The Grotto - a limestone bluff overhang along a small stream in Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas. © Lang Elliott Plops and splats of water dripping from a limestone bluff overhang along a tributary of the Sabinal River in Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas. Listen also for the musical trills of Eastern Screech-Owls. April 19, 2021 at around 11pm. Recording and photograph © Lang Elliott.

Note: The recording featured above is a “3D binaural soundscape”. Please wear headphones for a profound listening experience that will make you think you’re actually out there, immersed in the natural world!

One of my favorite locations for nature recording is Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas, about 1.5 hours west of San Antonio. My first visit was in early April of 2001, during which I discovered the captivating Barking Frogs that call at night from limestone ledges, as well as the plethora of interesting birds such as Golden-cheeked Warblers, Black-capped Vireos, White-tipped Doves and many more. Check out this blog post for a sampler of recordings I’ve made there through the years, and this podcast for a narrated journey celebrating the sounds of Lost Maples.

While I certainly enjoy the variety of animal sounds to be heard there, one of the most mesmerizing of the Lost Maples soundscapes is the water music that enlivens the “Grotto,” a fern-covered limestone bluff that overhangs a small tributary of the Sabinal River. Water seeps down from the steep hillside above and then drips from near the top of the bluff, making a variety of plops, plunks, splats and splashes as the droplets fall into pools of standing water in the stream below, or else slap against the flat, wet bedrock that is exposed during drier spells.

The Grotto at Lost Maples State Natural Area

The Grotto at Lost Maples State Natural Area
Unnamed Road, Vanderpool, TX 78885, USA
Direction
This last spring, I visited Lost Maples twice … once in early March (accompanied by fellow nature lover Beth Bannister), and then again in mid-April (accompanied by nature recordist Christine Hass). On both occasions, I hiked 1.5 miles to the Grotto a little before dusk, in order to record as night unfolded. During my visit in March, wind interfered, making it difficult to hear the dripping sounds. But during my mid-April visit, the night was calm and I got my most thrilling Grotto “dripscape” to date … the recording featured at the top of this post.

From my perspective, my new grotto recording is quite an attractive soundscape, not only featuring elemental dripping sounds, but also the occasional musical trills of a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls and a backdrop of crickets trilling softly. I couldn’t have asked for more and consider it one of my best water music recordings to date. What makes it special has to do with the water level in the stream, which was quite low, to the point that there was scarcely any movement of water. However, there were many shallow pools in the stream bed, along with numerous patches of exposed bedrock, moist from the drips and covered with a thin layer of mud. While droplets landing in the pools made familiar watery plunk or plink sounds, droplets hitting the muddy bedrock made lower-pitched splats or thunks. This resulted in a rich low end, and overall a broader frequency range than one might normally encounter when recording drips.

Maidenhair Fern in the Grotto at Lost Maples State Natural Area © Lang Elliott

For comparison, check out my very first grotto recording below, which I made in 2001 when the water level was much higher. Notice how different it sounds. The low-pitched splats and thunks so obvious in my new recording are missing because virtually all of the droplets were landing directly in the water. Furthermore, one hears the gentle gurgling of the stream in my old recording, which is not at all present in my newer one. My old recording does include one element I wish were present in my new one … the distant calls of a lone Barking Frog (requires careful listening).

Personally, I prefer my latest recording, primarily because of the addition of the splats and thunks … and of course I’m thrilled by those screech-owl trills! I think my new recording is more unique and unusual, not at all your typical drippy soundscape.

Water dripping from the limestone overhang at the Grotto, located along a tributary of the Sabinal river in Lost Maples State Natural Area, in the Hill Country of Texas. Please wear headphones! Recorded April 4, 2001 at around 11pm. © Lang Elliott. All Rights Reserved © Lang Elliott.

So … I’m curious if you (my readers) agree with my assessment of the two recordings? Do you have a preference of one over the other, as I do (at least right now)? Or do you find them both equally appealing, each being a unique and wondrous expression of the music of the natural world?

