Welcome to Sound Escapes, a new podcast production from BirdNote.
October 4, 2019 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Over his long career, Gordon Hempton [OutsideOnline article] has mastered the art of truly listening. He’s known as the Sound Tracker. Some people call him an acoustic ecologist... Now, Gordon Hempton is losing his hearing. But with that loss has come an intense urgency to share his life’s work... And, he’ll give us a crash course in the art of truly listening — something that he says is a dying art, constantly under threat in our noisy, modern lives.. Birdnote presents a 7 episode podcast environmental sound series. The full episode list, 30 minutes each. Episode 1 is a lesson in listening. The soundscapes are in the following six half-hours.

Sound Escapes can be found on podcast apps for download. Also, Hempton has longer soundscapes for sale on his website. He also seems to have tracks on Spotify, for those of you who have that.

Gorden Hempton previously.
posted by hippybear (8 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Apple Music also has his stuff. Looking forward to this, thanks!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:04 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Love it.

This is why i like doing field recording. I have a project I'm slowly working on, and last spring I was recording frogs. It took something like 10-15 takes ranging from 10 to 30+ minutes to record one good continuous track of frogs without anything but frogs. No dogs barking in the distance, no cars driving by, no jets flying overhead, no wind rumble on the mics.

But that time I spent recording frogs? It's spent in total attention and silence just sitting in nature and actively listening. It forces you to slow down a whole lot and just be still and listen.
posted by loquacious at 10:40 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

I heard about the One Square Inch of Silence, but I didn't know about anything that followed. Interesting guy!

Total coincidence, but I was thinking today about how I've been losing my hearing. When I was 20, an audiologist told me I had spectacular hearing. Not so much anymore. I've had tinnitus my whole life (I'd imagine due to the scarring on my eardrums from chronic ear infections as a child), but it's worse now. Everything around me feels noticeably more distant and muted. I went for a walk in the woods with a friend just after dusk, and I was thinking about how the woods probably sound different to me now than they would have 10 years ago. I miss that clarity and sense of immediacy. Sometimes I worry about losing my hearing altogether.

On the other hand, I used to be constantly irritated by all the little noises of things everywhere -- which to some extent is the same stuff that irritates Gordon Hempton. There have been times that I was bothered by noises other people could barely even hear. So as much as I miss feeling so tuned-in, there's a part of me that feels a little relieved at the thought that noise might not be as much of an all-out assault on me anymore.

I didn't see anything in the article about his hearing loss, and I'm not really capable of following podcasts. I'm curious to know what Hempton thinks about his own hearing loss.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:14 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this.

I have a few hours of field recordings I made of the natural soundscape through the seasons where I spent my childhood.

Like the one that is a heavy monsoon downpour, followed by a glorious post-rain frog symphony/orgy.

Still some of the most moving audio in my collection. Very very deep emotional connection.
posted by Pouteria at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2019

loquacious and Pouteria , what do you use for wind noise? Foam kinda sucks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:32 PM on October 5, 2019

loquacious and Pouteria , what do you use for wind noise? Foam kinda sucks.

Patience, a tripod, careful recorder placement and de-noise or de-rumble tools in post processing. I lost my foam screen ages ago.

I've been meaning to make a framed zepplin or dead cat of some kind to stick my Zoom in, but I'm broke and hey what's that shiny thing let's go ride bikes.

If I had the money I'd just invest in a really good zepp or dead cat frame and a pole boom and do what the pros do. Granted if I had that kind of money I'd probably get a better field recorder like the new 32 bit Zoom because that thing is like "What the fuck!?" levels of awesome for a budget recording artist like me that needs to fix a lot of stuff in post.

I've also had good luck using surgical masks. If you get the kind that has wires in the top and bottom of the mask you can form it into a sort of half-sphere armadillo shape over the mics of a field recorder and use the ear loops to strap it to the recorder. It ends up surrounding the whole active mic portion like a pop screen with a good 1-2" air gap and seems to be almost sonically transparent. You don't get any "why does it sound like I'm in a sock?" effects that are common with foam.

I just got some of the best high dynamic range recordings of thunder I've ever captured and all I did was lay my recorder on its back on the porch in a sort of sheltered cove between some boxes and point the front mics at the sky. Being set that low to the ground effectively eliminated all the wind noise and it was blowing hard that day.

