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Exploring a Quiet Planet with Gordon Hempton

Gordon Hempton © Abby Hempton

Emmy-winning acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has circled the globe in pursuit of the most pristine sounds in nature. Now, thanks to our partnership with Gordon and Quiet Planet, his online library, you can hear his recordings in selected BirdNote shows.

“Gordon’s recordings give us a rare opportunity to transport you, the listener, into nature’s amphitheaters of remarkable sound,” says Chris Peterson, BirdNote's executive producer. “We’re dealing with a mystery here, and Gordon opens the door.” 

USA Today has called Gordon “America’s foremost guru of quiet.” Indeed, his recordings make it possible for a broad range of media producers – including BirdNote, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel – to connect audiences with the rich, authentic sounds of birds and nature.

“When you get outside the city to a truly natural area like the Amazon, something very special begins to happen,” says Gordon. “The listening horizon is usually about 20 miles away. That’s more than 1,000 square miles. Can you imagine what it’s like to hear a place like that, all at once? It sounds like music.”

Gordon Hempton on location in the Amazon © Abby Hempton

In the Amazon, Gordon says, different species “take turns” communicating, and those that vocalize at the same time use different frequencies. The result is akin to a symphony, and “that is the hallmark of being in a silent place.”

Yet you may not hear a symphony in all natural places.

Much of the Pacific Northwest, where Quiet Planet is based and BirdNote is produced, used to be silent from noise. But that has changed today. “Even if we visit a wooded lot early on a Sunday morning when there isn’t much noise pollution, we won’t hear the music,” Gordon explains. “The wildlife no longer sing in concert. They have learned to sing differently to compete with the noise that happens in the concert hall.”

Gordon Hempton recording underwater sounds © Rebecca Wanagel

Fortunately for us, Gordon has captured the “music” of many wild places in his recordings. And he’s determined to preserve the world’s handful of remaining natural amphitheaters. Gordon has written a book, One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet, with John Grossman, and his work is the subject of a documentary film, Soundtracker, directed and produced by Nick Sherman.

“These works have transformed my life from nature listener to nature spokesperson,” says Gordon. “I travel widely to speak about what the Earth is telling us – if only we listen.”

Are you ready to listen? Gordon has created an extended-play ambience piece exclusively for BirdNote fans. Download it now, courtesy of One Square Inch, a non-profit organization that Gordon founded to protect the quietest place in the United States. Located in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, you can experience One Square Inch of Silence on the Hoh River Trail, just 3.2 miles from the visitors' center above Mt. Tom Creek Meadows. Learn more.

“This recording demonstrates what we are giving up, not just for ourselves, but for future generations if we do not set aside a quiet place now,” says Gordon.

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Listen to more sounds recorded by Gordon Hempton on these shows:

Celebrate the Earth - Western canyon, Boundary Waters, and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Grove, NC
Spring Rain Refreshes the Desert - Anza Borrego Desert State Park
A New Year Dawns - Dawn sounds
Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival - Wambaw Swamp Wilderness, SC
Point Reyes Bird Observatory / Point Blue Conservation Science - Pounding surf … and gulls
Cuckoos - Tent Caterpillar Birds - Deciduous forest morning songbirds
Restoring Prairies for Grassland Birds - Prairie soundscape
Savor the Sight of Migrating Birds - Spring morning birdsong
High-flying Bar-headed Geese - Howling wind ambient
Monitoring the Health of Coastal Raptors - Waves
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory - Windy day ambient and mountain stream
Rufous Hummingbird in the Rain - Rain and river sounds
Pride Saves St. Lucia Parrots - Tropical forest ambient
Indigo Bunting - Bird of the Ecotone - Early summer bird ambience
Black-faced Solitaire, Elusive Singer - Rain dripping on leaves
Night Voices - Nightjars - Crickets!