It’s not surprising that natural sounds are the most popular field recordings. Crashing surf, rolling thunder, and birdsong were listed as favorites in articles from The Washington Post and The Telegraph. Natures sounds evoke powerful emotions: from the soothing rush of wind in wheat to the power of a surging waterfall.
Earlier this year, members of Colorado State University’s Sound and Light Ecology Team shared another benefit of nature sounds: the power to heal. In an article in The Hill, Dr. Jacob Job and Dr. George Wittemyer described the benefit of nature sounds to those confined to their homes during COVID shelter-in-place. Recently, they released a website to help people experience this sound therapy from home. With user-submitted park recordings made worldwide, the site focuses on preserving the sound of natural places, and using these evocative sounds to heal.
I reached out to Dr. Jacob Job to learn more about the Sounds of Your Park sound map website. He kindly shared how this unique site began, the efforts of his diverse group of collaborators, and how you yourself can get involved sharing healing natural sounds with others.
Creative Field Recording: Can you tell readers a bit about yourself? How did you begin field recording?
Dr. Jacob Job: My name is Dr. Jacob Job and I am Research Associate working for the Sound and Light Ecology Team at Colorado State University. I began working with the team as the director of our Undergraduate Listening Lab in 2015 after completing my graduate work studying how noise pollution impacts animal communication and space use. Although I trained for years as a research scientist, I realized my real passion was grounded in science communication and public outreach. I quickly turned to natural sounds field recordings as a medium to touch on those interests, with a goal of better connecting the public to our outdoor spaces and the species that live within them.
My first field recording work occurred in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in May 2015. That experience was unlike anything I could have expected. Sitting in that rainforest at dawn with my headphones on, I experienced the world in a way I did not think was possible. It was likely hearing for the first time all over again. I have since traveled to national parks and protected areas across the United States and Western Hemisphere, gathering countless field recordings of some of the most incredible sounds of species and soundscapes.
CFR: How did the idea for Sounds of Your Park begin? What inspired you to create the site? Can you tell readers what is special about the website?
DJJ: During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, my supervisor and I wrote an opinion piece about the therapeutic benefits of listening to natural sounds. Even though COVID had most of us huddled at home for safety, we saw an opportunity for people to give their mental health a boost via our field recordings and to reconnect us all with the great outdoors in a unique way. Members of the United States National Park Service saw the article and reached out with an idea to create an online audio experience to help achieve what our opinion piece advocated for. That is how Sounds of Your Park was born.
The goal of Sounds of Your Park is to make available some of the most unique and threatened natural and cultural sounds from around the globe, so that people can receive the health benefits from listening to these sounds, experience some of the planet's wonderful bio and cultural diversity, and learn about the protected places that work to ensure these sounds continue into the future. Even though public lands should be for everyone, they are often inaccessible to many people for many reasons. We are working to remove those barriers for as many people as possible via our immersive global sound map.
CFR: I see that the site is a collaboration between many different organizations, from the US National Park Service, Parks Canada, Colorado State University. That's a diverse group of significant partners. How did everyone become involved with the project?
DJJ: Sounds of Your Park is a #NatureForAll collaboration between the aforementioned groups, as well as the George Wright Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas. #NatureForAll is an IUCN initiative to inspire love of nature to better support its conservation. Having a global conservation community presence is important for Sounds of Your Park because it helps us to better achieve our goals of having a truly global reach.
After an initial videoconference between the partners in June, we realized what a unique opportunity we had. Within a couple of weeks, we had an initial sketch of the project laid out, centered on an interactive global sound map that would feature the evocative high-quality field recordings. The website launched during the first week of November and is ready to explore!
CFR: Can you tell us a bit about the submissions so far?
DJJ: Numerous professional and amateur field recordists from around the globe have already contributed to the initiative. To date, we have recordings from nearly 40 protected places from six continents, featuring natural and cultural sounds. Someone exploring the global sounds map today can catch a dawn chorus along the Limpopo River in the Mmabolela Conservancy in South Africa, spend a night along a bayou in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Louisiana, U.S.A., or experience a Mayan ceremony at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Quintana Roo, Mexico. There is something for everyone and we are continuously adding more recordings from all over the globe!
CFR: Is the project open to the public? How can sound fans get involved? What do you expect from their submissions?
DJJ: Sounds of Your Park is truly a global initiative, and everyone is encouraged to submit their high-quality recordings of natural and cultural sounds from parks and other protected places. If you are interested in contributing there is a 'Share Your Sounds with Us!' portal on our home page. In general, we are looking for recordings between 2 minutes and 2 hours in length of individual species, cultural practices, and entire soundscapes that represented what a place sounds like at any given time during the year. Because we want people to be wowed by their experience listening to these recordings, we are especially looking for recordings made with recorders and microphones specifically designed for field recording, rather than those made with cell phones or other similar devices.
CFR: What are the site's plans for the future?
As far as future plans for Sounds of Your Park, we are focused on growing our library of sounds and filling in gaps on the map. The diversity of cultures, places, and species on the planet is incredible. We want to make sure we do our due diligence in giving that diversity a voice so that people from all over can enjoy them and learn from them. Additionally, we are working on translating the website into Spanish and French to further our ability to connect with people.
We are currently somewhat constrained by operating costs of maintaining and updating the website. If people enjoy the sounds and agree with our mission, they can help Sounds of Your Park continue by donating at https://soundsofyourpark.com/donate. If we find that people are supporting us beyond our operating costs, we have discussed upgrading the user interface of the map to include things like playlist creation and a searchable database of protected places. We are also exploring the ability to send recording equipment to managers at protected areas around the globe who currently do not have the capacity to capture the sounds of their park. Again, we aim to give a voice to as many of these places as possible, even if parks do not currently have the capacity to participate. In the meantime, we urge all field recordists to help us fill in the map so we can all benefit and learn from these sounds and raise awareness of these critically important places.
My thanks to Dr. Jacob Job for sharing his thoughts with us!
Check out the Sounds of Your Park website.