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Friday, April 17, 2020

Outside Listening: Mapping Soundscapes

In May the hummingbirds arrive on Haida Gwaii. One afternoon my good friend and I sat out on her deck and were entertained for hours by the hummingbirds. We counted 17 hummingbirds sipping the nectar from two feeders stationed on the deck corners. Listen … can you hear their calls? Can you hear the beating/buzzing sounds of their wings? 

 image: Amanda Kariella on Unsplash

Soundscapes, like landscapes, tell us a story about the place. Soundscape ecologists like Bernie Krause and Hildegard Westerkamp have recorded sounds in the natural environment for almost 50 years. Over time they have mapped how the sounds of the environment have changed. In some cases the hum or buzz of urban life on land, shipping traffic on sea, and air-traffic have transformed our soundscapes.

You can participate in being a soundscape ecologist by listening to and mapping the sounds outside in your backyard, or at a nearby park, or wherever you are.

Here’s one activity you can try by yourself or with others. You will need a piece of paper, pencil, and clipboard.

Find a spot outside to sit or stand. Draw a big circle that fills your page and place a dot in the centre. The dot represents you. Now along the edge of the circle mark nearby objects in front of you, to the right and left and to the back of you as a way to record your position. In this example the tree is front the building behind, mountains to the left and a deciduous tree to the right. 

Now close your eyes and listen. Listen. Listen. Mark on your map what you hear. How far from you is the sound and from what direction? Maybe you hear the wind rustling in the trees, or a bee nearby, or the sound of bicycle, or the call of an eagle. Mark both the distance from you and the direction of your sounds.

Try making soundscape maps at the same place over different days. What do you notice? Try making soundscape maps at the same place over different times of the day. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

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