We have a tendency to focus on the visual appeals of the natural universe, as they translate well to the publishing medium. However, those who venture into the wild portions of our planet realize we savor the universe with all our able senses. Often, sound, smell, feel, and, especially, taste, are relegated to second-class senses.
In September 2020, we discovered a project aimed at mapping the soundscapes of forests across the world. The aural aspects of Earth’s trees are as varied as they are enchanting.
When it comes to sound, we reasonably focus on how we perceive the waves. Through the air and to our ears. But, of course, sound can travel through media other than the atmosphere. One artist decided to explore the tremors of alien landscapes: what lies below.
The video above is part of a new endeavor called The Underground Sound Project.
Sound artist Nikki Lindt launched the project to discover exactly what we might hear if we could transport ourselves below the soil. She placed microphones under and in natural habitats in the green areas around New York City: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Thain Forest in the Bronx, Central Park, the shores of Staten Island, among others. Lindt calls the project a “soundwalk” because, if one is in Prospect Park, one can take a sonic tour. However, the experience works virtually, as well.
Lindt stratifies the project based on landscape. We gain insight into the sounds beneath plants, bodies of water, soil, and streams. What do critters living inside trees hear? What might precipitation sound like to worms in the dirt? What do acorns falling to the ground sound like below? Does melting snow have a tone? The answers to all these questions – and more – find answers in The Underground Sound Project.
A few samples of Lindt’s work are provided here for ease of listening, but you should absolutely take a full tour of the project on the website, which is linked in the Further Reading and Exploration Section below.
In some ways, the sounds from underground sound like we might expect: muffled and tunneled. But they are more than just what we imagine a sound event might be translated through a solid medium. They seem to contain calming systems, almost as if natural sounds follow models made equally of mathematics and cosmic harmony. Some of the examples are far louder than one might expect, too. Lindt told WBUR that she needed to turn the volume down on the falling acorns, as they were too loud for the recordings.
No matter the volume, these pieces have a relaxing quality. We learned that apes find more serenity when they hear nature sounds than other inputs. I’m convinced we’re hardwired to love the sounds of the wilderness. This project shows the medium doesn’t matter when it comes to the effect!
Lindt is not a newcomer to recording natural sounds.
During a trip to the Arctic, she produced this document on permafrost thawing:
I never knew I needed to experience thawing permafrost, but I’m glad it’s now in my life.
Further Reading and Exploration
THE UNDERGROUND SOUND PROJECT – Official Website
Nikki Lindt – Official Homepage
‘The Underground Sound Project’ puts an ear to the ground — and underneath – WBUR