Nature as other: Hunting for Sound in Nature 5
0418h A rich chorus of resident species now; robins, song thrush and blackbirds with a lower backing of woodpigeons.
0420h cut for a passing military jet.
0424h The thrushes are joined by a chiffchaff singing its common name, so now resident and migrant birds in unison. A blackcap now off to the right. Everything is singing at once! This is the dawn chorus, even an unusual tawny owl call somewhere in the canopy and distant ravens way off overhead.
From Chris Watson’s Ynys-hir dawn chorus diary.
The telling detail of Watson’s description above occurs at 0420h where he cuts the recording for a passing military jet. He removes the offending sound as it is not part of the soundscape he is attempting to capture, suggesting Watson’s image of nature is an ideological one in which the unnatural sounds of humans (us) need to be removed from the nature over there (other). As David Michael asserts, “The aesthetics of nature sound recording are steeped in fantasy. This fantasy is one in which our ecosystems are healthy and the internal combustion engine does not exist.”
The locations chosen by the nature recordist are often connected with ecological concerns, centering on environments that are imagined to have remained in a pristine state and where man-made sounds will not infect the recording. The audio recordings produced in these far flung locales resemble picture postcards from beautiful locations (the Antarctic Tundra), animals in their natural environment (seals, whales, birdlife and insects), the sublime (ice sheering off an iceberg) and weather (wind and storms). Watson, for example, holds a fascination with Antarctic and Arctic environments. He points out that, “Areas above 66 degrees north and 66 degrees south are difficult to access, they have very hostile environments, are mostly unpopulated… These remote regions are also exciting, challenging and still relatively unknown.” When in these environments Watson contends that there can be “no noise pollution” and that the sounds are almost identical to those heard on historical expeditions.Watson’s story is certainly alluring yet while he has gone to great lengths to identify himself with the image of a careful listener to sound, here he is deaf to the sounds he is making in the environment – the noise pollution he produces and the sounds he introduces to the environment by simply being there. Watson may yearn for the sounds of pre-settlement and of the past, but the very machinery of recording introduces man-made sounds – there is simply nothing in nature that resembles a microphone and a hard-disk recorder and the artefact, the recording, itself cannot give off the illusion that it is natural.
David Michael, “Toward a Dark Nature Recording”
Chris Watson’s Ynys-hir dawn chorus diary,” BBC Nature, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/natureuk/2011/05/chris-watsons-ynys-hir-dawn-ch.shtml
Chris Watson, “Three Questions for Chris Wason,” http://www.liquidarchitecture.org.au/media/essays/238-three-questions-for-chris-watson