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31 / 07 / 2020

Bernie Krause & The great animal orchestra

This is a book that, combined with music and cultural history, documents the desire of one man to find the essence of natural music. This man is Bernie Krause and his approach is unique, since it contemplates the natural world with a poetic style and, at the same time, pays attention to animal sounds with the ear of a musician. Over forty-five years, this American naturalist (Detroit, 1938) has recorded more than 5.000 hours of sounds belonging to more than 15.000 species in their natural habitat. Krause has recorded the sounds of all sorts of creatures and environments, allowing people to enjoy the sounds of some of the world’s most enigmatic places. Because of human action, roughly half of his recorded soundscapes no longer exist.

With The Great Animal Orchestra, one of the ideas Krause exposes is how much animals depend on their auditory habitat to survive and, at the same time, how much foreign sounds can affect the delicate balance between predator and prey. Another of the conclusions Krause reaches by analysing the spectrograms of the recorded soundscapes is that sounds in the animal world can be as carefully orchestrated as the most complex musical scores.

Dian Fossey’s Rwandan research camp (1967), Karisoke. Photo By Nick Nichols, National Geographic.

Krause classifies natural sounds into three distinct categories; “biophony”, formed by sound made by animal and vegetable species (the shrimp’s under water clicks, or the sonic spike a virus makes when it lets go of a surface, among others); “Geophony” which collects naturally generated sounds like a downpour of rain or a gentle breeze that sways a wheat field and finally, “antrophony”, which includes the sounds made by humans which affect the natural world causing, for instance, whales to become stranded on beaches because they are disoriented. 

Of course we have to mention the installation created by our much-admired collective UNITED VISUAL ARTISTS (UVA) for the exhibition organised by the Cartier Foundation to celebrate Krause’s work (2016). The piece was a visual translation of his soundscapes generated through a three-dimensional electronic installation. UVA proposed an immersive journey through seven territories recorded by the American musician, chosen for their ecological diversity and the richness of their "biophony". Combining aesthetics with technology, the installation The Great Animal Orchestra allows the audience to simultaneously dive into the sounds of nature and reflect on the necessity of preserving the beauty of the animal world.

Futures in Progress Futures in Progress
Cover of the book The Great Animal Orchestra / Bernie Krause at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood, California, in 2015. Photo Ramin Rahimian.
The Fondation Cartier invited United Visual Artists to collaborate on The Great Animal Orchestra; exhibition that celebrates the work of musician, bio-acoustician and scientist Bernie Krause, 2016.