Sounds of Nature…

Listening is a way of being in the moment and being with others. It is also a way of knowing the world, both the natural and human-built environment. Normally, we humans identify ourselves as thinking beings, looking out on and into the environs, separate from the objects that we see – but we are also feeling the vibrations of the world, and if we pay attention to them, a different province opens, which is a world of connection, rather than one of distance.

Upon listening, we realize that we are inside this world, part and parcel of it, instead of looking out at it. At moments of genuine connection through music, we feel a deep kinship with others. And it is based on this feeling of kinship that we can try to build more responsible institutions and a more just, caring and harmonious society.

The sound of nature is the purest form of art around us, for it enriches human beings at three vital levels. Nature’s music delights us at an aesthetic level – we are thrilled by a bird’s call, mesmerized by a gushing stream or soothed by a breezy, murmuring tree. Nature’s sounds make us aware of our environment. We feel the golden warmth of a summer’s day more vividly as bees hum around us while a winter’s cold, dark night comes wrapped in the sounds of an owl’s flapping feathers. It is not just the stunning views, refreshing scents and the physical exercise beyond the city limits, though, which are beneficial for us. In recent years, it has been found that one specific component of nature has a particularly profound effect on humans: her sound. Just think about how disturbing the noise from construction site around the corner or a colleague’s loud phone calls can be. Now, remember what we heard during our last trip to the countryside: we probably perceived those sounds as very pleasant. Whether it is humming of the bees or murmur of a stream, nature’s sounds have been proven to affect processes in the human brain.

It is not necessary to spend vacations around world’s exotic regions. Nor is it required to go hiking every weekend. Even if it is only a little time, one can spend it in the open air – just a few minutes of nature’s music make a difference! En route to office, for example, one could take a traffic-calmed side street or a favourite stamping ground, to possibly hear a squirrel cracking a nut. Instead of spending lunch break in a stuffy room, step outside, and enjoy the meal in the park. Pay attention, and it will be rewarded: even in the concrete jungle, the wind is dancing its way through trees and birds are singing their songs. A brawling river, chirping crickets, and a crackling fire – many people experience natural noises as soothing. Now a scientific study proves what some of us have always known to be true: Nature sounds have a direct therapeutic effect on living creatures as these are almost always associated with creating a soothing atmosphere, and with restoring a sense of peace and calm: the wash of the sea on the beach, for instance; the rustle of leaves, or the liquid sunshine of birdsong.

Sounds serve as medium for meaningful inter and intra species communication. As an example, there is cross-species communication among humans and domestic animals, whether Sami herders and their reindeer, Mongolian nomads and their sheep, trackers and their dogs or children and their pets. Such communication also exists between predators and prey – a noise from a human is often a danger warning to an animal, or an alarm call by an animal warns all other animals within hearing distance. The ‘sound commons’ prevailing among all living creatures is a natural characteristic that must be preserved by humans through environmental conservation, to enable all creatures (ourselves included) to communicate in our acoustic niches in the soundscape. A ‘commons’ is a resource that is shared but cannot be owned – it is like the air surrounding the land and the oceans. A sound commons is a sonic resource, an acoustic space that enables all living creatures and species to establish acoustic niches where they can communicate with least amount of interference. Anthropogenic noise, however, such as noise from ships and sonar or vehicular traffic, airplanes, construction equipment and so on, generate the most disturbance in this natural sound commons today.

A sound ecology is, literally, the study of beings and their sonic relations to one another and to their environment. These sonic relations are direct, physical connections. One being produces a sound vibration – the resulting sound travels in a longitudinal wave and vibrates other beings. By means of these sounds, these beings communicate with one another and with their environment. Importantly, those direct, physical connections also imply direct linkage among beings within a community. So, a sound economy is built on direct personal connections and exchanges, quite like the functioning of a local economy. This contrasts with the distant relations, the indirect exchanges, the legal relations, the contracts and competition we see in an unsound, global economy. Ecological connections expressed through music and sound are thus based on cooperation and sustainability.

