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Earth Day 2021: The Sounds of the Earth

Apr 22, 2021

April 22nd is Earth Day. Ever since its birth in 1970, participation in – and importance of – the day has grown rapidly, with the organisers attempting to highlight the climate issues we face, push conversation and encourage action. This year, we’re providing our insight on the subject we know best – sound. Especially for this piece on the sounds of the earth, our Music team has curated complementary soundscapes to immerse you in the natural world – read, listen and connect with the world.

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The last 13 months have been some of the strangest in human history, but they’ve also given many of us a unique chance to stop, listen and tune in to our immediate surroundings. At times we’ve had to ditch our cars and stay local, swapping bar-hopping and coffee shop visits for walks around local parks and reservoirs – and this return to natural soundscapes may have been having a profound effect on our health at a time when we’ve needed it most.

A recent research article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed dozens of scientific studies, finding that the health benefits of stepping outside the urban jungle and back into nature are huge – with decreased pain, lowered stress, improved mood and enhanced cognitive performance all positive side effects. And they broke it down further, pinpointing which sounds trigger which feelings. The study found a link between listening to flowing water and an increased feeling of calm, alongside boosted physical metrics, while bird song proved superior when it comes to relieving stress.

 

Our generation’s foremost sound recordist captures the indigenous alpine sounds of Italy’s Trentino valley.

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From bird song to monkey hiccups, animals are some of the biggest contributors to the sonic makeup of the Earth. And looking away from the benefits they directly bring us, it’s interesting to see how they use sound to their own advantage. Which brings us back to monkey hiccups. A team from the University of Kent found that capuchin monkeys in Argentina’s Iguazu Falls have adopted a ‘boy who cried wolf’ approach when it comes to poaching bananas. When the higher ranking monkeys hoard the supply, the juniors trick them using a hiccup-like warning that indicates danger is near to clear a path and gather as many bananas as they can before they realise what’s happened. Similar behaviour has been found in bats, who use sound to jam up rivals’ sonar signals; and drongos, which mimic the calls of various predators to scare off competitors and steal food – as narrated by David Attenborough in BBC’s Africa.

 
The animal kingdom adds so much volume to the sounds of the earth, and many of us wouldn’t be aware of much of it without another contender for the title – the previously mentioned David Attenborough. His half-whisper has introduced us to countless species and animal behaviours, but his has also been one of the loudest voices in the fight against the climate crisis – something we touched upon in last year’s Earth Day piece on socially conscious ad campaigns. 

This unique blend of nature sounds and listicles – is the perfect antidote to the frenzied world. 

We’ve looked at – and listened to – how much the earth gives us sonically, but when the tables are turned, sadly, humans are not returning the favour. Our final sound of the earth is the manmade noise – or, more accurately, noise pollution. Studies including this one published in the Environmental Evidence Journal warn how our rapid urbanization puts entire ecosystems at risk, with highway traffic and the sounds of the city confusing our bug and bird populations. And those same sounds have detrimental effects on our health – leading to issues like disturbed sleep and chronic blood pressure.

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The sounds of the earth can be heard in many forms. And while it can be healing to immerse ourselves in nature, taking in the amazing sounds of the world ticking by, initiatives like Earth Day remind us there’s a real risk future generations might not having that luxury. Visit www.earthday.org to enjoy all their resources.