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As always, I truly appreciate your feedback, so please leave a comment below.

Naturally Yours,

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Dan Evans
Dan Evans
4 months ago

Hello Lang, I love your work. Thank you for the amazing recordings and this fascinating article. Beauty is in the ears of the listener, but I think the 2021 recording is extra special, as you said. The depth created by the closeness of the dripping, contrasting with the distant calls and cricket song, the movement of the wingbeats across the sound field, and the feeling of being in a space created by the distinctness and clarity of the drops, which also give a percussive, rhythmic quality, unlike the 2001 recording where the dripping water and stream form more of a… Read more »

Lisa Rainsong
4 months ago

Lang, these two recordings are so different that I wouldn’t even compare them. Both are exquisite! The newer one is especially musical (at least from a human standpoint) and the musical term that comes to my mind is “pointillism.” It’s a term originally used in the visual arts but added to the 20th-century musical vocabulary for points of aural color. The 2001 recording is very peaceful. My eyes and ears are wide open in the 2021 recording, anticipating whichever sonic delight occurs next.

Lang Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Rainsong

Thank you Lisa for your enlightening comment! It is interesting that both recordings were made in exactly the same place, the different conditions producing such radically different results.

I’m going to google “pointillism” to learn more about what is meant by “points of aural color”.

Lisa Rainsong
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Here’s a good one, Lang: Pointillism: A musical texture promoted by Webern in which the pitches of a melody are presented just a few at a time(isolated “points” of sound) rather than in a traditional continuous melodic line in the same instrument. This technique is closely associated with Klangfarbenmelodie(which is the multi-colored melody that is produced when the pitches played by the instruments are taken as a single melodic whole)

Dan Evans
Dan Evans
4 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Rainsong

Hello Lisa, could you give any examples of music that use pointillism, I’d love to hear it!

Lisa Rainsong
4 months ago
Reply to  Dan Evans

Anton Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments, Dan,. It’s pretty abstract, but it’s a textbook example. Listen for all the changes in tone quality. Don’t listen for any lyrical musical line, though – you won’t find it!

Dan Evans
Dan Evans
4 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Rainsong

Thank you, Lisa. I had a listen, very interesting! It did remind me of water dripping, with the almost random sounding rhythms. I imagined the musicians in a cave playing a note every time a drop falls on their head!

Lisa Rainsong
4 months ago
Reply to  Dan Evans

That’s a very nice analogy, Dan!

Lang Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

In my own language, I often describe rain as a “sound object,” but one that is not a point source. Rather, rain is composed of countless “drops” that vary in quality of sound, as well as in distance and direction from the microphone. And no two drops are ever the same. So rain, as an object, manifests itself across the sound stage as countless unique point-source sound events (derivative objects) that are ever-changing in all dimensions, with no drop being identical to another.

Last edited 4 months ago by Lang Elliott
Lisa Rainsong
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

I love that description!

Juanita Roushdy
Juanita Roushdy
4 months ago

The mind is a powerful thing. Eyes closed, lying on a rock beside the falling water, completely enveloped in the surround sound, almost feeling the cool moisture – such peace. As always, Lang, thank for another extraordinary soundscape, including the gentle trilling of the owls waaaaaay off in the distance. Aaaaaah!

Mike Shalter
Mike Shalter
4 months ago

I prefer your latest recording with the trilling screech
owls complementing and contrasting to the plops and
splashes. I’m gonna record it on a loop for when my
insomnia kicks in! Nice work, Lang

Colin Hunter
4 months ago

Such an interesting soundscape, between the close range rhythmical water drips, mid-range owls and the constant trill from crickets in the distance. Lovely!

Kate Lawrence
Kate Lawrence
4 months ago

Gorgeousness recordingThe first, being my preferred piece & to my ears/brain was overall a more intimate sound experience. Listening with eyes closed, I felt enveloped by the sound drops & as if standing there, I literally anticipated feeling drops on my skin. All that was missing were the moist, mineral, woody smells of the place. Your second piece had a calming, repetitive & tranquil aesthetic that soothed the soul especially after the more textured sounding first piece.