It is very important to delve deeper into this way of experiencing the world. We should explore eco-musicology more and think about the study of sound, music, nature and culture, in a time of environmental crisis.

When we start to listen to the sounds of nature, we sense the huge and wonderful mystery that is life, all around us. In music created by humans, we put together sounds, having patterns, informed with emotions and beauty. We do not always know what the message of an instrumental piece of music is though – what we do know is what such music does to us. Animal music is, perhaps, the same phenomena. Animals put sounds together, they perform pieces of music, these performances are full of emotion, structure and meaning, but it cannot be turned into a simple message. But once animal sounds are understood as music, they become far more comprehensible. Upon listening with care, one understands why certain emotions are felt on hearing birdsong or whales singing. We instinctively recognize there is something much closer to music than language in these sounds. Cicadas emerging after years underground to sing for a few days before they vanish again, bees humming as they gather nectar, common birds with the most melodious calls; we hear these species without often paying much attention. Yet on really listening to them, something amazing happens. It is literally like listening to music from another part of the world, in another language, where one is suddenly moved by what is heard. There is a quality deep within animal music that stirs us as human beings.

Revelling in creation of unusual and beautiful sounds, animals are presumably the mysteries and the answers of evolution. Be it the all-night concert of  nightingale, or the mellifluence of white-rumped Shama or the innate musicality of humpback whales, it is not always survival of the fittest  but the most beautifully sounding in nature. Birds warble improvised melodies to get a ‘high’, and not merely as one of those quotidian tasks. As in humans, random musical compositions are said to release feel-good chemicals in animal brains; probably these endogenous opioids make them busk first thing in the morning, to jazz up the rest of their day. In a world impacted by anthropause, meaning the dramatic reduction in human activity due to C-19, Barcelona’s famed Gran Teatre del Liceu recently celebrated their reopening by performing Puccini’s Crisantemi concerto to a full-house audience of plants from a local nursery. It is reported that the ‘planted’ audience was as conceived by Spanish artist Eugenio Ampudia who, like many around the world, was greatly inspired by and drawn to the healing powers of nature; “I heard many more birds singing. And the plants in my garden and outside growing faster, and, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature”, Ampudia enthused of his inspiration. Given that it is possible to listen to plants and trees making music thanks to bio-sonification – technology converting bio-rhythms into beats and waves -, the possibility of listening to an organized concert of ‘foliaged friends’ in the not-too-distant future may not be far-fetched.  Research indicates that our ‘green friends’ enjoy listening to classical music and hence must have been silently rooting for the UceLi quartet. Each species has its own aesthetic universe – sometimes these universes meet. David Rothenberg refers to ‘inter-species music’, citing his unique experience of performing music with birds, cicadas and whales. The music, he adds, made by a human and a nightingale together, is somewhere in-between the world of people and birds, a magical space which is fleeting but also very powerful. Through years of such inter-species concerts, Rothenberg feels a close connect being forged with species in nature which, perhaps, is perceived by animals and birds as well. A nightingale sings across the night but, significantly, it leaves a space for someone else to perform, interspersed with its own singing. Birds and animals do not choose to be alone, singing in quiet places with no one around. They appreciate a whole world of sound just as humans do. Music from the natural world instills a keener understanding of the ecosystem with our place in it, other beings that share it, and the seasons that shape us all.

We hear climate change in the sounds of the intensifying wind and rain storms around us, in the breaking and falling of trees, the sounds of more frequent forest fires and the terrifying sounds of floods. We hear climate change in the changing soundscapes of where we travel and live, as some species vanish, taking their sounds with them. Climate change is ensuring that our world never sounds the same again.

