In collaboration with Arup, a global leader in architectural acoustic design, Ear to the Earth produced an immersive environment of sounds from extinct, endangered, and threatened species, including birds and animals that we will never hear again.
The environment, installed in a gallery space at 3LD Art & Technology Center, was open to the public during the last days and evenings of the Ear to the Earth Festival in 2006.
The sounds were donated by the Macaulay Library of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Aleksei Stevens played a key role in researching and gathering the sounds, which he grouped into 11 scenes related to regions, such as North America, Australia and South Pacific, Oceana, East Asia, Hawaii, Central and South America, and Africa. He writes, "It was certainly fascinating, but researching Suspended Sounds was also an emotional experience in that I was researching the disappearance of animals ... "
The sounds were edited by Joel Chadabe. Soundcurrent Mastering contributed audio processing and noise reduction. And the sound groups were sequenced into short 8-track compositions by Joan La Barbara, Joel Chadabe, Alvin Curran, David Monacchi, Aleksei Stevens, and Rama Gottfried.
The installation was created by Alban Bassuet, Senior Acoustics Associate at Arup, using the Arup Sound Lab to design an immersive sound space. He writes, "Our brain constantly decodes information about where sound objects are located, what they are, their state, and how far away they are. After thousands of years of evolution, hearing has created deep connections with our neural system ... "
What follows here is a listing of the scenes, the sounds they included (with extinction assessments as of 2006 of the associated species), the names of the artists that sequenced the sounds, and selected examples of the sounds (with selected images).
Scene 1, North America, Aleksei Stevens. The sounds included the Dusky Seaside Sparrow (extinct), Bachman's Warbler (extinct), Cozumel Thrasher (critically endangered), Northern Spotted Owl (endangered), Whooping Crane (endangered), and Least Bell's Vireo (threatened).
Bachman's Warbler; Northern Spotted Owl; Whooping Crane; Least Bell's Vireo
Scene 2, Australia and the South Pacific, Joan La Barbara. The sounds incuded the Helmetted Hornbill (endangered), Kagu (endangered), Mariana Crow (endangered), Micronesian Kingfisher (endangered), Micronesian Megapode (endangered), and Guam Rail (extinct in the wild).
Joan La Barbara wrote: "As I worked with the sounds of these now extinct or endangered animals and birds, the depth of the poignancy of the situation was almost overwhelming. I felt as if I were breathing life into beings that no longer exist. With very few exceptions, I chose not to electronically modify their voices but to sometimes fragment and repeat portions of the sounds, amplifying their beauty by repetition, applying a microscope to the sound and perhaps a zoom lens to broaden and intensify them.
Helmetted Hornbill; Kagu; Mariana Crow; Micronesian Megapode; Guam Rail
Scene 3, East Asia, Alvin Curran. The sounds were the Probiscus Monkey (endangered) and Rothchild's Myna (endangered).
Scene 4, Hawaii, Rama Gottfried. The sounds incuded the Akiapolaau (endangered), Newell's Sheerwater (threatened), Hawaiian Crow (extinct in the wild), Crested Honeycreeper (endangered), Large Kauai Thrush (endangered), Hawaiian Petrel (threatened), and Nihoa Millerbird (critically endangered).
Scene 5, Central & South America, Aleksei Stevens. The sounds included the White-winged Guan (endangered), White-necked Crow (threatened), Giant Otter (endangered), Resplendent Quetzal (threatened), Red Siskin (endangered), Spider Monkey (critically endangered), Mantled Howler Monkey (concern), Jaguarundi (concern), and Razor-billed Curassow (endangered).
White-winged Guan; Resplendent Quetzal; Red Siskin; Spider Monkey; Jaguarundi; Razor-billed Curassow
Scene 6, Oceana 1, Joan La Barbara. The sounds included the Bowhead Whale (threatened) & seals, Finback Whale (endangered), Gray Whale (threatened), Humpback Whale (threatened), and Right Whale (endangered).
Bowhead Whale; Finback Whale; Gray Whale; Humpback Whale; Right Whale
Scene 7, Hawaii, Joel Chadabe. The sounds included the song of the Kauai 'O'o (extinct).
Scene 8, North America, Aleksei Stevens. The sounds included the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (critically endangered), Audubon's Crested Caracara (threatened), Bald Eagle (concern), Houston Toad (endangered), Northern Spotted Owl (endangered), Harpy Eagle (concern), and California Gnatcatcher (threatened).
Ivory-billed Woodpecker; Audubon's Crested Caracar; Bald Eagle; Houston Toad; Harpy Eagle
Scene 9, Oceana, Joel Chadabe & Aleksei Stevens. The sounds included the Blue Whale (endangered), Finback Whale (endangered), and Bowhead Whale (threatened).
Scene 10, Africa, Joan La Barbara. The sounds included were the Mountain Gorilla (endangered), Indri (endangered), Chimpanzee (endangered), and Leopard (concern).
Mountain Gorilla; Indri; Chimpanzee
Scene 11, Hawaii, Joel Chadabe. The sounds featured the song of the Hawaiian Kauai 'O'o (extinct), its plaintive melody lingering in our memories.
To present the sounds in a concert format, Alban Bassuet, Senior Acoustics Consultant at Arup Acoustics, used the Arup SoundLab to design an immersive 3-dimensional sound space that articulated the height, direction, and distance from which a sound originated relative to the listener. It provided a perspective from which point the positions of the sounds in space and their movements could be felt.
The effect placed us in the midst of birds in an aviary, or in a jungle or rainforest, or swimming with whales underwater.
To understand the thoughts behind the acoustic process, read Alban Bassuet's explanatory note.