Nature’s Orchestra

Musician and nature sound scientist Bernie Krause leads a soundscape expedition to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is spring. Along with animal voices including migratory bird songs, the barking of a fox, and a grizzly’s sniff, the expedition records the melting of permafrost and other evidence of climate change. Find out why Bernie’s sound work is profoundly important.

“We learned our music from the natural world,” says Dr. Bernie Krause in Nature’s Orchestra. A child prodigy violinist, Krause learned his music listening out a bedroom window to the morning chorus of bird song and the rhythmic pulse of crickets at nightfall. Switching to guitar as a teenager “to impress girls,” Bernie went on to perform as a backup guitarist at Motown and as a member of the legendary folk music group, The Weavers. Then he made the discovery that changed his life. While creating “In a Wild Sanctuary,” an album that incorporates nature sounds, Bernie realized that what he wanted to do from then on was record the voices of nature in the world’s wild places.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-Bernie with Moog Synth_sAfter earning a PhD in bioacoustics, Bernie traveled to every continent, including Antarctica, to record natural soundscapes. Analyzing wild sounds on a spectrograph, he understood that they are orchestrated like a symphony, with the voices of different species occupying distinct frequency niches so that the animals in a given habitat can all hear each other. Besides the biophony, or animal voices, Bernie’s recordings captured the geophony, the non-animal sounds of their habitat like wind and waves. And he became able to document the disruptive effects of the anthropophony, the sounds humans make, on animal life.

During the decades that Bernie recorded the sounds of more than 15,000 species in marine and terrestrial environments, he had to travel farther and farther to find places that are not disrupted or destroyed by human noise and activities. Nature’s Orchestra follows Bernie and two other nature sound recordists, Dr. Kevin Colver and Martyn Stewart, to three locations in the most remote region in the United States: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This American Serengeti provides breeding and feeding grounds for caribou herds, aquatic mammals, grizzly and polar bears, and a million migratory birds that travel great distances across the planet.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-4Bernie_studio_sRecording geophonic sounds of winds, melting tundra, cracking ice and flowing water was as important for this scientific expedition as recording wildlife music. For climate change affects the polar regions at more than twice the rate of change in temperate and tropical regions; and some of its effects can be heard through a comparative study of nature sounds recorded at the same times and places at the same time of year—in this case early June—in different years.

As presented in Nature’s Orchestra, the Arctic Soundscape Expedition offers a wonderful marriage of science and art. Along with the acoustic beauty the nature sound recordists captured and the visual beauty conveyed through the cinematography of Robert Hillmann and Laurence Campling comes the extraordinary music that Bernie Krause composed with Richard Blackford. Incorporating wild sounds from Bernie’s archive and performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, “The Great Animal Orchestra” gives the documentary a unique soundtrack.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-2arctic_sBack home in Sonoma County, Bernie treats high school students to the music of walruses, fish and an elephant from his composition “Gorillas in the Mix,” and he takes them into the creekbed near their school so that they can listen, through good microphones and headphones, to nature sounds.

“The large part of really creating is the ability to listen,” says choreographer Alonzo King. The Alonzo King LINES ballet company is rehearsing “Biophony,” as Bernie, the composer, looks on. Nature’s Orchestra concludes with intercut images of dancers in San Francisco and birds of the arctic moving to the music that the natural world taught Bernie Krause.


Executive Producer: Steve Michelson
Director / Producer: Robert Hillmann
Writer / Producer: Stephen Most
Editor / Associate Producer: Véronica Duport Deliz

Stephen Most is an author, playwright, and documentary filmmaker. He is the writer/producer of the documentary RIVER OF RENEWAL, which won the “best documentary feature” award at the American Indian Film Festival, and the author of River of Renewal, Myth and History in the Klamath Basin, published by the University of Washington Press.

Stephen began his playwrighting career with the award-winning POE, which the Organic Theatre produced twice in Chicago. He co-wrote LOON’S RAGE, which launched the Dell’Arte Players Company. As dramaturg for Dell’Arte he collaborated on INTRIGUE AT AH-PAH and WHITEMAN MEETS BIGFOOT. His other plays are MEDICINE SHOW, CROSSING BORDERS (for the San Francisco Mime Troupe), RAVEN’S SEED, WATERSHED, A FREE COUNTRY, and FORCES OF NATURE.

Documentary films Stephen has scripted include OIL ON ICE, which is about the controversy over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; THE GREATEST GOOD a history of the U. S. Forest Service; A LAND BETWEEN RIVERS, a history of central California; and GREEN FIRE: ALDO LEOPOLD AND A LAND ETHIC FOR OUR TIME. WONDERS OF NATURE, which he wrote for the Great Wonders of the World series, won an Emmy for best special non-fiction program. THE BRIDGE SO FAR: A Suspense Story, won a best-documentary Emmy. PROMISES, on which he worked as Consulting Writer and Researcher, won Emmys for best documentary and outstanding background analysis and research. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002. BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES, which Stephen co-wrote, also received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.

Stephen Most

Bernie Krause and I became acquainted twenty years ago when I was writing texts, video scripts and audio voices for the permanent exhibit of the Washington State History Museum. Together we traveled around western Washington, from the northwest edge of the Olympic Peninsula where the Makah have their reservation to the Columbia River where Chinook-speaking tribes once traded goods, to record native speakers of ten indigenous languages. Along the way, Bernie told me stories about his life.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-3RecordingArctic_sHe is truly a natural hero. Like John Muir who discovered that glaciation carved the Sierra Nevada, Bernie brings soulful inspiration to scientific observation. Like Aldo Leopold, he applies ecological awareness to the study of landscape change. Like Rachel Carson, he considers birdsong and other nature sounds indicators of change. Beyond all of his predecessors, Bernie bridges the divide between science and the arts; for he approaches and appreciates nature as a musician and in doing so enables nature to be humanity’s muse once again.

Many naturalists, scientists, and environmental activists grew up playing in the outdoors. Lamenting that “we the pioneers have killed our wilderness,” Aldo Leopold went on to say, “I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” The age of the pioneers, on the frontier and in the environmental movement, is long over. The next generations of youth need experiences of the wild nonetheless, and joyful ones whenever possible.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-bird_sAs soon as I learned about the footage Robert Hillmann and Laurence Campling shot of Bernie’s Arctic Soundscape Expedition, I realized that its use in a documentary could inspire viewers to experience the natural world that is around us, even in cities, in ways that our visually focused commercial civilization ignores. I want the film to encourage active listening to nature because, as Bernie says, it connects us with our deeper selves. I also want nature sound recording to contribute to the “leave no child indoors” movement among educators and to the data collection of citizen scientists.

NH700-Natures_Orchestra-students_sMy emphasis for this show was more on science than art until Bernie made the wild sounds music he composed with Richard Blackford available to the production and Alonzo King allowed us to film his dancers rehearsing to their “Biophony” music. Another stroke of good fortune was the ability to work with Véronica Duport Deliz. Véronica’s artistry as an editor created a unique combination: a portrait of Bernie and his science of soundscape ecology, works of music and dance that incorporate sounds from the world’s wild places, and the visual and acoustic beauty of the arctic. The upshot of this creative fusion goes far beyond what I imagined was possible when I began the film project. I hope that Nature’s Orchestra will inspire its audience to gain knowledge and discover beauty they had been unaware of which was there within their reach all along.

Find Out More:
Wild Sanctuary, http://www.wildsanctuary.comBernie Krause, The Great Animal Orchestra (Little, Brown, 2012) Krause’s TED Talk,

The Nature Sounds Society,

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
Oil On Ice,

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