Here at Nippertown we talk a lot about music and other joyful, human-made noises, but I must confess to sometimes wanting a bit of silence; as the saying goes, if there were no clouds, we should not enjoy the sun.
Gordon Hempton has been recording silence and the natural world for years, gaining fame with Dawn Chorus, his recording of birds, insects and the wind as day breaks. Now known as The Soundtracker, he actively seeks locations in the United States where there is no trace of sound from the modern world.
Writing in Orion Magazine, Kathleen Dean Moore tells a fascinating tale of tagging along with Hempton in his mission to defend these last natural places.
Astonishment and gratitude are an important part of what the future stands to lose under the shouting engines of human ambition. When humans silence nature, drowning out the small voices, we subordinate it to our own presumed power. Anyone who has felt the oppression in a classroom or boardroom or marriage when only some are free to speak will understand what it means to be silenced—to have no voice, to be seen and not heard, to be told to “pay attention,” which means do not pay attention to any voice but one. Human noise is yet one more oil-fired expression of modernity’s claim of sovereignty and control over the natural world.
Here’s a documentary of Gordon gathering sounds from the Olympic National Park and Pacific Coast of Washington State: