Zion National Park has issued a draft Soundscape Management Plan (SMP). This is the very first SMP to be issued by any national park, and other parks will use it as a template. Unfortunately, the park treated the scoping and public comment on the plan as a Utah local issue, and we and other national organizations have just learned of it near the end of the comment period.
The plan and a link for posting comments can be found at:
The plan expresses high ideals; that wilderness (comprising 90% of Zion NP) should be preserved "untrammeled by man," and that the sounds of aircraft and other machinery are "inappropriate" in wilderness. But then when it comes down to the actual technical standards proposed, human-generated noise is allowed for up to 25% of the time in the wilderness zone!
This inconsistency is the result of the failure of the Air Tour Management Act of 2000, which mandated that a joint committee of the FAA and the NPS produce guidelines for low-altitude tourist flights over national parks. In ten years the committee has failed to come to an agreement, because the FAA's mission includes promoting aviation while the NPS's mission mandates maintaining natural quiet. The FAA controls the airspace over the parks, and negotiations haven't even started on the impact of high-altitude commercial air carriers. It would be a terrible mistake to codify this failure into standards for quiet in the parks.
Please tell the NPS to stand its ground and set the highest standards for natural soundscapes in the parks, regardless of whether the current political climate makes it possible to meet those standards. Standards should be based on what should be, not on a political compromise.
Please study the draft, note the 25% time audible (of human-generated sound) figure at the top of table 6 on p. 32, and submit a comment to Zion National Park asking that the standard be set to 0% time audible in the wilderness zone.
Thanks, Sharon Perry
Chair, Nature Sounds Society
http://www.naturesounds.org - (415) 821-9776 - firstname.lastname@example.org
This year was a bountiful one at the San Francisco State University Sierra Nevada Field Campus. In addition to the wonderful location there were many recordists with diverse interests ready to record or try recording for the first time. A documentary film about the Soundtracker, Gordon Hempton, was presented by its filmmaker Nick Sherman, keep your eye out for it on the festival circuit. The film was an excellent portrait of one of the foremost nature recordists in the world.
Also John Muir Laws was in attendance providing a much welcome background and context about the natural world (which I sorely need). John is the author of the definitive Field Guide(s) to the Sierras. John introduced us to drawing techniques and suggested we look behind the names and explore the systems that work together to create the ecosystems that we live in.
All in all it was a wonderful weekend, many old friends and new were made and remade. Some other links from the weekend are below. For now enjoy a clip from Carman Valley:
Some photos I took:http://www.flickr.com/photos/gweddig/sets/72157624270428383/
Rudy Trubitt: Link #1
Nathan Moody: Link #2
and: Link #3
These Carman Valley recordings by GT Weddig are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
We made a cd of nature sounds but it was only popular with massage therapists., originally uploaded by one percent for the planet.
Attending were Lon Yarbrough & Kat (they came down from Carmichael), Blair Collins, Dave Parks and Maggie Sharp, Patrick Cress, Ken Osborn and Betty Graham, and Steve Sergeant, with hosts Dan Dugan and Sharon Perry.
After pot-luck dinner, the sounds we played included files contributed by members who couldn't attend. We watched a streaming video of an installation Hugh Livingston recently completed in Kansas. Bernie Krause sent three pieces, Spread Creek Pond at Jackson Hole (Clark’s nutcrackers, rosy finches, white-crowned sparrows, vesper sparrows, robins, Lincoln sparrows, pileated woodpecker); Sugarloaf State Park (mostly fluttering, pre-spring, Black eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Rufous Sided Towhee, Song Sparrow, American Robin, Common Crow), and the North Sea grinding a gravel beach, recorded with shoulder-mounted DPA 4060s borrowed from Chris Watson. Bernie said he was so impressed with them that he bought a pair. We heard three contributions made at this year's Workshop by Greg Weddig: morning ambience at Yuba Pass, mid-morning at Madora Lake, and morning at Carman Valley.
Contributions by people who came included a piece with Yosemite soundscapes of running water and frogs serving as bridges and background for alto saxophone and bass clarinet by NSS grant recipient Patrick Cress. Dan Dugan played three four-channel surround pieces from the Merced National Wildlife Refuge: huge flock takeoffs, great horned owls before dawn, and coyotes that stepped up to the mic while the rig was running unattended. From Yosemite's McGurk Meadow Dan played a bit of a deer eating and splashing in the stream, bats obligingly flying around the mic array at night, and a dawn chorus, all from this July. Dave Parks played a number of short excerpts of raw material from Australia, including white-lipped frogs, bower birds, and bell birds. Lon Yarbrough presented some close-up sandhill crane recordings made with his new telinga.
Sharon and I spent our first volunteer weekend in Yosemite July 11-13. Here's our story.
We booked the weekend on the group calendar a couple of months ago. When it got close to the day, Joe was out of town. Karen, his secretary, got in touch and Joe called on his cell phone from a training session at the Grand Canyon. For lodging he had one bed in a shared cabin at White Wolf, which wouldn't do for the two of us. He offered a campsite anywhere. We opted for White Wolf, because we'd never been there and wanted to learn the area.
When we arrived Friday night we looked up Tom, the camp host. His small truck camper is to the left of the entrance, just before the toilet house. Tom was pleasant and interested in our work. Tell him we sent you.
Our site was No. 2, second on the right. I ran my 80' snake out the back of the tent. It reached just across a trail (to Lukens Lake) and I set up my 4-channel array facing the younger trees that are actually near the edge of a meadow visible from the parking lot, but not from where I set up. The camp was pretty noisy in the evening, especially some rangers/employees chatting between cars in the parking lot around midnight. In the small hours I recorded several segments, but there was nothing happening--no frogs, insects, or owls.
I was awakened by Sharon saying "don't even think about it!" loudly. I thought she was talking in her sleep, but in the morning she told me something was snorting around the tent. Must have been a bear, host Tom said they don't have raccoons.
I started recording an hour before dawn. It was disappointing. Birds were singing somewhere, but my location-of-convenience seemed to be where they were not.
When (in the call mentioned above) I asked Joe for an assignment, he had two suggestions. One was to record birds that have dialects in Yosemite that differ from other areas. That wasn't a task I could tackle right away; I'm a soundscape recordist, not a species hunter, and I would want to consult with a Yosemite naturalist about what species, when and where, before taking that on.
The other was to record soundscapes in the sequoia groves. Sharon and I were happy to do that.
Saturday we went to explore Tuolumne Grove. Joe had told us we could drive to it "the back way" using Old Oak Flat Road out of Hodgdon Meadow (ask me for directions). It was a beautiful drive. The road was barely passable in a sedan; I imagine pretty soon it will be 4WD-only unless it is repaired. We were embarrassed when we drove into the area with the picnic tables and there were visitors there! We turned around and parked in a wide spot at the lowest sequoia in the grove, the Mile 2 marker, where there is a line of boulders at the downhill edge of the road.
I set up my 4-channel array 50' downslope there. While that was running Sharon and I went up to explore the interpretive loop trail. Sharon decided to do an hour of recording at the top of the trail, just to document the scene including visitors.
There are three potential values in soundscape recording in a National Park. Scientific, to document the biophony at that place and time. Political, to document the anthrophony, collecting evidence that might be useful in policy-making about aircraft and visitor traffic. Artistic, to use in natural sound compositions.
At mid-day we not only had the regrettably frequent high-altitude jets that plague Yosemite, and visitor foot traffic which is normal and proper, but also a very loud helicopter that kept circling back a low altitude. Perhaps there was a fire or an emergency nearby. So we documented just about the worst sonic experience that a park soundscape can provide! Work, but no joy.
White Wolf is mainly a gateway to the back country. There are two easy trails to nearby lakes. Saturday evening we hiked out to Harden Lake. I made a short recording on my pocket Nagra ARES-M of a talented chickadee. We were late getting back, missing dinner at the Lodge.
Tired from hiking and remembering my previous disappointing recording, I didn't set up mics at the camp that night. Wouldn't you know, there was a really nice dawn chorus right around our tent on Sunday morning.
Sunday we went to explore Merced Grove. Sharon set up a couple of hundred yards in from the parking lot, where there was some mid-day bird action. I tried to balance her shoulder-mic vest on a camp chair so that the mics pointed upslope. That was a mistake because the positioning was unstable and the recording had episodes of clothing noise from wind moving the vest. Sharon read in another chair a hundred feet off. At one point visitors asked her what she was doing, and she invited them to listen on the headphones. They got the usual consciousness-raising "wow" experience of listening amplified.
I went down the trail about 1.8 mi to the sequoias. I overtook one couple on the way down. Just then we saw a bear cub, didn't see mama.
We had agreed to roll at 11:20; it was 11:25 when I got to the first group of trees so I hastily positioned myself on a log just off the trail and started recording. I got an hour uninterrupted before a family group of visitors arrived. Well, uninterrupted except for my squirming and stomach gurgling. I wished I'd brought a stand or taken the time to drape my vest on a stump; body-worn recording for an hour isn't very practical. Mid-day there were no birds at all, only a few aircraft and squirrels. At one point I freaked at what sounded in my phones like a rockslide. I was afraid a bear was coming down the slope. I think it may have been a squirrel dislodging debris in a dead tree behind me; I haven't had the chance to listen closely to the recording yet.
In summary, it was a good scout. We know our way around White Wolf and the two northern sequoia groves now. We recorded a lot of noise pollution, maybe a few minutes of artistic value--par for the course in nature recording (sigh). Next trip (Aug. 8-10) we'll see if we can manage night and dawn chorus recordings at the groves.
The Nature Sounds Society (NSS) presents "The Nature of Nature," a concert of new music and nature sounds, on Sunday, October 12, 8 p.m., in the Oakland Museum of California Museum gardens. The museum is at 1000 Oak at 10th Streets, one block from the Lake Merritt BART.
The concert introduces new work by Bay Area composers Krystyna Bobrowski, Guillermo Galindo, and Wendy Reid and sound designer Dan Dugan. It explores the rhythms and interaction of natural sounds with artificial sounds via surround-sound playback, live representation of natural sound using traditional instruments, and instruments made from natural objects.
Ms. Bobrowski has composed and performed works using natural instruments (bull kelp horns, shells) and has composed pieces for structured improvisation for small and large ensembles. She teaches electronic music at the College of San Mateo.
Mr. Galindo is an award-winning composer of two symphonies and two major opera works, and has scored numerous films and contemporary dance pieces.
Ms. Reid produced the series "New Music with Birds, Frogs and Other Creatures," sponsored by the museum's Natural Sciences Department and the NSS during the 1990s. She teaches at Mills and Holy Names colleges.
Sound designer Dan Dugan began his career in live theater and concerts. His current focus is recording nature sounds and building "lightly composed" works that evoke the layered ambiance of wild soundscapes.
The spacious museum gardens allow the audience to stroll or sit during the performance. Admission is $20 general, $15 student, senior, and OMCA members. Tickets will be available at the door. For information call (415) 821-9776.
Here is a video clip of Dan Dugan explaining the MS mic technique at one of his tech talks.
Well this is the inaugural post for the new Nature Sounds Society web blog. We hope to be posting regularly in the future especially when there are events that we can blog from such as our annual workshop each summer as well as tech talks and any other assorted happenings. In the future we will be posting video of our own from the tech talks at Dan Dugan's to clips from our workshops.