Customer Reviews: The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places
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on March 12, 2012
In addition to playing with the Weavers, Bernie and his partner Paul Beaver introduced the synthesizer to rock, and they worked with the biggest names in music in the 1960s and 1970s. Bernie's previous book, In A Wild Sanctuary, explored how animals partition their environments to get their calls across without interfering with each other. This selective use of the soundscape, which must be seen as a vital part of ecology and evolution, is now called biophony (life-sound), and along with geophony (earth-sound, like water and wind), makes us more sensitive to what's going on around us. He has recorded thousands of animals, plants, and environments around the world, including many environments that have now disappeared. His work has been pioneering in giving us a whole different qualitative and quantitative approach to what we are losing ... and sounds often record what visual evidence alone cannot.

Here, Bernie asks whether the sounds and rhythms of human music could have been adopted wholesale from the animals in our environments -- in short, whether animals taught us to sing and dance. The rhythms and songs of these animals will astound you, and give you a different perspective on the inspiration for our music.
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on March 30, 2012
All too rarely a book comes along that changes one's life and worldview by opening up new vistas of knowledge, thought and feeling. This is such a book.
Bernie Krause built upon a musical education and grounding to create a new dimension of sound. After building a career in the music business--itself a rare achievement--he turned to the sounds of nature. He deals with sound as his mentor, considering sounds from the land and ocean, evaluating the organized sound of life itself, covering what he calls `biophony' as a proto-orchestra, revealing the interior of the magnificent reality represented by the sounds of life that surround us every waking moment.
The book has many dimensions: it is a scientific treatise of exceptional scholarly quality and clarity; it is a book of global scope, since the author has worked worldwide, on land, at sea and undersea in pursuing the soundscapes of animal life; the book studies and documents the influence of human activity on ecosystems that predate humanity by hundreds of thousands of years, explaining the destructive aspects of human-derived sound, which he calls `noise'; and it is a richly anecdotal book of profound human insights, since it enables the reader to appreciate, in ways that were hitherto unavailable, the influence of sound in essentially every aspect of our lives, in places rich with mystery that most of us will never visit. Krause believes, and who are we to argue with him, that human communication over the millennia may be based on the natural sounds that preceded speech and singing--after all, animals, birds and marine life were here long before Man.
If one had to level a criticism at the work, it would be the missed opportunity of not including a CD of natural sounds, or at least offering one to readers, but this does not happen. There is precedent: Nick Mason, of Pink Floyd, is a committed automobile enthusiast who included a C D of some of his great collector cars in his book.
That minor criticism aside, Animal Orchestra is beautifully written, in lucid prose that pleases the mind. It is not a casual or easy read, because it is a voyage of discovery, replete with arcane detail that calls for close, attentive scrutiny and thought, but the time spent will be well rewarded. A spiritual tone pervades the work, compelling one to believe that knowing the author would be a profoundly uplifting experience. His clarion call for greater respect for nature resounds from every page.
This book is a great achievement. One will never hear or listen to the world the same way, ever again.
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The Great Animal Orchestra By: Bernie Kraus
Reviewed by: Mike Cumberland

This book will change the way you listen. Krause awakens the spirit of the reader from the ennui of the everyday to the acoustic susurrations that surround us each day. As he notes, as a species, we now tend to block out our surrounding sounds with our own digital technology, but we also do this as a limbic brain protective / survival mechanism.

Krause skillfully relates the progression of his early personal experiences to his journey of amassing a collection of soundscapes worthy for generations to come. This book brings his salient technical journal and professional writings into a consummate assemblage of easily understood ideas. His explanation and use of terms such as: spectrograms, geophonies, biophonies, and anthrophonies are easy to grasp through diagrams and his easy writing style.

I was happily pleased that Mr. Krause made the reader aware of "The Sixth Extinction" concept through soundscape recordings -- but as much pleased that the point was not belaboured upon as Farley Mowat's Sea of Slaughter; which is down-right depressing.

