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A Digital Exploration Of Nature’s Beautiful, Melancholy Sounds

The Great Animal Orchestra is the second best thing to marching into a National Forest with a blindfold on.

When we think of the slow death of the natural world, we usually think of it in purely visual terms: polar bears starving to death in Arctic springtime and rainforests on fire. But if you want to truly feel the effects of climate change and man’s impact on nature, you need to close your eyes, and listen. Not for the sounds, but for the silence.

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The Great Animal Orchestra is a website that puts together interactive soundscapes of five acoustically diverse biophanies–the term the great American musician and ecologist Bernie Krause, who narrates the experience, uses to describe the acoustic landscapes of the natural world. It’s one of those few websites that tells you to put your headphones on that you should take seriously: it’s a poignant exploration not just of nature’s sounds, but of how the way those sounds have been silenced.

There are five soundscapes in all. One is Ontario’s Algonquin Park; the next California’s Lincoln Meadow; there’s the Yukon Delta Refuge in Alaska, the subaqueous sound of the Pacific Rim, and finally an acoustic medley of sounds in Zimbabwe. Each soundscape is a brief audio tour of the region, where the rich layers of any given soundscape can be stripped away to a single element, just by hovering over a navigation wheels of highs and lows. In this ways, one can separate the cacophony of sounds in any given space to the highs of sparrows warbling, the mediums of crows, and the lows of wolves howling.

It’s all extraordinarily beautiful, but the Lincoln Meadow segment might be the most haunting; Krause allows you to hear what its biophanies sounded like before and after selective logging was allowed in the area. If the before is a surround-sound recording, the after is a playback with all but one speaker ripped away. It’s a heartbreaking exposure to just how much sensation is being stripped away from the natural world by man’s meddling, while we remain deaf.

Listen to the Great Animal Orchestra here. And actually do put your headphones on.

[Images: via The Great Animal Orchestra. Photo: RonaldWJansen/iStock]

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