Enviro Perspectives on Noise


In the present age where most songs are liberally interspersed with, what sound like, screams for deliverance from hell, there is a universal and desperate search for Truth. Driven by a need for solitude and reality, greater numbers of people are flocking to wild areas in a bid to escape from their competitive existence. Unfortunately many forget to leave their learned attitudes and material clutter behind.

The alcohol focused, uncontrolled behaviour of many destroys the very thing they are searching for and the peace and quiet of others around them. Many motor vehicles sound like a mobile deep bass, and at a great distance replace the fast vanishing call of the ground hornbill. This selfishness and greed has no place in the natural order of the 'veld'. It would pay inner dividends to appreciate the peaceful 'silence' of nature, when we are out in the bush and learn to Listen.

Be aware that you hear vibrations - sound waves - high or low frequency - direct or reflected. Sound is affected by wind direction and muffled by intervening objects. Try and get up high, away from obstructions. Turn your head to best advantage for any wind and yawn to clear your ears. Then listen.

Your hand doesn't make any sound but put your open hand up near your ear and you will 'hear' it. The same applies to other silent objects like walls, buildings, tree trunks, rocks and people around you. What you are possibly not aware of is how much reflected sound is directed at you by apparently silent objects.

Become aware of all the various dimensions of sound - Altitude, Direction, Distance, Rhythms - fast, slow or intermittent, Pitch -high or low, and Volume. As you listen you will start to Hear. Listen 'globally' and keep 'changing gear' to each dimension of sound. You may quite often miss some sound because you are concentrating on another, even right at your feet.

The normal progression is to reach the stage of identifying the source of the sound - and most people are satisfied to reach this stage - but you can develop much further. The source of each sound has a relationship to its surroundings, habitat or situation. For instance, each animal species has different sounds or calls for different situations - communication, anger, warning, feeding, territory/mating, fear/pain etc.

Wind has different sounds blowing through grass, bare trees, leaves etc. Water has different sounds flowing over rocks or rapids and sand or reed-beds. Dogs have a different bark when coursing or on static guard. Petrol and diesel motors have different sounds and one can hear the number of cylinders and the various speeds.

The tyres of vehicles make different sounds on tar or gravel roads and old vehicles rattle. One can quite often hear the contents of vehicles and the mood of passengers. So we need to learn to deduce from what we hear and identify. It is not difficult to learn and become aware of relationships and associations. Birds don't only have one call - as often presumed - they have a language with different calls for different situations, just as we do.

Males and females often have different 'voices' - the male fish eagle high and the female low. Fish eagles 'mean' fish - bodies of water and possibly large trees. Hippo mean large bodies of water. Sunbirds mean flowers. Woodpeckers and barbets indicate dry wood or dead, standing trees. Tinker-barbets indicate 'mistletoes' (tree parasites), as do some sunbirds.

Most ungulates mean grass and leaves - etc. The high pitched call of a martial eagle overhead indicates wild country and large trees somewhere in its large territory. Baboons and certain other animals indicate a water source quite nearby. The specific requirements of animals and plants make them good indicators.

Then there are the unseen things that revealed indirectly through sounds. For example the sound of a vehicle will indicate type and speed which in turn will indicate a bush track, gravel road or high speed tar road - and the continuing sounds will indicate direction of the road and bends, hills, cuttings and dips etc.

The sound of high speed roads and cattle will indicate fences and road side ditches and so on. With practise one will be able to actually map an area just by listening. During the early 'dawn chorus' and to a lesser extent at last light, when birds are sounding out their territories, one can do a rough count of numbers or families of each species in a particular area.

They don't all shout together - like a radio call schedule, they each have their own call times - so listen for an extended period, until they quieten down to get on with their daily chores or go to sleep. The same applies in reverse to nocturnal animals. Remember that sounds are generally carried downwards in the evening and upwards in the morning because of katabatic and anabatic flow caused by adjustment in air temperature.

You will find that Listening can become your most interesting pastime. Remember the progression of - your own Positioning - Listening - Hearing - Identifying - Deducting - and Interpreting - all the sound around you - and enjoy the experience.

While on the subject of listening, don't forget to listen to those people around you and really hear what they mean behind their words or sounds. There is an inner voice that is reality behind all the sounds they make - frustration, anger, love, happiness or contentment. Get into the habit of listening to your own inner voice - God talking to you - in your search for contentment and the 'peace which the world can not give'.

Dave Rushworth

Kruger National Park - South African Safari