Modern life is overwhelming; news of politicians being ‘milkshaked’, other politicians trying to govern women’s bodies, meanwhile imminent climate and ecological breakdown hangs in the balance. Our ever-connected ‘smart’ devices with relentless notifications, messages to reply to, unopened emails, hours spent looking at backlit screens. Not to mention often overwhelming demands from our work, families and friends.
Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to give our eyes and our mind a break. Many studies have shown nature to be beneficial to our wellbeing as well as our physical health, in fact doctors in Scotland have started prescribing ‘nature’ to patients. And while we actively try and carve out dedicated nature time (and we encourage you too as well) sometimes it’s just not feasible.
So what about the sounds of nature?
Natural soundscapes might be the dose of respite you need when everything just gets a bit too much.
What are nature soundscapes?
Quite simply, natural sounds recorded in their natural setting, or soundscape. Originally in the realm of science and data collection, the recording focused on individual animals, a bird song for example. As technology improved to expanded to capturing whole habitats as well as drifting into the arts.
In the 1970s however, these (slightly more polished) recordings entered the mainstream and founded a genre of their own pioneered by Irv Teibel. “Though plenty of other people had recorded rainforests and jungles, for folk collections or for posterity, no one had thought to smooth them down for general indoor use”, reports Atlas Obscura’s Cara’s Giamio. It captured the zeitgeist of the youth environmental movement at the time. The New York Times reported, “there is scarcely an environments record side that someone hasn’t reported using to make love to.”
Apart from being sold as 70s equivalent to ’Netflix and chill’, there has been a range of studies exploring the effect these sounds have on us. A study in the UK showed better cognitive performance on tasks when interspersed with a nature soundscape as opposed to a mechanical sound. Giaimo adds, “In a 2003 study, patients undergoing bronchoscopies reported less pain and anxiety when the procedure had a woodsy soundtrack. Some scientists have even suggested piping birdsong into urban environments, in order to boost general morale and overpower less pleasant sounds, like traffic.”
Fast forward to 2019 and you now have countless apps, videos and playlists promoting natural sounds.
We’ve been inspired by eco-thriller podcast Forest 404 - set in a nature-free future, Pan stumbles across an old rainforest soundscape, it triggers an episode in anyone who hears it. In light of the UN damming biodiversity report released last month. It does make us wonder - could we ever really imagine a world without these sounds?
We decided to collate 10 great soundscapes for when you might need to hit pause on the human world for a little while.
1. Environments1 - Irv Teibel
An acoustic history lesson here, delve into Teibel’s original Environments LP. Sixty minutes of ocean waves lapping that was an artistic and technological breakthrough at the time.
2. Let Nature Sing - RSPB
Listening to nature isn’t just a soothing exercise, it can be an act of activism as well. UK’s national bird charity this year released a song into the charts last month to highlight the rapid decline in bird species across the country. It’s a two and half minute chorus of bird song and it is a delight.
It reached #18 in the charts - but you can keep adding to their streaming numbers by hitting play here:
3. British Library Sound Archives
Ok, so one for when you’re in a more curious mode than relaxing mode. But how about listenings to African wildlife sounds recorded in 1938?!
4. Forest 404
An immersive innovative eco-thriller podcast from the BBC set in the 24th Century. Alongside each episode is a dedicated soundscape as well short updates from scientists on the very real benefits of nature, be entertained, be lost and be informed.
Have a listen to the first soundscape in the series: Rainforest Symphony
5. Nature Sound Map
For a more educational spin on your soundscapes, explore Nature Sound Map. Navigate a Google Earth and listen to the Gambian Rainforest, followed by a Magellanic penguin Colony in Argentina, to Elk feeding on Snow in the Arctic Circle in Norway. Recorded by professional nature recordists, it is a wonderful aural library. You can even make your own playlist of favourite recordings
6. The Silent Watcher’s Youtube Channel
Although the name sounds ominous, Bulgarian photographer Petar Paunchev captures sounds and 4k film of nature on his travels. There’s more than 50 films to choose from, his top 5 videos have more than 27 million views combined. Most films are around two hours long, so there’s plenty to work through.
7. The Great Animal Orchestra
Play conductor in various soundscapes from across the globe add layers of sound until, project curator and bioacoustician Bernie Krause, encourages you to close your eyes as he talks you through the soundscape. You have the “opportunity to conduct nature's vast musical ensemble”in this interactive project.
8. Slow Radio - BBC
“An antidote to today’s frenzied world. Step back, let go, immerse yourself: it’s time to go slow. Listen to the sounds of birds, mountain climbing, monks chatting as you go about your day. A lo-fi celebration of pure sound.”
This weekly podcast has been running for a few years now, so there’s plenty to choose from. Specially curated episodes collate three soundscapes after a musical intro in Sounds of the Earth. Here’s one such example with “dawn chorus from an orchard in the Cotswolds, warblers and skylarks in a Japanese paddy field, and the sounds that accompany the sunset over Florida's Everglades”
9. Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh's performance on "Georgia's Got Talent"
10. Binaural soundscapes from the archives of NPR
With good headphones on this is a very immersive experience; 3d soundscapes, it really feels as if you’re under the sea with the humpback whales or deep in the cave with endangered bats.
You can participate in current research via the Forest404 podcast, with the aim to “assess the effects that different natural sounds have on mental health and well-being”. It takes 10 minutes or so can you can take it here.