Mostly patience though. There's a reason why it took me so many takes to get one solid 15-20 minute block of seamless, continuous frog calls - most of them were marred by wind rumble or other unwanted noises. It's just a process of recording lots and lots and then selecting the best parts.

Oh and someone is probably going to ask me what the heck a "dead cat" is. It's effectively a large sock shaped bag made out of what appears to be dirty grey and long-haired fun fur, and they look remarkably like a dirty old dead cat that's been, uh, maybe flattened by a car or something.

They make these in a variety of sizes from very small to quite large. It is typically used over a zeppelin frame, which is a metal and/or plastic frame shaped like a zeppelin, in which you can suspend a microphone or compact field recorder on a shock and noise absorbing mount made out of rubber bands and straps. A basic zeppelin just has either light acoustic mesh covering it or a very thin acoustic foam - the dead cat cover that goes on over that is for more extreme wind protection and can even acoustically protect a recorder from raindrops. Raindrops on a foam covered zeppelin are very noticeable, but you barely even hear them on a dead cat. Granted you would have limited recording time before the dead cat is soaking wet and saturated and loses effectiveness or interior dryness, but it works a lot better than an umbrella which just amplifies the sound of raindrops.

So when I talk about making my own zeppelin and dead cat I'm talking about making a stiff wire frame covered in acoustic foam and fun fur to surround my field recorder and mount the whole thing on a tripod or boom pole.

The good pro grade ones are remarkably expensive, like several hundred dollars, which is more than my field recorder cost even when it was brand new.
posted by loquacious at 5:54 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

shapes that haunt the dusk, I feel you on that.

As I'm getting older and my eyes are getting more and more useless I now know the answer to the question of what I would miss more - good vision or hearing - and the answer is apparently hearing and has always been hearing, because I've always been very nearsighted and dealing with astigmatism.

I have really severe tinnitus from ear infections, but my hearing is also still extremely good and well above average not just for my age but in general. I get it tested once a year if insurance covers it because I like having what amounts to a microphone or speaker spectrum plot of my hearing. I still can hear things above 20khz, and I can still hear things like ultrasonic pest repellers or rangefinders. I remember when I was a kid I could hear the rangefinder on my grandma's Polaroid camera and no one else knew what I was even talking about. If you fired up a big CRT tv within 100 feet of me I'll instantly hear it and recognize it.

So I hear things no one else hears all the time and thankfully I'm not emotionally sensitive to noise in that they don't bother me unless they get in the way of recording. Sometimes when I'm falling asleep I can hear my heartbeat - not just internally, I hear that all the time - but because I can hear the sound of my whole body pulsing and the sound it makes on my bedding as my skin moves an infinitesimal amount with each pulse.

I have always been pretty protective of my hearing... which is odd considering how many hundreds or thousands of hours I've spent listening to, running or playing on very large and loud sound systems. I've been in sound fields and SPLs that probably exceed 120-130 db on a standard C weighted scale. Loud enough to move sand, raise dust and flag your clothes like you're standing in a strange breeze.

But I've also been carrying earplugs around everywhere I go since about the early 1990s. They go in for loud shows. They go in if someone's kid is trying to vocally shatter glass. They go in if I'm running powered equipment for landscaping or yard work.

As for the tinnitus, if it's quiet it basically sounds like about the continuous whine of ten thousand CRTs humming away all at slightly different clashing electrical frequencies and I would probably find it terrible if I didn't find it easy to ignore and filter out. Sometimes it makes a kind of drone or noise music and I don't mind it much at all. If I could record it I'd probably use it to make some kind of drone or noise music, heh.

But I'm glad it doesn't bother me and my hearing is practically a mutant superhero power and makes me feel like Radar from the MASH TV show. I'm the first to hear a car coming up the drive, or a helicopter in the distance. I can even tell who is coming up the driveway, if it's my housemates, or my housemate's girlfriend, one of my friends or a complete stranger and car I don't recognize.
posted by loquacious at 6:17 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pouteria , what do you use for wind noise? Foam kinda sucks.

Just didn't record when it was windy. Yep, that simple.

Most of the sounds I wanted didn't happen when it was windy. Monsoon rain, for example, often comes more-or-less straight down. So just picking the right time solved that.

Trying to avoid distant cars and dogs and aircraft was much more of a problem, especially on cold still nights. Had to do a lot edits for those.
posted by Pouteria at 10:23 PM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

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