But nature’s music also touches a deeper place within us. It gives us – as great art always does – both bewildering questions and comforting answers. When we hear a bird trill, a dolphin click its call, or crickets chirp in unison as dusk falls, we become keenly aware of a mystery around us. That mystery is life, which poses to us its own questions – who are we? Why are we here? What should our existence mean? Through millennia, humans faced these questions and found inspiring answers in nature’s music, which murmurs, amidst breeze, birds and rainfall, that you and I are not alone. Nature’s sounds emphasize we humans are part of its great plan, sharing the Earth with other forms of life, many of which communicate with us as well. This is why birds sing around us human beings – they know we share this Earth and this life, of mysteries and love, sorrows and calmness, with them. We are in this together, they seem to say, and this is one reason why nature’s sounds are perceived to be so reassuring.

Alas, nature’s music is changing now. With hundreds of bird species endangered, nearly half the insect species facing extinction and seasons themselves changing as the earth’s air and oceans heat, environmentalists stress in despair that climate change is altering the way our world sounds. This is a change we must put a stop to, to stave off the loneliness of the Anthropocene. Time to cherish nature’s sounds, for it is only when we humans hear nature’s music that we are in harmony, with life and ourselves.

24 thoughts on “Sounds of Nature…

  1. Climate change is horrendous in my part of the world, with the California fires. We must do something about it!

    “The sound of nature is the purest form of art around us, for it enriches human beings at three vital levels.”

    Shelter in place w/COVID-19 made me appreciate nature like never before.

  2. It was the Australian sky turning into an apocalyptic red because of wildfires last year, radiating to New Zealand and fanning out all the way to Buenos Aires. And now it is the unfortunate turn of US west coast to suffer the same fate. While wildfires are not unusual, their frequency and severity of late, burning down millions of green hectares and consequent costlier cycles of recovery, are indeed an alarming signal for everyone everywhere. Without greater respect for Nature’s boundaries, similar devastations are bound to recur with increasing intensity. People must push governments to embrace proactive solutions by way of augmenting health care and infra, preserving wildlife habitats, safeguarding the food supply chain, switching to green energy, sustainable agro practices and industries, and fostering international climate change cooperation. Thanks Georgia. Take care and be well.

  3. Wonderful post, Raj, and I echo what Georgia wrote because I’m in the Bay area, living among the ash but not in the path of fire (hopefully, never). The new fire season that began in 2017 is frightening. Our air has been unhealthy for weeks, but my heart breaks for those in the heart of the fires and for the firemen doing their best to contain them. It’s unfathomable. We’ve lived here for 21 years and the sky this week has been a first. Wednesday at 7 am when I walked my dog felt like midnight, it was so dark. It was eerie, and I can’t deny feeling like the world is ending. And the animals, it’s so heartbreaking. No wonder people are anxious…And then there are those who don’t believe in climate change. It’s like Covid: is it real or not? It’s stunningly amazing how some people think while many lives are ending because of the virus. I could go on and on. 🙂 I, too, veered towards nature more this year because of sheltering in place. Take care and stay safe, Lauren

    • Sad to note the situation at yours, Lauren, specially the arrogance and insensitivity of people inspite of worsening conditions. Clearly, the only way forward is for arrogance to change to humility, to facilitate building a future where everyone can exist by coexisting, as our lives are closely intertwined by interactions with nature. For many, ‘home’ is made even lovelier by the vista it provides of glowing green flora; or a space on a roof where a thrush alights on a bowl to gratefully partake of a few sips of water; a garden where a flower holds up beautifully through a cluster of leaves; a window from where one sees pale clouds floating enigmatically; a balcony streaming in a benediction-like breeze . Nature weaving in and around sustains us, for our real home is in the environment and with our fellow species. Let us hope it remains so.

  4. This is a wonderful post about the sounds of nature, Raj. When we slow down and allow ourselves to be mesmerised by nature, it really is music to the ears. I have also heard about the orchestra playing in front of an audience of plants. It is such an amazing initiative, and a nice way to appreciate nature.

    Climate change is so very real. It really is sad to see the fires in the US right now…and summer is just around the corner here in Australia. Hopefully more of us take better care of the planet through daily habits. Hope you are doing well. Take care.

