Shut Up!

Former musician Bernie Krause has spent 30 years recording the pristine sounds of nature in the remotest corners of the world. Now, after all his travels, he has an important message for the human race: Shut up!

"Why was I drawn from the noise of stardom and the stuff that goes with it?" he says. "'Cause [the wild natural] keeps you young and centered. I was doing a lot of radio and TV commercials, and I got to a point where it was very ungratifying. I didn't want to do another 20-second jingle to sell another pair of pants that people don't need.

"As soon as I started doing that [recording], I couldn't believe how magical a moment it was for me. It made me feel good physically, spiritually, emotionally. By just being quiet and sticking a mike out.

"It was a wake-up call to me. What that album [In a Wild Sanctuary] did was engage my curiosity to go a little further every time I went into the field. I would go to rural areas, then deeper into the forest. The more I traveled into the field, the further I would go. There's a rapture to it. It's like a nitrogen narcosis. You want to go deeper, and the quest has never ended."


Krause sets up a large zeppelin-shaped microphone for recording.
Bernice Yeung
Krause sets up a large zeppelin-shaped microphone for recording.
Krause sets up a large zeppelin-shaped microphone for recording.
Bernice Yeung
Krause sets up a large zeppelin-shaped microphone for recording.

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To listen to Bernie Krause's recordings, visit www.wildsanctuary.com

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It was pitch black in the Amazon jungle, dark and murky as ink. Krause couldn't see the moon; the only light came from the flashlights he and his recording companion held in their hands.

They were several kilometers from their camp site, in search of quality night ambience: the shimmer of insect stridulations and the echo of bird twitters and shrieks.

As the recordists hiked through the dense and humid forest, a peculiar smell caught their attention -- the musky scent of a jaguar. Their local guide had told them he had found jaguar prints in the area, but neither Krause nor his recording partner, Ruth Happel of Harvard University, could hear or see any sign of the animal. They continued on.

At about midnight, Krause and Happel went in separate directions to gather as much of the rich jungle harmony as they could. Krause walked for about 15 minutes before he sat down on the trampled path to record. But as soon as he slipped on his headphones, he heard the ominous growl of a powerful jungle cat as it sniffed into his microphones some 30 feet away. Then, the jaguar emitted a ferocious roar. Krause clutched his recorder and tried to remain calm so the animal would not sense his fear.

"My heart was pounding so loud that I thought the sound alone would startle the animal," he wrote in his journal, portions of which were published in his autobiography, Into a Wild Sanctuary. "An event that lasted no more than a minute seemed like a couple hours as I sat there mesmerized by the power of the animal's voice, its breath, and the sounds of rumbles in its stomach."

Krause rarely recounts his animal adventures -- he's sick of retelling them. But in his frequent travels to all corners of the Earth -- from the steamy jungles of Indonesia to the heat of the high plains in Kenya to the deep chill and stark visual simplicity of Alaska -- he has had quite a few. He has been thrown 15 feet by a male gorilla in Rwanda, and was nearly mistaken for a meal of emperor penguin by a killer whale because he was wearing a black wet suit in Antarctica.

On the north slope of Alaska, where Krause was roughing it solo for a few weeks, he almost became a polar bear's breakfast. As Krause emerged from his tent one memorable morning, he was greeted by a hungry bear that lumbered steadily toward him on its hind legs. Krause grabbed a flare gun he kept in his tent, aimed at the animal's groin, and fired a shot. The bear looked down at its burning fur and hobbled away.

"I knew it needed food, but I also knew it was afraid of almost nothing," Krause says. "So then I needed to make it afraid of something. So when I shot the bear with the flare gun, I knew and was hoping that the smoke from the singed fur would give it pause to reconsider what it was about to do."

And in humid Borneo, Krause had to contend with persistent, inch-long leeches while he recorded. The writhing parasites, attracted to warmth, squirmed onto Krause's recording equipment as he captured the sounds of orangutans, long-tailed macaques, barbets, and rhinos. The leeches also attacked Krause, and according to his journal, "we find them engorged and attached painlessly to the surfaces of our feet and ankles. We remove our shoes carefully so as not to bust them open and spill blood all over the rest of our clothes."

There have been peaceful moments with wild animals, too. One afternoon, while recording silverback gorillas in Rwanda, Krause fell asleep in the group nest. When he woke, someone snapped a picture of him, just as a curious female gorilla began removing one of his shoes.

For a guy who feared poodles and cats as a kid, he's come a long way, Krause acknowledges. "I am aware and respectful of [wild creatures'] presence," he says. "But I understand our own animal nature and how it relates to other animals, so there is no fear. It has to do with becoming very humble in the presence of what we have disparaged for so long."

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