Musician Bernie Krause has worked with Stevie Wonder and The Byrds. But for the past 45 years, he's turned his attention to the birds, recording natural soundscapes. He tells his story at TEDGlobal 2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

When recording music, it can take days or weeks to get the perfect performances for an album. But when it comes to recording the symphony of nature, the process can take even longer. According to Bernie Krause, a legend in the field of natural soundscapes, it can take 1,000 hours of recording to get just one hour of usable material, of the quality needed for a film soundtrack or museum exhibit.

Krause’s wild soundscapes give us an often-overlooked diagnostic tool to measure the health of a habitat — sound. And the difficulty of recording natural soundscapes speaks to the devastating changes happening in many ecosystems because of global warming, resource extraction and human noise. In today’s talk, given at TEDGlobal 2013, Krause shares the extent of damage that he can hear in recordings taken from different points in his 45-year career.

“Every soundscape that springs from a wild habitat generates its own unique signature, one that contains incredible amounts of information,” says Krause. “When I began recording, over four decades ago, I could record for 10 hours and capture one hour of usable material … Fully 50% of my archive comes from habitats so radically altered that they are altogether silent or can no longer be heard in their original form.”

This is a beautiful talk, one that will make you think differently about using only your eyes to take in nature. Watch this talk to hear the amusing grunts of a hungry sea anemone and the defensive chorus of Great Basin spadefoot toads. In the talk, you will also share one of the most affecting moments of TEDGlobal 2013, when Krause shared the saddest sound he’s ever heard in the animal kingdom: a beaver’s mourning cry after its mate and children were killed by two game wardens.

Because this sound is so sad, we asked Krause to share with us some of the happiest sounds he’s heard while recording wild soundscapes. Here are Krause’s picks:

Each of these following soundscape examples cheer me up because life at that level — in its more or less natural state — expresses itself in a voice that, to me, sounds joyful. And when they’re joyful and we’re able to listen carefully and completely immersed, stress disappears.

This Aceh Province recording was made at a rare rainforest site in Sumatra, Indonesia, that managed to survive the primary and secondary impacts of the 2004 tsunami that otherwise devastated the area. That it survived to be heard another day gives all of the organisms, from microscopic to mammals like orangutans and gibbons, a healthy range of options in which to thrive.

This desert recording, made at the confluence of the Chihuahuan/Sonoran systems, illustrates how a place thought to be desolate by many is really vibrant and filled with many vocal organisms representing an impressive spectrum of life.

Few places in Florida exist where anyone can hear, unimpeded by human noise, the lush sounds of its phenomenal subtropical habitats. Sometimes one has to get up before dawn, when everything is quiet, to hear the treasures offered, like these at Cypress Swamp.

Hear many more wild soundscapes at Wild Sanctuary »

Photograph: James Duncan Davidson.

Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Light for the Body, Mind, Soul and commented:
    Bernie Krause is a (inter)national treasure. His book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places will change the way you listen and think about natural areas. SO glad that TED found and featured him.

  2. […] Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature […]

  3. […] Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature | TED Blog. […]

  4. The idea of using sound profiles over time to document changes in the environment is amazing and so obvious once you watch this beautiful talk. I started thinking about this in relation to how the sound profile of my own street/neighborhood has changed in the last ten years and how that relates directly with my satisfaction with living there.

  5. I just has another thought here as well related to classroom activity in schools and what “noise” level means to us in that context. A tremendous amount of energy goes toward reducing “noise” in classrooms. But at the same time, this is not always a move that supports a good active learning environment.

  6. In one of the many town piazza’s in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia there is a beautifully preserved display of very young children’s (4 years old) study and mapping of the sound of the piazza. They have represented the sound profiles of various locations in the piazza using drawings and sometimes written description. I know they have engaged the children in doing similar things in the natural environment. Bernie Krause’s talk points to what a significant thing it is to engage children with tuning in to the sound of their environment.

  7. […] conocer más sobre la conferencia, hay otro artículo en TED con sonidos grabados por Krause. Para conocer más de su trabajo visita Wild Sanctuary, su […]

  8. […] Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature ( […]

  9. […] Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature ( […]

  10. […] Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature in this blog […]

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About Kate Torgovnick May

Kate Torgovnick May is a writer at She can also solve a Rubik's Cube in less than two minutes (or at least once could).


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