Silence as natural treasure

Soundscapes are complicated associations, in which the relations between sounds are not at all easy to understand. The bioacoustician and ecologist Bernie Krause offered a way of systematising the sounds which ring in soundscapes, differentiating them into three larger categories:

  1. Geophony. The sounds which are produced by inorganic or un-living nature, such as wind, water, the movement of the Earth’s crust, etc.
  2. Biophony. The sounds which originate from wild, organic/living nature.
  3. Anthropophony. All the sounds which are created by humans and connected to their lifestyles.

The University of Tartu biosemiotician Kalevi Kull has described Krause’s ideas and the relation between different types of sounds thusly:

Bernie Krause noticed that the sounds which birds make in the forest do not ring out cacophonously, but are clearly connected. One takes into account the other. Soundscapes have their own niches. One uses higher frequencies, others lower ones. Some species vocalise in the early light, others in the late morning. But then, when at one point they decide on a time and place, at others their song is no longer at the forefront. These are more than dialogues. It is the coordinated harmony of frequencies, moments, places, and the entire soundscape. This is what Bernie Krause called biophony. Krause also used the term anthropophony to signify the sum total of human sounds. These sounds are almost always present. Different from the sounds that birds make, these sounds are not differentiable the one from the other. Listen to the city. Listen to the noises that reach the forests. When the soundscape is full of human noise, it leaves little room for the sounds of other species. Krause noticed that birds remove themselves from people simply because they cannot hear each other at a distance. Only those with the loudest shrieks are suited. 

The relation between living environments and natural soundscapes is described in the following diagram:

A close up of a map

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Noise pollution as a serious environmental problem having a strongly-negative impact on both animals and humans is being discussed more and more. In a world where different natures untouched by city noise exist less and less, silence may be seen as a resource or treasure of nature. Watch the film clip below, where Fred Jüssi discusses silence as a commodity.

Discussion based on the film clip:

  1. Is silence as a resource or treasure of nature appreciated in Estonia?
  2. What should be done to preserve such a resource or treasure?
  3. Do people need silence? Is silence pleasant for you, or is it sometimes difficult to bear?
  4. Do you remember any point in Olemise ilu where there was total silence, and no nature sounds were heard? In what scenes did this happen? And what difference is there between forest silence and the type of silence wherein nature sounds are no longer hearable?

How can we learn to live with our ears?

For Fred Jüssi, the importance of our sense of hearing is linked with our emotions: our sense of hearing is the most deeply and intimately connected with our psyche. However, the ability to hear does necessarily imply knowing how to hear. In Olemise ilu, Jüssi states that he learned to live with his ears only when he began recording nature sounds. Experiencing nature through sounds opened up his world up to an entirely new form of cognition. At first, he became publicly-known in Estonia as a recorder of nature sounds, as he did the programs Linnuaabits (“The Alphabet of the Birds”) and Looduse aabits (“The Alphabet of Nature”) on Estonian radio, wherein he mediated his experience of nature to a wider audience through the use of sounds. Fred Jüssi’s world of sounds may also be experienced in Olemise ilu, where his recorded nature sounds are used throughout. Jüssi has said that Olemise ilu could be a film that one could “watch” even with closed eyes. Play the video below first with your eyes closed, experiencing the film only with your sense of hearing, and then answer the questions.

Discussion on the basis of the film clip:

  1. In how many different soundscapes do you think the activity in the clip took place? Describe these: What nature sounds did you hear?
  2. In listening to these nature sounds did any images of these environments appear before your eyes?
  3. Play the video clip again with your eyes open. To what extent did your imaginings overlap with what you see on the screen?
infoVaata seda lehte tahvlis või lauaarvutis, siis saad lahendada ka põnevaid ülesandeid.