Apr 18, 2016

The music of the wild

Wild spaces hold hope; they cradle forgotten pasts, resist the onslaught of progress, and loan themselves to the dreams of those who will, one day,  walk their barely trodden paths.  Wild spaces tell stories; they have a language of their own – a vernacular that, in our increasingly mobile and technical world,  is understood by only a few.  We all hear the voice of the wild in our hearts and in our souls but, in busy worlds, few are able, or prepared, to truly listen to the words that rustle trees, caress waters and levitate on silent wings through lonely skies.  When we visit wild spaces we have but one job, to open our ears to the profundity of messages that have been lost to a noisy world.  It was on Eilean Shona that we learnt to truly listen.

Eilean Shona is a tidal island in Loch Moidart, Scotland. It is part of the Inner Hebrides, with a land area of 525 hectares and a permanent population of 2 lucky souls.  With no roads, the island has a soundscape that is largely wild – the sounds that dominate are what soundscape ecologists[1] term the geophony,[2] and the biophony[3].  The sounds of the human world (the anthrophony) are largely absent and, when they can be heard, are at a suitable distance to be lo-fi soundmarks that are signifiers of a different world.  Like nature in a city, the sound of the human world can be isolated and ignored; on Eilean Shona, these sounds are irrelevant – they are ghosts of a distant machine.

Our task on the island was to listen.  We were there to immerse ourselves in the sounds of this special place – the oyster catchers, curlew, sea eagles, otters, seals and, of course, the wind, rain, running water, and the movement of the sea.  In addition to listening, we were there to record and, because we are musicians, we were also there to compose musical pieces that were both created, and inspired, by the sounds that surrounded us.  In a world where the wild, both inner and outer, is being consumed at such a voracious pace by an economic machine that grows as nature dies, we felt privileged to be guests on an island that still calls wild, home.  One of our primary jobs as acoustic ecologists is to share with people sounds of the wild in order to remind them that sounds that are lost do not leave echoes – they are gone forever.

Immersing oneself in a wild space requires a transition of sorts – a switching on, and a switching off.  A switching on of technology that allows one to engage more intimately with the island’s sounds and senses and a switching off of technology that merely detracts (all devices that make us slaves to a virtual world) and certain senses fatigued by city life.  This switching off can be harrowing; it can precipitate feelings of anxiety, separation and loneliness; however, these feelings are generally short-lived and one soon looks at a mobile phone with disdain for it is a source of disconnection, not connection.  Being on Eilean Shona was all about connection; it was about being intimate with a space and learning from this intimacy.  It is important to remember that sound is a vibration, it touches us physically; it is from this touch that we can learn so much about the world we are creating and the worlds we are destroying.

Our time on Eilean Shona had a profound impact on us.  There was something magical about the space that caused a shift in consciousness, a shift in our auditory perception. The island taught us to truly listen – to hear the voice of the wild.   This blog started with a meditation on the importance of wild spaces and what they can tell us through their sounds; it ends with a recording of the sounds of the sea at Shoe Bay on the western side of the island.  We have used the movement and sound of the sea to create a musical piece – a meditative reflection on the fact that what we find aesthetically pleasing in our human interpretation of nature exists in a wilder form that can still be heard if we learn to truly listen.



[1] See the work of Bernie Krause and Almo Farina.

[2] Sonic energy produced by non-biological natural agents e.g. winds, volcanoes, sea waves, running water, rain, thunderstorms, etc (Farina, A (2014) Soundscape Ecology: Principles, Patterns, Methods and Applications. Springer, New York).

[3] Sonic energy produced by animal vocalisations and movements (ibid).

  • Kat Krause Apr 18, 2016 Reply

    Thank you for posting this lovely narrative addition to the subject.

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