One particular éclat phrase is particularly poignant, "... while a picture is worth a thousand words, a natural soundscape is worth a thousand pictures." (Krause, p. 71) This particular phrase alludes to the multi-dimensionality of life that Krause has captured in his extensive research studies. He not only clearly explains the three-dimensionality of vision, but on goes to concisely explain the fourth dimensionality of the inclusion of space and time through his spectrographs.

To a curious reader one can extrapolate that Krause is verging on translating the fourth-dimensionality of time and space: to quantum mechanics, general relativity, and string theory -- that explains all fundamental forces of nature.

This is a book that can be enjoyed as an introduction to soundscapes for the neophyte explorer, as well as the technically well acquainted in this burgeoning field. As a person who has worked with R. Murray Schafer for over thirty years learning about this field I can say it evokes more questions to be answered for future generations than it answers questions. This is as a great book should be -- it demands a response from the reader to act.

Lastly, I think of The Great Animal Orchestra's relevance for today. I need look no further than while I was in my early twenties when I was tree-planting massive clear-cuts in British Columbia. For four years I was in the areas of Terrace, Smithers, Hazleton, and Kitimat -- I reverently pause -- thinking of the existing fight to save this pristine land of paramount cultural / ecological significance and the current debacle with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project which will destroy this area. It is time for us to wake up from our soporific stupor of uncaring, greed-based, urban-life, and hear the thousands of voices. If you listen -- they are there.

Wolf Music: Tapio for Alphorn with Echoing Instruments
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on July 29, 2012
Despite Amazon's claim that the Kindle edition has audio content, this is not correct. Apparently, the "Kindle" edition permits the reader to access the recorded sounds embedded in the book through iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch only. The text itself is absolutely wonderful -- so wonderful that one really, really wants to hear the sounds the author so beautifully describes. Amazon should do whatever it takes to make this available to Kindle readers. Krause has been on NPR and in the NY Times discussing his recordings of nature sounds and Amazon owes it to loyal customers to make available to us what it makes available to readers who use other devices.
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on March 29, 2012
I had the good fortune to join Bernie Krause in field recording expeditions all over the planet in the 1980's and 1990's. These trips were always both exhausting and exhilarating, as we captured endangered sounds from before dawn well into the night. We traveled together not only in the U.S., but also to Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. The sounds we gathered are sadly from places now largely swallowed by development, a record of lost worlds. We both hope the recordings we have archived will help to preserve these vanishing voices.

When I met Bernie I had been studying animal behavior and ecology for years, but my interest in animal vocalizations was largely scientific. With his musical background, he opened my ears to a whole new world of sound. I have always been struck by his ability to bring together disparate threads, and this book develops a richly beautiful portrait of life's orchestra. From ideas we first discussed in the jungles of Borneo, he has developed complex theories of communication. He reveals how animals form their own symphonies, the percussive beat of insects blending with the melodies of birds. Each animal has its own sonic space, but like an orchestra they join together to form a haunting sonata unique to each place on earth.

It has been a pleasure to work with Bernie. From gathering sounds in the field, to the creative process of putting recordings together for environmental albums and exhibits, I have learned from him how to really focus my listening. I am delighted he has written this book to share his insights on nature's harmonies. The music we enjoy today owes a debt to thousands of wild songs. These connections can only be translated for us by a man who is both a musician and scientist, steeped in decades of really listening to everything from the singing of a sand dune to the moans of a mourning beaver. Enjoy this book as a passport to tune your ear and really hear the world in an entirely new way."
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on March 13, 2012
Unlike other publications on the topic of natural sounds, this book covers all aspects of the natural soundscape from how we learnt music from the critter to destroying natures music and replacing it with man made noises. Krause is one of the main pioneers in natural sound. This fascinating book delves into the natural world and enlightens the reader just how critical and fragile the diminishing soundscape has become. There are very few places on this planet not managed by humans that now exist. Krause describes what effect man made noise has had on our world. Krause was instrumental in removing snow mobiles from Yellowstone park to bringing a team of recordists to the fragile Arctic national wildlife refuge to document the delicate ecosystem there, something that had never been done or thought of before.
I give 2 thumbs up for this must read.
Martyn Stewart
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on March 14, 2013
Bernie Krause is one of the preeminent recorders and collectors of natural sound and one of the pioneers of the field of soundscape ecology. His most recent book, The Great Animal Orchestra, is indispensable reading and listening for anyone interested in natural soundscapes and soundscape recording, but it is even more essential for everyone else, providing an engaging introduction to the vital role that sound plays in our lives and the lives of all animals, and the rapid deterioration of natural soundscapes around the world due to the impacts of resource extraction and ever-present human noise. We might think that the degradation of natural soundscapes is merely an aesthetic loss for those few humans who prefer quiet to noise, but Krause demonstrates very clearly that increasing noise is unraveling the very fabric of natural communities. The creatures that live in those communities depend heavily on sound for communication, navigation, and locating sources of food. Understanding soundscapes is therefore essential for fully appreciating what is happening in natural communities, and recording natural soundscapes is a unique and powerful way of monitoring and assessing overall ecosystem health and integrity.

