Composer and musician Bernie Krause used to work with rock stars like the Doors, Mick Jagger, and Van Morrison. But 40 years ago Krause stepped out of the studio and into the wilderness, replacing his big-name clients with some lesser-known ones: jaguars, chimps, and hippos, to name a few.

Krause aims to reconnect people with nature by recording “biophonies,” a term he coined to describe the symphonies created by wildlife in natural habitats. He has gathered about 3,500 hours of sound, from the late Dian Fossey’s Rwandan gorilla camp and rainforests in Borneo to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

His philosophy may seem hippie-dippy (he began his career as a folk singer with Pete Seeger’s Weavers, after all), but Krause uses his recordings for worthwhile projects. Biophonies are available as a downloadable sound layer for Google Earth, so users can hear a locale as they zoom in to it. This fall, the California Academy of Sciences plans to put up a tropical habitat installation featuring Krause’s work. Krause’s project is also becoming an important historical archive: Already, 40 percent of the North American habitats he’s recorded are so altered that their biophonies are essentially gone. 

Kause’s worst fear is that we will overpower nature with industrial noise and lose ourselves in the process. But there’s a remedy: “Sit quietly, and listen to the wonders of this world,” he says. “Get out from behind the computers. Get out there and let the world unfold.”

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Calls of the wild
One man's quest to document the natural sounds of our planet.