A question looms with regard to nature soundscapes. And that is “what kind of soundscape is relaxing”? This is a difficult question to answer, especially when it comes to recordings of bird song.
I was just corresponding with my friend Jerry Berrier, about my Woodpecker Interlude blog post. Jerry had this to say: “I loved the subtle natural echo when the woodpecker is drumming. Although it’s all beautiful, it seems to me that there are too many sounds going on simultaneously. I would not find it relaxing, even though I enjoyed listening to it.”
I find this extremely interesting. Given that one of my goals is to put together a collection of bird recordings that I will advertise as “Gentle Bird Songs,” I wonder what the constraints are, what rules I should follow? Does it really have to do with the number of birds singing (= too many birds are a bad thing), or does it have more to do with the nature of the mix and the playback levels?
To help answer this question, I’ve decided to post a recording I call “Twittering of the Birds.” It is a dawn chorus that I recorded last spring at the Woodland Nature Station at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. I remember the experience very well. At first light, I looked out over a dew-covered meadow surrounded by forest, with fog hanging low in the valley. Bird song was erupting in all directions. The landscape was extremely dense with sound, although nearly every singing bird was rather far away, with the notable exception of an Eastern Wood-Pewee who whistled from a tree limb overhead during most of the recording:
Dawn chorus at the picnic area of the Woodland Nature Station, 5:20 am, 19 May 2010, Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
Is this soundscape relaxing? Personally, I do find it relaxing, but only if I play it back at a fairly low level. The wood-pewee stands out for sure, but it is not at all overwhelming. But what of all the other bird songs, the rather dense and continuous twittering in the background? Sure, you can hear individuals at times, but there are no periods of complete silence. Of course, there was nothing I could do about the density. This is the way it is in late spring, when male songbirds of nearly every species sing like crazy at the break of dawn.
What is everyone’s reaction? Relaxing? Disturbing? Somewhere in the middle? Please belt it out so I can hear what you have to say!