  5. Raj, what a lovely post from your thoughtful self. You may or may not know, we have returned to a more sustainable existence, here in the pine forests of northern New Mexico. In the high country. Away; perhaps further away than ever before in our almost thirty years together. And I have been absent from wp because we are spending our time attuning to wildlife and our surroundings once again, after fifteen years on Hawaii Island. Hawaii was lovely but largely unsustainable, unless one were to live on a wealthy person’s estate and work for them for little, to further their own acquisitive lifestyle.

    Back to simplicity and sustainability, away from the fear-based collective and around people who live as simply as do we. It’s literally a breath of fresh air, because thankfully, we are largely free from smoky skies, if not free from the knowledge of the suffering of so many, including of course wildlife and forests. Yet just last week, we had a freak weather event where it dropped from 86 to 36 in a matter of hours. Birds were dropping dead from the skies or standing stunned in the middle of the road. Just yesterday I picked up yet another dead bird body. Climate change does affect all of us, yet it saddens me that so many care so little. So much self serving, still. I do hope we are able to make a shift, because the dominion over nature Christianity has long espoused must end. We need to reclaim awe and humility in the face of the Mother who we depend upon for our very existence.

    Blessings to you in your corner of this beautiful world, Raj!

  6. Excellent observations, Raj! ‘The sound of nature is the purest form of art around us.’ I could not agree more. Never having lived in a city, save for a couple of years with roommates when I was in college and very young, I have always sought quiet, remote places where I can commune with nature. It is my sanity, my salvation, my grace. And yes, I have noticed nature’s music changing. First it was the disappearance of frogs in Maine. No peeps or ribets. The loons came less frequently to the lake, or in fewer numbers. Their haunting cries, once such a comfort, were hardly heard. Somehow some developer figured out a way around that steep shore to build a few fancy lakeside homes in their nesting areas. Then there was the absolute silence of snow, which was replaced far too often by the cracking of trees in damaging ice storms.

    In Hawaii, winds were shifting direction. The howl of tradewinds replaced with dull, heavy Kona winds. Trees that were used to growing in one direction broke and snapped when the winds changed.

    10 days ago in the high mountains of Northern New Mexico, birds dropped dead from the sky. The temperature has gone from 86 to 36 in a matter of hours, and these sensitive creatures could not make the adjustment. Their songs ceased until the weather normalized.

    If only more of us observed these sounds and signs, Perhaps the collective would be making different choices. Anyhow Raj, thanks for a great post, as always. Namaste.

      • Many thanks, Bela, for your voluble response on an issue of topicality and global concern. It gladdens me to note that you are, in tune with your spirit, happily located in your own Elysian world, notwithstanding current strains on it triggered by squally winds and unexpectedly sudden temperature fluctuations. We are, unfortunately, suffering from attachments of the ‘collective’; attachment denoting a refusal to be happy without this or that, an obsession with certain parts of life, with no regard for the whole. Locked into such attachment traps, a person is suffocated and imprisoned, dazed in recycled air of confined spaces, losing perspective in the obsession with parts, and losing sight of the wholeness of life. The ‘collective’, as you refer to, has to become detached in the sense of being objective, respecting what one wants without being limited to those wants. Obectivity eliminates possessiveness and selfishness and ushers in higher quality of life by making one available to the whole, a fullness that is synergistically more than the sum of its parts. Only such fullness of detachment can accommodate an abiding love for the larger environment, to flourish in the totality in which everything exists. Loving the flora and fauna is to free one from the prison of the parts; loving the actual is liberation from illusive nature of one’s fantasy. Let us hope the world gets to that haven of elegance and beauty.

      • Beautifully stated. If the coronavirus has done nothing else which of course it has, it has awakened many of us, including those of us who feel as though we have awakened, to another level of global consciousness and inclusion. Thank you always for your brilliant and insightful posts. Be well. 🙏

    • Dear Rajagopal and Bela,

      I very much enjoy your conversations here and concur with both of you. It is heartening to know that all three of us are aspiring to being better listeners of the “Sounds of Nature”, the very title of this post.