Frank Momberg
Frank Momberg
4 months ago

Hey Lang, Thanks for participating to your journeys. I agree with you that your actual recording is amazingly deep in layering with water in the front, the owls and crickets and the overall surrounding soundscape. Otherwise in 2001 there is something behind that water curtain which is quite subtle and leaves the listener in question if it’s produced by animals like owls or crows, something bigger, or if it’s done by water. Both are unique and gives us the hint that every Soundscape we hear no matter where we are is an absolutely unique and historical event! Go on Mr.… Read more »

Frank Momberg
Frank Momberg
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Hi Lang, I agree with you that human-free nature is much more dazzling than the world of this epidemic twi-leg-species at least concerning their acoustic output

I am curious what you hear on the 2001 recording.

Frank Momberg
Frank Momberg
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Great. Thank you.

eph
eph
4 months ago

that sounds really relaxing, I listen to the heavy rain and thunderstorm vids on youtube and they are really relaxing and put me to sleep. This is a different sound but does the same thing to me and I really like that.

eph
eph
4 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

No, usually I come home from work at night, pour a glass of wine, put the heavy rain vids on and I’m falling asleep at the computer. I think the rain and even thunder would sound better with the headphones (but I might have to worry about the thunder). It’s amazing how relaxed those things make me, especially with some red wine. It would be the same way with the nature vids.

Carole
Carole
4 months ago

Both wondrous and calming. Enjoyed listening in the dark.

John Johnson
John Johnson
4 months ago

Very soothing with the water and trilling owls. Old and new recordings are each very immersive in their own way. Thank you!

Trudy Gerlach
Trudy Gerlach
4 months ago

Wonderful!

Janet Wooten
Janet Wooten
4 months ago

I enjoy all of your soundscapes, Lang, including both of these. The newer audio is unique and I appreciate all the unusual sounds you have managed to capture in the grotto plus the screech owls in the background. Very special! But the older audio is pleasant, soothing and meditative. I like that one, too.

Lang Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  Janet Wooten

I agree that both are very nice, unique in their own ways.

Eliza
Eliza
4 months ago

I agree with you, Lang, this new one is exceptional. Love the owls!

Lisa Blanton
Lisa Blanton
4 months ago

This is exquisite, Lang. If I shut my eyes, I imagine I am in a cave. I can even sense the cool night air. About half-way, I thought I detected a momentary hum of distant thunder. And I heard a fluttering of wings toward the end. Did an owl fly over? Also, there is a consistent high-pitched chirp in the background – crickets or locusts? Love this. Thank you again!

Lisa Blanton
Lisa Blanton
4 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Blanton

Followup… I listened to your earlier soundscapes of this place. Each is uniquely beautiful. This one has a layering of sounds from the variety of water drips, insects, and fleeting bird calls in the background. Softer, more delicate than the other recordings. It’s like listening to a symphony — if you train your ear to listen very carefully, you can detect individual voices in the musical texture. I love the challenge as well as the mood it creates. Wonderful. Keep ’em comin!

Lang Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Blanton

Lisa: Wow … you would make an excellent soundscape reviewer/critic/celebrator! You not only have a way with words, you are also, quite obviously, a deep listener of the sounds of nature.

Last edited 4 months ago by Lang Elliott
MAC
MAC
4 months ago

For me, the screech owls make the latest recording extra-special, but I loved both of them. It’s really like comparing apples and oranges. Thank you for caring so much about sound!

I enjoyed both of your water drip soundscapes. The
I enjoyed both of your water drip soundscapes. The
4 months ago

I enjoyed both of your water drip soundscapes. They are both beautiful in their own way. I guess I prefer the latest one because it has more low wind sounds with the splitting on the rocks. Thank you again for sending me demos of your newest works. I really enjoy them all

Needie Rountree
4 months ago

I enjoyed the April visit most – the low notes of the splats and the animal sounds. Lovely. Thank you.

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