On the Paradox of Listening to Recorded Nature
By Jim Cummings
From the liner notes to The Dreams of Gaia.
You are about to enter a strange land, a place rich
with life, where relationship and wholeness is paramount, yet where
your sensory experience will be reduced to nothing more than subtle
changes in air pressure against your eardrums. You are entering
into the sounding world, separated from its natural context as just
one aspect of a planet we usually know through a unified experience
of sight, touch, smell, and sound.
Paradoxically, this separation is meant to enliven your sense of
integration with the living, breathing community that you walk through
day to day. By focusing on the subtle (and startling) expressions
of this sounding world, you will likely find your ears enlivened,
taking a newly active role in your own experience of your home.
This new vividness in your listening may well feed into fresh ways
of seeing the leaves, of feeling the wind, of tasting the permeating
scent of the forest.
Still, the whole idea of extracting a single aspect of the whole
is odd. These recordings don't even duplicate the sonic experience
you'd have in any of the places they were made. In this is their
strangeness, and their power. The world outside your door is indescribably
more vivid than any recording; though there may be fewer, less dramatic
sounds there, you are immersed in those sounds, they surround you,
penetrate your skin, and move invisibly through your heart and spirit,
in ways these recordings never will.
Yet these sound recordists are not spending their lives futilely
attempting to recreate natural soundscapes. No, they cast their
lots to the currents of wonder, and the tiny fragments of endless
field and studio work that end up on CDs are their most successful
moments of evoking something central to that place. Or a more general
and universal respect for relationship. Or the resonance of a dream
they had one early morning. Or perhaps a passing sense of delight,
or sadness. No matter their intent, for your experience in hearing
the work will surely be different than theirs. This is the way of
As you likely know from your own life, the wonder we can remember,
carry with us, speak about, or let creativity play with, is not
the same wonder we experience in the living moment. The memory of
wonder that we bring back is like a photograph, a sketch, a scribbled
note, compared to the moment of connection itself. These works are
not attempts to recreate the experience of being present to a chorus
of frogs in the night, or the awakening of a woodland dawn, or the
standoff between two elk at opposite sides of a meadow. As we listen,
can have an experience that has links, both obvious and uncharted,
with the moments we have known in the world (and with those we are
yet to know). There is a stimulation, and an exchange, with parts
of ourselves, and between ourselves and our planetary context. If
we choose to, we can be changed by this meeting with pure sound.
The first disc is designed to open your ears. You will find extraordinary
expressions of natures voices, surprising and familiar. The
human sounding world is presented as well, in both its beauty and
confusion. You are introduced to the gamut of artistic approaches,
from unretouched field recordings to constructed compositions built
of highly edited and transformed source recordings. Yet there is
a coherence here, as the tracks combine to reflect the passage of
our days, riding the earth as it spins in the sun.
Disc 2 slows down, and goes deeper. Here we have one long day cycle,
beginning in the predawn buzzing of the Costa Rican rainforest,
emerging at daybreak in a prairie marsh, and continuing through
the day, to evening with a troop of chimps and the midnight slumber
party of a family of elephants. Each track is long enough to begin
to cast the spell of its place. We find ourselves softly expressing
the ineffable with birds in a midmorning free-form song, thawing
with the slow release of glacial meltwater, and expanding into the
night along with the insects and bats of a Kenyan riverside.
The hope of these recordists is that by the end, we have a deeper
appreciation for the rich variety and abundant unity of the voice
of our planet. Perhaps well even find a way to help our voices
blend in more graciously, more respectfully, more receptively; from
there, we may find our way back to old ways that believe the whole
story is about actively nurturing relationships with all of life.
And then, we will once again take our place as a movement within
the Dreams of Gaia.
About the Author - Jim
Cummings is founder of EarthEar, and arranger of the compilation
disc The Dreams of Gaia. This essay is drawn from the liner
notes to that disc.
The Big Picture -
Peruse more writings on soundscapes. [WEBPAGE]
The Eternal Story, in its
Original Language - for more from this author. [WEBPAGE]