      The “Sounds of Nature” can indeed make our lives more fulfilling and holistic, perhaps even more so now that the viral pandemic is all around us.

      It seems that we have a number of things in common, namely, our love of the “Sounds of Nature” and our promoting a holistic vision of life and environmental appreciation through the “Sounds of Nature”.

      Rajagopal, given the quality and relevance of your post, I have hyperlinked your post entitled “Sounds of Nature…” to three of my posts so that my readers can access your post.

      Please allow me the pleasure of introducing to you the titles of the three posts as follows:

      (1) 🎧 Facing the Noise & Music: Grey Barriers and Green Frontiers of Sound, Society and Environment 🔊🏡🏞

      (2) 🦅 SoundEagle in Debating Animal Artistry and Musicality 🎵🐕🎶🐒🎹🐘🖼🐬🎨

      (3) 🦅 SoundEagle in Art, Aphorism and Paramusic 🏝

      You can find the three posts through my Content Listing page at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/about/contents/

      Please kindly let me know what you think of my said posts by leaving your feedback at the comment sections of those posts, especially if you think that they could be improved or expanded in certain ways. Thank you in anticipation.

      May you and Bela find the said posts dealing with my understanding and appreciation of the multidisciplinary subject matters and outstanding issues meaningful to you and your readers in various ways. Please be informed that you might need to use a desktop or laptop computer with a large screen to view the rich multimedia contents available for heightening your multisensory enjoyment at my website, which could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.

      Happy December to both of you! May you all enjoy this festive season as 2021 approaches!

  7. Dear Raj a beautiful post very relevant to the present times and for all times to come. The virtues of listening to the ‘sounds of nature’ undoubtedly are manifold. However as the sounds of nature are subtle we may need to activate our listening abilities to tune into nature’s sublime frequencies. A good start point will be to sharpen our awareness levels with the help of our breath.The quote by Karen Salmansohn ~ “Close your eyes and listen only to the sound of your breath for a full 5 minutes, become nothing but your breath, your soul will thank you”, can stand us in good stead.
    With kind regards and best wishes. 🙏🍀
    Dilip

    • Thanks Dilip; a yogic dedication is clearly visible in your thoughtful rejoinder. Just the focus on our breath as an early morning regimen sharpens our connect with nature. Nature is all there is, as far as known, nothing beyond it, save for intuitive observations of sages and speculations of lesser individuals.

      • Thank you Raj I am still a rookie in the yogic sciences having been exposed to it by serendipity. Yes the early morning regimen if done regularly can give us multiple benefits. Not only sharpening our senses to the magic of nature but also our entire day becomes calm and more productive.

  8. Such a gentle and lovely tribute to Nature’s music. I have the good fortune to live in the wilderness now, and I know firsthand that what you have written is true. Every single day, I experience “both bewildering questions and comforting answers” in my walks along the river and deep into the forest. I am learning to recognize and differentiate the sounds of various creatures and plants. It is all so very therapeutic. However, the noise of the “real world” is becoming intolerable to me now. I hope you are well, Raj. Warmest wishes to you.

    • Glad you have the comfort of wilderness that is a coveted luxury amidst increasing cacophony of our times. Nonetheless, we must be grateful for our world of preexisting matter as it enables our ability to listen to sounds, sound being pressure waves travelling through matter. If there was no matter, there would be, apart from lack of everything else, no sound. The ensuing silence would have been eerie and deafening. Thanks Julie. Take care and be well…

  9. Pingback: 🎧 Facing the Noise & Music: Grey Barriers and Green Frontiers of Sound, Society and Environment 🔊🏡🏞 | SoundEagle 🦅ೋღஜஇ

  10. Pingback: 25 – Soundscapes – Beach Walk Reflections: Thoughts from thinking while walking

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