Mapping the world – one sound at a time
By Patricia Hului
“One day, I want to grow up to be a nature recordist,” said almost no one ever here in Malaysia.
‘Nature recordist’ may not be one of the better known professions out there but the job has its own satisfactions and benefits to society.
One nature recordist in particular stood out a couple years back when he recorded a sound named the ‘Most Beautiful Sound in the World’ in a competition sponsored by The Sound Agency and BeautifulNow.
Marc Anderson’s ‘Dusk by the Frog Pond’ recorded at Kubah National Park is a 2m16s recording that has been played at least 14,000 times since he first posted it on June 12, 2013.
Hailing from Sydney, Anderson shared his work as a nature recordist at Pustaka Negeri Sarawak in a talk organised by the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre.
“I started taking photographs of nature since I was a teenager. I used to love exploring places where you could not see or hear people,” he told the audience on how he first started out as a photographer.
His career took a slight turn about five years ago when he listened to a sound recording of a rainforest in Borneo from Sydney online.
Anderson shared that it felt like the sound took him back to Borneo and even more so by looking at a picture of it.
That being said, for Anderson, a photo didn’t capture the whole ambience of the place as it only captures one dimension.
“You can’t smell a photo. You can’t listen to a sound of the photo,” he said.
Hence, Anderson started to add on the task of recording the sounds of nature besides his photography pursuits.
“I try to record in a way that would be the same as you would hear it if you were on location,” Anderson said, explaining that his recordings were collected in ‘binaural’ soundscapes; recordings made with two microphones thus capturing 360 degrees of sound.
Despite his careful planning out in the field, he won’t know the totality of what he’s recorded until he gets back and analyses the sounds on his laptop.
In choosing the site where he would record, Anderson said “Sometimes you target certain species, other times you take a bit of a gamble.”
The sound of nature is determined by various factors such as weather, time of the year and time of the day.
“I think soundscape is a little bit like a sunset; you don’t get the same one twice,” he shared.
Another factor that may affect recording is that his sound equipment out in the wild can be vulnerable to any external factors such as weather and wild animals.
One time, insects took a liking to the microphones, resulting in an hours’ worth of crackling sounds while another time in Thailand, an elephant ripped out his equipment which he thought was well-hidden.
All of these setbacks, however, are nothing compared to when he catches rare and special instances, like the sound of tiger’s roar in Thailand.
Anderson shares his love and appreciation for nature through a project he founded called Nature Soundmap.
An interactive way to explore sounds of nature, currently there are about 400 recordings from 81 countries with 93 sound enthusiasts contributing to the website.
The soundmap is based on Google Map system and each mark represents a sound.
Users can click on any mark and listen to the sounds of nature from that geographic region; be it the sound of icebergs as the creak and grind against one another from Antarctica or the sound of whooshing wings and trumpeting calls of Yellow-casqued Hornbills in Tiwai Island.
According to Anderson, the website is a showcase of sounds around the world and only the most interesting sounds are featured.
“I think with today’s technology and software, and combination of technology that are available, sounds can be used in informative and educational way. And it is great way to get kids involved,” he said.
Benefits of Nature Sounds
Anderson emphasised on the benefits of nature sounds on the study of biodiversity and human health.
“It is our responsibility to learn how to live with other species.”
He explained when he went out to make his recordings, he needed to be at least six kilometres away from the road to avoid capturing the sound of traffic.
After listening to one of his recordings, Anderson noticed that some insects like the cicada stopped making their calls if there was any other noise such as the sound of a car passing.
“Analysing sounds in this way can help us to see how human interference affects wildlife,” he said.
Anderson also mentioned that sound recordings complemented complimented the use of camera traps in wildlife study.
“We can use camera traps but some species do not leave any footprints; hard to see but they make a lot of noise.”
Besides being of benefit to wildlife study, nature sounds can also positively impact human health.
Anderson cited a World Health Organization report stating that traffic noise was the second biggest environmental problem affecting health after air pollution.
“Noise of a certain level that continues over a certain period of time, causes a stress response in our bodies,” he said. “By playing nature sounds – I even do it myself at home – masks the sounds coming in from outside.”
Although noise may still come in from outside, he said that our bodies would benefit more from the nature sounds over the negative impacts of noise pollution.
“It is amazing what a wonderful tool nature sound can be for our health.”
Anderson’s take-away message for his talk was “Take time to listen to nature’s voice.”
Check out Anderson’s nature sound website at http://wildambience.com/ and his Nature SoundMap Project at http://www.naturesoundmap.com/