The Great Animal Orchestra was published in a somewhat confusing variety of formats, all with slightly different content. The print editions, for instance, do not come with a CD, but they do contain all of the sonograms, visual representations of audio recordings, which illustrate many of Krause's points. It is a shame that the print editions do not include the sounds on CD, because Krause has one of the largest and most diverse private collections of natural sound recordings in the world, and the book is, after all, about sound. However, the paperback print edition does include icons in the text that point to relevant online audio examples.

According to Krause, the audio book edition includes the largest selection of audio recordings of any of the editions, but of course it lacks the sonograms. Read by the author, the audio book includes many recordings that illustrate the text, but most of these are played under the narration, which means one does not always hear the depth and detail of the recordings. On those few occasions when the recordings stand alone without narration, we get a glimpse into the richness of what Bernie Krause has collected over the past four and a half decades. The audio book would have been rather long if all the recordings had been separated from the narration, but I still would have preferred that.

The other two options are a standard eBook, which like the print version is text without any sound, and an Enhanced eBook which includes the natural sound recordings. Because I do not own a device that will play the Enhanced eBook, I do not know how the text and audio are integrated, nor how the Enhanced eBook audio compares to the audio book, but it appears that the Enhanced eBook is the only way to get both the audio and the sonograms in one format (without having to go online). The other alternative is to purchase both the print edition and the audio book. This was the route I took, and I am glad I did. I like having the print edition for reference, and I really appreciate hearing Krause read his own words. His passion and his deep concern come through more forcefully in his voice than they can on the page.

Chapter One, Sound as My Mentor, is largely autobiographical, detailing how his career moved almost by accident from studio musician to nature sound recordist and soundscape ecologist. In this chapter Krause also introduces and explains some of the essential parameters of sound waves, such as amplitude and the often misunderstood decibel that measures it; frequency, wavelength and pitch; harmonics; and acoustic envelopes. Every chapter, including this one, is peppered with Krause's personal experiences recording in diverse environments around the world, and these experiences enliven even the most technical explanations of acoustic theory.

Chapter Two, Voices from the Land, opens with one of the most important stories in the book, the moment that Krause discovered viscerally the origins of human music in the voice of the Earth. He learned this through the guidance of a Nez Perce elder named Angus Wilson on the shores of Lake Wallowa in northeastern Oregon. He goes on in this chapter to describe this most fundamental aspect of natural sound: geophony, literally "speech of the Earth," the sounds produced by wind, water, ice, ocean and land.

Chapter Three, The Organized Sound of Life Itself, moves from geophony to biophony, the sounds made by all living organisms from viruses to whales. This chapter introduces an important and intriguing concept: soundscape recording as a means of monitoring ecosystem health and integrity. Krause describes his experience performing before and after recordings in an area that was selectively logged at Lincoln Meadow, Yuba Pass, CA. Although visually similar before and after the logging operation, the soundscape recordings demonstrated a deep loss of species diversity and density. It looked much the same, but the animals were gone. There is a very important point here. We humans are very visually oriented and sometimes quite oblivious to the soundscape. But most animals are deeply dependent on sound for their survival. In many situations, recording the soundscape is a better indicator of ecosystem health than taking pictures or other measures. Sound reveals so much that is hidden from the eye.

