The New Silence
Have you heard? Or more accurately, not heard? Vicious fires and vanishing ice floes aside, there's yet another ominous sign that all is not well with the natural world: it's getting quiet out there. Too quiet.

Behold, this bit over in Outside magazine, profiling the sweet, touching life and times of 77-year-old bioacoustician and soundscape artist Bernie Kraus, author of "The Great Animal Orchestra" (2012), TED talker, ballet scorer, and a "pioneer in the field of soundscape ecology."

Krause . . . is a man whose passion and profession has been making field recordings of the world's "biophony" for going on 45 years, setting up his sensitive equipment in roughly the same places around the world to record nature's (normally) stunningly diverse aural symphony --- all the birds, bees, beavers, wolves, babbling streams, fluttering wings, the brush of trees and the rush of rivers --- truly, the very pulse and thrum of life itself.

One of his most favorite spots to record? Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, in the Mayacamas Mountains, in Sonoma. It's here he discovered something very disquieting indeed: The wonderfully diverse sounds of nature are no longer changing and evolving as usual. They are actually diminishing. Thinning out. And in many cases, vanishing completely.

This is the chilling news: Bit by bit, bird by bird, species by species, gurgling brook by gushing river, the song of wild nature is, in many places, falling deathly silent. The reasons? You already know: Real estate development, mining, logging, habitat destruction, climate change, drought.

Between 2004 and 2015, the [Mayacamas] site's biophony (totality of sounds produced by living organisms) dropped in level by a factor of five. "It's a true narrative, a story telling us that something is desperately wrong," Krause says.

In short: What once was a rich, varied symphony of sound has become a far more subdued chamber orchestra, with large spaces of eerie silence where there was once a vast natural racket, signifying everything.

--- Mark Morford
The San Francisco Chronicle
September 15, 2015
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