature sound recordings. He gives examples of the use of nature recordings in concert music and asks what such exploitation of nature means in this context. He outlines the new aesthetics of nature sound recordists coming out of a sensitivity to acoustic ecology.
New York composer David Soldier cofounded, with Richard Lair, the Thai Elephant Orchestra. He describes building the instruments suitable for elephant performers, and the musical results obtained. He muses on the innate musical intelligence of animals (he also works with canaries and kids) and talks about his interest in providing appropriate technology for people to express their musical worlds.
California composer, performer, teacher and theorist James Tenney talks about John Cage's understanding of 'nature in her manner of operation' and how that evolved from ancient Platonic ideas of number and proportion as found in the science of harmonics. He also talks about Charles Ives and the compositional processes he used as metaphors of natural ones.
Comparative Psychologist from Bloomington, Indiana, Dr. Meredith West goes into the role of mimicry in language development, the particular skills of the European Starling in this regard, and the remarkable similarities between those and the compositional techniques employed by Mozart in his "Musical Joke". She elaborates on how this represents a fundamentally different view of nature than the mere surface imitation that had been practiced in music up until that point.