Chapter Three also introduces another fascinating and important concept, which is explored more fully in Chapter Four; Biophony, The Proto-Orchestra. This is Krause's niche hypothesis. Briefly, the niche hypothesis states that in "in older, healthy habitats" animal vocalizations partition into separate frequency and/or temporal bands. Furthermore, in these healthy habitats, most acoustic niches tend to be filed, with few gaps. In disturbed habitats, those sounds are more likely to overlap in competing frequency or temporal space, and to show large gaps of unoccupied acoustic territory. In other words, in healthy, undisturbed habitats, the animals are not vocalizing over each, they are organized like an orchestra where "some sing low and some sing higher," in order to leave a clear channel of communication for every organism. This is not just a fascinating concept, it ushers in an entirely new way (at least for us urbanized, industrialized humans) to listen to the natural world, not as separate organisms in sonic competition, but as a whole system, an orchestra, vocalizing in harmony. Listening to the whole, and recording the whole, yields insights into the functioning of ecosystems, and our own role in those systems, that simply do not occur when we are trying to listen to this or that organism in isolation from its context.

In recent years the highly controversial "Gaia Hypothesis" - the notion that the Earth functions like a single, self-regulating organism - has found some mainstream credibility as the more prosaic "earth systems science." Krause's niche hypothesis is also controversial, but he makes a strong case for it. It should not be hard to confirm, except that it is getting increasingly difficult to find undisturbed habitat. My own recordings made here in rural Vermont show this acoustic partitioning most clearly in my recordings of late summer insects. Until I looked at the sonograms and could see the distinct frequency bands for each different type of grasshopper or cricket, I never realized how much insect diversity we had living in our back yard.

Chapter Five, First Notes, moves from biophony to anthrophony. It describes how humans learned our music from the combination of geophony and biophony. Although we have strayed rather far from our origins, our music is not something that arrived fully formed in modern humans. We learned it from the Earth, and many of our fellow creatures are great musicians. This perhaps explains why music is so deeply moving for us. It speaks to our origins and our connection to the Earth like nothing else. In my experience, that is most clearly obvious from listening to humpback whales and gray seals and of course the song birds. My own discovery of the deep similarity between human vocalization and bird song came thirty years ago when I wrote a college term paper comparing the development of speech in humans and the development of song in songbirds. The similarities were so striking that it changed how I viewed human origins and human exceptionalism. What once seemed a unique human achievement found its place in the larger symphony (literally "sounding or speaking together") of life on Earth. That is Krause's aim here, to point the way to the origins of human music in the geo-biophony. I would have loved more detail in this chapter. The range of melodic voices of the Earth goes well beyond what is described here, as do the musics of cultures that have not lost their connection to the land. Here we find a tantalizing glimpse that perhaps will lead us to explore further the fascinating world of animal vocalization and human music that is closely tied to the geo-biosphere.

Chapter Six, Different Croaks for Different Folks, explores the ways in which human music has become divorced from the larger matrix of natural sound that gave birth to it. Of most interest to me here is the portrayal of early Christian attitudes toward all things "natural." Krause argues that "those who wished to live in harmony with the natural world were considered primitive, unenlightened, wicked, pagan, or all of the above... Different types of music were banned outright." Those bans extended to indigenous people being "converted" by Christian missionaries. We almost lost many of the clearest examples of human music that is deeply embedded in the natural sonic world. And now we are losing the soundscapes.

Chapter Seven, The Fog of Noise, is about what you would expect: a detailed discussion of all the ways that humans create noise, which is sound without meaning. Chapter Eight, Noise and Biophony/ Oil and Water, extends that discussion into the many ways that human noise is diminishing and destroying natural soundscapes. Krause concludes this chapter by writing, "biophonies contain the acoustic compass we need to guide us along the route of an ever-challeneged planet." We drown out these sensitive biophonies every day with our airplanes, our internal combustion engines, and our ubiquitous presence in nearly every corner of the Earth. We do so to our own peril, and the even greater peril of the natural world we can now barely hear.

