Monday, April 16, 2012

The Great Animal Orchestra


Every once in a while, one stumbles upon a revelation, something hidden in plain sight, of profound insight in how reality works at grand scale. In Bernie Krause's The Great Animal Orchestra, the insight centers on sound and how important it is in enabling animals to survive.

What do animals want music to do? It’s a complex question, and Krause explores myriad “levels of intent.” He cites research showing that “gibbon male songs, while rarely repeated, nevertheless follow strict rules of modulation and delivery in order to successfully attract females.” (I couldn’t help it; my mind ran to Justin Bieber.) The list of musical functions goes on: female gorillas, “singing” soothingly to themselves while grooming, interrupted by the “loud screams” and “chest beats” of the males; sperm whales emitting “high-pitched bursts of sound” to get imaging not unlike medical ultrasounds; crickets, expressing the temperature through the speed of their stridulations; and spadefoot toads, chorusing together to confuse predators as to any individual location.


That last example is heartbreaking; when a jet flies overhead, the toads get out of sync. The temporary lack of ensemble proves deadly: soon hawks swoop down on individual choristers. In other words, the toads’ music is a communal shelter. Music is expression, communication — but also protection. Krause spends his prelude evoking the ancient soup of sounds before civilization arrived. He teases out an irony: Humans have built physical shelters to protect themselves from nature, thereby shutting out these anterior soundscapes; but these soundscapes are themselves shelters, structures of serenity and happiness, which we are abandoning.

The hidden and not so hidden impact man has on nature extends to virtually every part of the planet. In Before Man, a BRT blurb discussing not only the plundering of the oceans but also what the world was like before us uses Korea's infamous DMZ as prime example as to how vastly different earth was before we came upon the scene.


The de facto wildlife preserve encompasses 390 square miles of diverse terrain virtually untouched by human development for 55 years. Now, as this accidental Eden faces major development pressures, a growing contingent is pushing for its establishment as a transboundary nature park – which could also be a step toward peace between the two Koreas.


“This strip of land contains almost every type of ecosystem you can imagine,” says Alan Weisman, author of “The World Without Us.” “It has inadvertently become one of the most important wildlife conservation sites in the world.”

Addendum: Road Noise, an early BRT post, describes the enormous impact roads have on the environment, another disquieting bit of destruction wrought by the advent of the car and the asphalt highways on which they run.
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