In the summer issue of Tufts Magazine is a story about Doug Quin, an acoustic ecologist and sound designer who has recorded everything from the bizarre clacking of Arctic walrus tusks to the psychedelic whistling of Weddell seals, to the disappearing song of the kagu birds of New Caledonia. Quin even provided the sounds for Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World and has produced many albums from his field recordings, most recently Fathom, released on the Tiaga label in three colors of vinyl. (It’s mostly sold out, but you can hear a sample of the Weddell seals here, down at Taiga 11.)
What I loved about this story, though, was how it reminded me (and, I hope, readers) that the world of sound is as big and fascinating and important as the world of light. It reminded me how, with a small shift in consciousness, we can access that world. Each year Quin helps people do this by leading sound walks in Central Park at the GEL Conference. But you don’t have to go there for that. All you have to do is step outside, open your mind, and listen:
“It was early morning, and Doug Quin and I were headed out on a winding ribbon of road leading away from Syracuse, to a patch of wild tucked between upstate New York farms. Next to me, the bearded, soft-spoken Quin, a polyglot with just a hint of an unplaceable accent, looked ahead into the darkness. We could see very little at that time of day, which was exactly what we wanted to see.
Quin and I were headed into strange territory, a place where you’ve likely never been, but where Quin spends much of his time. It’s a world connected to ours, but often invisible to it. It’s also a world that’s changing—and being changed—as fast as any part of the planet. Quin, who has been called the Audubon of audio, is a musician and artist and, most recently, a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. But his work always leads him back there, to the place he calls the soundscape, a place he has been exploring, recording, sifting through, and archiving for the past twenty-five years, from rare patches of rainforest to the ice at the end of the earth, to his own backyard.”