The final chapter, The Coda of Hope, is somewhat strangely named. There is hope, but it is muted at best. The hope springs from the fact that, with plenty of time, severely disturbed habitats can recover, if we leave them utterly alone. Human noise is destructive to the fabric of life in ways most of us have never imagined. The only good thing about noise pollution is that, in most cases, once it stops, there is no lingering effect, unlike, for instance, pumping carbon into the atmosphere or toxic substances into the ocean. In those cases, even if we stop today, the effects will linger for centuries at least. But as soon as we stop the noise, the damage can start to repair itself. Krause tells the story of how wildlife, and a vibrant soundscape, returned to the Chernobyl exclusion zone within three years of that catastrophic accident. The Earth can heal. It is amazingly resilient. But it needs a break from us in order to do its healing work. He concludes the book with these words:

"I am invariably asked what we can do to help preserve our remaining natural environments. It's easy: leave them alone and stop the inveterate consumption of useless products that none of us need."

"Inveterate" means "habit that is long established and unlikely to change." Another word for that might be "addiction," and nobody ever said that breaking an addiction is easy. It's possible, it's necessary, but it's never easy.

This is a rich and intricate book. The themes, the sounds, the information and the personal reflections weave in and out of each other throughout, not unlike the natural symphony that is the book's subject. There were many points where I felt that there were layers to the story I was comprehending only because I have been exploring these themes in my own life for more than thirty years. And there were layers I definitely missed on first reading, and more that I probably still missed on listening to the audio book. I shall return for more.

There is a kind of magic to listening in the natural world. There are feelings and sensations in that act that are impossible to describe. They reach back deep into our animal origins. They reach even deeper into the mystery of our conscious present as members of a living, singing planet. Past and present; human, animal and Earth weave a symphony that is the truth of our life together. Bernie Krause weaves his own symphony into that larger one and communicates much more than the words convey, at least to this reader/listener.

For me the coda of hope is that even as we drown out the Earth's symphony with our own meaningless noise, and begin to unravel the integrity of the life system, we are, after all, voices in that same orchestra. The discord can't go on forever. Somehow, somewhen, the natural harmony of the great animal orchestra will reassert itself, probably without us, but possibly with us, if, and only if, we take the time to listen.
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on April 16, 2012
What a beautifully told, charming and thought-provoking book! Those who read Bernie Krause's The Great Animal Orchestra will never again view -- or hear -- the natural world about them in the same way. According to Krause's cutting-edge research in nature's remote soundscapes worldwide and his brilliant -- and often startling-- analysis of what he discovered, that's a VERY good thing!
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on July 9, 2013
I really liked the first half or so of the book, which sticks to the topic of animal stories and soundscapes, with plenty of lovely audio examples. However, after this, the author starts a very, very long discussion of how Christianity, science, and technology more or less ruined music, which segues into a long environmentalist pitch. Now, all this is well and good, but it's not what I bought the book for. I wanted to be captivated by soundscapes from start to finish. A chapter at the end regarding activism would have been appropriate, but as a good half of the book is devoted to lambasting modern society I ended up skimming the last two chapters. To me, a pure, unsullied eulogy of nature would be a much more compelling environmentalist statement than this judgmental monologue.
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HALL OF FAMEon April 17, 2012
Forty years of research listening to the biophony and the geophony , the worlds of sounds must of us do our best to ignore , or screen out provides the basis for this essay on expanding our sense of our own sensory experience. The sounds of over fifteen- thousand species were recorded by Krause in the course of his research. He finds in these worlds of sounds, not only signals for dividing territory, for searching out mates or prey, but for making a kind of music few humans seem willing to hear. Krause too is deeply concerned with the human invasion of these natural worlds, and the destruction our 'noise' makes of habitats and sound spaces which were present prior to our being here. He tells too in this book is own personal research story and provides a kind of reflective guide on how we need to learn to listen to these natural worlds. This is a book of discovery revelation and insight which will help the reader know the world in a richer way than they knew it before.
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