Let’s face it: This has been a tough, stressful year in a lot of ways. What the world needs now is a soothing, relaxing soundtrack. Luckily, the Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain, a contemporary art museum in Paris, can provide just such a soundtrack through an innovative project called The Great Animal Orchestra, created by ecologist and musician Bernie Krause. While Krause’s exhibit, a celebration of the music occurring in nature, is only running at the museum until January 8, 2017, listeners can experience these mesmerizing natural soundscapes for themselves at the project’s immersive, interactive website. Headphones are recommended.
From here, visitors can choose from a variety of “acoustic landscapes,” including Alaska, California, Ontario, Zimbabwe, and the Pacific Rim. Within each landscape, users can then select various elements, each representing a faction of the natural world. Within the Zimbabwe environment, for instance, there are insects, birds, and even a few baboons audible in a recording made just before dawn. Through narration, Krause explains how the sounds of nature are stratified just like a human orchestra would be. The various species have to communicate on distinct channels so that they can be clearly heard. The longer a person listens, the more the individual voices come to the fore.
In this behind-the-scenes interview, Krause explains how the unusual project came about. Years ago, members of the Nez Perce tribe taught him that nature produces very musical sounds on its own without human interference. On a subsequent trip to Africa in 1983, he made recordings of various birds, mammals, insects, and frogs. Analyzing these recordings later, he found patterns that were similar to orchestral scores. “Maybe we have some connection to the animal world in terms of our development of sound,” he theorizes.