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Letter From the Chair 12/97
by Jason Reinier

Listening to nature sounds is a compelling activity, especially within natural environments. It not only rekindles our relationship with the natural world, but it tunes our ears and minds to voices other than our own. As a musician, I am often overwhelmed by the grandeur of the melodies, harmonies and obvious musical structures that I hear in the dawn chorus or evening interplay of species around a riparian environment. For me, it is enough to just sit and listen, to smell the fragrances of the environment, and feel the elements around me. I am especially engaged by the textures, mellifluous tunes, and often highly contrasting voices of the natural world. But then, as I am listening, I get this urge. I must record this sound so I can share it with my friends. I must capture this absolute beauty so that I can remember the interrelationship and develop it in a piece of music. I must go get my tape recorder, plug in my microphone, make sure the batteries are charged, make sure that I am at the right place in my tape. I must find a quiet, dry, comfortable ledge on which to perch, without moving for as long as I can possibly stand it, without breathing, if necessary, so that I can record this awesome symphony of sounds.

Once we respond to this urge, interesting things happen. In many ways, we break the natural relationship we have with our environment. We shift out of being mere observers of our fellow creatures, and become docu-mentarians, "hunters" of sounds, anxious to capture living, breathing creatures into our tape recorders. Within the context of the natural soundscape, the sounds we hear have meaning: they are a means of communication between species, an alarm call, a joyous song to begin the day or a mating ritual. When we record these sounds, we must do so with deep respect. We can explore this relationship as recordists, not as "capturers" of sounds, but instead as "hunters" and "gatherers." Although we never actually have to go in for the kill, but finding a rare species certainly involves hunting skills. Gathering is done by means of highly technical gear which must be in prime condition to achieve the best representation of the sounds we hear through our ears. This is truly an art and by treating recording as an art, we develop the kind of sensitivity to our fellow creatures that inspires awe.

We actually don't know much about what creatures are saying to each other in their natural habitats. We share a fascination with their motivations and the resulting sounds that they produce. This fascination inspires us to make sound recordings and compose music and soundscapes that include the sounds of nature. There are some very wonderful examples of natural soundscapes that provide an aural window into places that many people might never visit. The documentation of these places through recorded sound can also provide profound educational opportunities that help humans grasp the beauty and sophistication of the voices in our natural world. There are great pieces of music that have been inspired by and include nature sounds. This has resulted in a huge body of work which is increasingly complex and diverse and which is often a challenge to navigate.

As chairman of the Nature Sounds Society, I feel it is my duty to encourage the respectful collection and documentation of natural sounds, as well as the creative uses of nature sound recordings. It is our intention at the NSS to help anyone interested in this art of recording find the resources and opportunities to do so. It is also our intention to stay very open to different ways of approaching this vast arena of nature sound recording.

The job of staying open to a variety of different viewpoints (or "earpoints" if you will) and to provide access to recordings through libraries and commercially produced recordings, is a difficult challenge. Many questions arise when we start looking for nature sound recordings: Where can we find the best nature sound recordings? How much should we pay? What can we use, what can't we use for creative projects? How can nature sound recordists provide their recordings to the people that want to use them for listening, teaching, and creative projects? Who has biologically correct scientific information about the behavior and circumstances of the sounds?

The answers to these questions are what we hope to provide at the NSS through our diverse network of contacts and especially through resources like the California Library of Natural at the Oakland Museum of California and at our website at www.naturesounds.com. We are also currently exploring collaboration with our members and with member Jim Cummings to produce a publication called the Voice of the Planet. The Voice of the Planet will provide not only written information about nature sound recording from leading figures in the field but also recordings curated especially by Jim Cummings and produced on compact disks. Another way of sharing nature sounds is through Earprints on the Air, a weekly radio show produced for Pacifica Radio (KPFA Berkeley 94.1 fm). Please read the announcement in this newsletter to learn more about how you can contribute sounds to be aired on this program. We hope that by collaborating with our membership we will be able to create a resource that will help to define respectful uses of nature sounds recordings in a multifaceted format.

We welcome two new members to our Board of Directors: Don Benson, who will be taking on the responsibilities as treasurer and Guillermo Galindo, who has been working closely with Paul Matzner at the California Library of Natural Sounds. Don Benson brings his expertise as a consultant to consumer product companies, helping them focus their customer service organizations. and refine distribution operations, He has a desire to explore and understand why nature sounds are both so interesting to some and outside the awareness of so many. Guillermo Galindo is a composer and has participated in several concerts organized by the NSS. He also acted as vice president of the board of directors of the Asian American Dance Performances for two years. He was chosen to be part of the Arts Leadership Initiative, a 14 week program designed by the San Francisco Arts Commission for persons in leadership positions on the board of directors of non-profit organizations. We are happy to have Don and Guillermo on board with the NSS. These two new forces will help us in our mission to provide a resource for nature sound enthusiasts. We are looking forward to a productive year.

Board meetings are open to anyone interested in observing and we welcome you to visit. Please contact us at (510) 238-7482 if you are interested. We value the input of the membership, and encourage your input to the newsletter as well. Please see our interactive forms in this newsletter to see how you can participate. We hope to provide as much information and resources as possible about the world of nature sound recording and the diversity of ways of appreciating, preserving and exploring creative uses of nature sounds.

Articles from Winter 1997

  Letter From The Chair

Editor's Note: The NSS Website

Sound Recording Adventures in Antarctica (2): Sounds of Antarctic Glaciers & Rock

Earprints on the Air: New Radio Show Gives Air Time to Nature Sounds

Spring Tech Talk & the Sounds Of Antarctica

Lucky 13! - 13th Annual Field Recording Workshop Review

The Niche Hypothesis: Creature Vocalizations and the Relationship Between Natural Sound and Music

Long Live Analog! Great Deals in Used Nagras

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