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!
After restful sleep, I suddenly awakened at 4am with my inner voice demanding me in no uncertain terms to head out to Shindagin Hollow, my most treasured and favorite natural area here in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. This was not a planned recording expedition. No time to make coffee and fill my belly with warm oatmeal. No time to shower and then quietly ponder my plans for the day. No, I had to jump right into action and scramble in order to arrive on location before the first birds began singing. So I yanked myself out of bed, threw on some clothes, and about thirty minutes later, I was driving into the hollow, going a bit too fast as I sped down a dangerously steep hill to my destination.
I quickly parked at the side of the gravel road, flung myself out the door, and then stood motionless, cupping my ears to help with my hearing. It was still quite dark, with only a hint of light in the eastern sky. There were no birds singing at first, but within several minutes a lone Wood Thrush piped his eee-oh-lay from only a few hundred feet away. I grabbed my gear, including my headlamp, and rushed headlong into the forest thicket, weaving between fir saplings, stumbling over logs, and ducking to avoid the plethora of overhanging limbs.
As I drew closer to the thrush, I became aware of the gentle gurgling of Shindagin Creek. Then, to my delight, a second thrush appeared on the scene and I could hear other faint thrush songs far in the distance. I carefully moved my mic into position, placing the water gurgle in the center of the soundstage, with one thrush to the right and the other to the left … such a pleasing constellation of sound! Fortunately, no other bird species were singing … just pure unadulterated thrush music enlivened by the gurgling brook and dewdrop drips from the trees. How fortunate to be here now! I stepped away from the mic, hit the record button, and prayed to high heaven that there would be no disruptions … no cars driving by, no jets flying over, no motorcycles starting up in the distance.
Thankfully, the force was with me!
I was able to record ten glorious minutes of “pristine thrush-infused music” before a pickup truck came roaring down the road, passing just a few hundred feet away and completely drowning out the sounds of nature. I painfully counted the seconds, and then, once the rumble from the truck faded into the distance, I managed to record yet another ten incredible minutes of nature’s orchestra until a Common Yellowthroat began singing loudly from a nearby open area and I was compelled to hit the stop button and call it quits for the morning.
In this modern world, especially here in the highly-populated eastern United States, it is no easy task for a recordist to touch upon pure nature free of human-created noise. So I am always deeply grateful when I manage to find my way into nature’s heart, as I did on this very special morning, and be able to both experience and record a brief interlude of nature’s magic that should thrill the ears of anyone who loves the music of the natural world.
Two days prior to recording the dawn chorus featured above, I rushed to Shindagin Hollow in the evening in an attempt to intercept a thunderstorm headed in that direction. Unfortunately, the storm passed well to the north and all I ended up recording was continuous, rather boring rainfall, devoid of any bird songs. After about a half hour, I grew frustrated and began packing up my gear with the intention of returning home to my studio. But with the rainfall growing thinner, and with darkness descending, I decided to wait a bit longer, just in case our resident thrushes chimed-in at dusk, as they often do.
Given that it was midsummer, I didn’t expect much activity, but fortunately the birds proved me wrong. At around 8:30pm, a single Wood Thrush sounded off in the distance, and soon several more joined-in. I quickly headed into the forest in hopes of placing my soundscape mic in a position where there would be a pleasant mix of sound, with the thrushes not too close nor too far away. Although challenging because the males frequently move around during their dusk performance, I must say that I was quite successful at pulling this off … the resulting recording is really lovely and imminently immersive, with raindrops falling all around and several thrushes spread evenly across the soundstage. As they say, “the proof is in the pudding,” and I think you’ll agree that this pudding is quite delicious indeed:
Wood Thrushes sounding off at dusk in light rain. Recorded at 8:40pm, July 18, 2023 in Shindagin Hollow, near Brooktondale, New York. © Lang Elliott, musicofnature.com. Please listen with headphones!
The song of the Wood Thrush is generally thought to be one of the most musical of our native species. The nature poets have given it high praise, perhaps without exception (to my knowledge, none has ever complained about it).
And where the shadows deepest fell,
The wood thrush rang its silver bell.
—John Greenleaf Whittier
For obvious reasons, I have invested much time and effort recording soundscapes that include the Wood Thrush. Early in my career as a nature recordist, I would invariably move in close for portraits of individuals. In recent years, however, as my appreciation of nature sounds has matured, I find myself moving farther away from the singers, always with focused attention on the soundscape as a whole and how the thrush songs blend with and complement everything else in the orchestra of sound. As such, I view each recording as a work of art with an inherent balance of elements, and judge my success in much the same way as a landscape photographer might judge his or her own photographs.
In this blog post, both soundscapes, at least for the most part, feature what I would term “mid-distant” singers, not really close and not really far away. I am very pleased with both of them because they fall lightly on one’s ears, with no elements too jarring (excepting maybe some of the raindrops in the dusk recording?) and no obvious flaws that distract from the overall aesthetic experience of listening.
Dear Readers: Would you like to have your picture show up next to your comment, rather than an empty silhouette? Click here to learn how.