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!

Though he says he has learned to coexist with animals, tiny bugs are a whole different matter. "There's a bug [the human botfly]," he explains one afternoon, sitting at a picnic table at the edge of his Glen Ellen property. "It lays eggs on the legs of a mosquito when it's in flight. OK. Stop. Think about that. It lays eggs on the legs of a mosquito when it's in flight. Then, when a mosquito bites you, the eggs get deposited in the hole where you were bitten, and then the larva grows and rotates under your skin.

"I got one in the head, on my left temple. I went to the UC Medical Center in San Francisco, and then a dermatologist. I said, "This thing is really hurting me, can you help me get rid of it?' And they would all tell me with authority that it's only a cyst, and I should take antibiotics and it will go away. I took doses and doses, and nothing changed.

"So when I was in Tucson, I was giving a presentation and the pain was so terrible that I started to cry. I told them that I had gotten something from Costa Rica, and I had to go home and go to the doctor. I went to a plastic surgeon in San Francisco, the one who had said it was a cyst, and I said, "Fred, I don't care, I've got to get this off.' He said something like, "I'm in the middle of a boob job or a tummy tuck or whatever,' and I said, "I don't give a shit, you need to deal with this now.' So he cut off the cyst, and in it he took out with a pair of tweezers this spiny thing that was undulating. And he damn near passed out. He couldn't believe I had this thing in my head. That's why it was hurting.

When Krause dons a pair of headphones and presses play on his recorder, the world of sound opens up.
Bernice Yeung
When Krause dons a pair of headphones and presses play on his recorder, the world of sound opens up.
When Krause dons a pair of headphones and presses play on his recorder, the world of sound opens up.
Bernice Yeung
When Krause dons a pair of headphones and presses play on his recorder, the world of sound opens up.


To listen to Bernie Krause's recordings, visit

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"So it's all the small things, not the large things."

Schoolchildren dash through the African Hall of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park as if it is a playground. Many run straight to the hall's centerpiece, the African water hole exhibit, where taxidermy giraffes, monkeys, zebras, and impalas stand frozen near fake pools of water.

The din makes the exhibit's accompanying sound recording nearly inaudible. Occasionally, a bird squawk or wildebeest snort is heard between the giggles and chatter of children.

Krause recorded a majority of the sounds emanating from the exhibit. The academy commissioned him to capture the sounds of a Kenyan water hole, his first museum assignment, in 1983. The museum provided him with a small budget, a guide, and a list of sounds it wanted. He traveled on the ground, watching and recording leopards and giraffes as they blended into the golden brown grasses, surrounded by what he calls in his journal the "special scent of the dry air of the high plains."

Krause dismisses the water hole recording and says it certainly was not his best work. But the museum is thrilled with it. Biologist Robert Drewes, an African frog expert who was a consultant on the project, says Krause has a special expertise for gathering sound.

"There are few trained like Bernie," Drewes says. "Bernie's bag is that he captures the whole picture. He got amazing stuff. Fine fidelity. He did everything we wanted and more."

But what gets Drewes really excited are the Kassina frog calls Krause recorded while he was there. "He recorded frogs making sounds at a water hole that blew me away," he says, suddenly animated. "He captured a phenomenon that has never been recorded before."

Drewes gets up suddenly and heads toward his basement office. He digs around for a cassette tape and inserts it into a boombox. The sound of chirping crickets fills the room, followed by the hearty "boink" of Kassina frogs calling at random.

He cuts to a different portion of the tape, where the frogs are silent for several seconds as a forest hog snarls in the background. Then, unexpectedly, one frog emits a "boink," followed by a rapid succession of calls, creating an amphibian glissando.

"The first time I heard it I went nuts," Drewes says. "Only males call, but there's a price to calling. It's a potential risk. There's a potential predator nearby, so the frogs stopped calling, but sometimes the hormones are still raging and one of them busts out with a call. So the rest jump on that call so the predator can't pick out the individual. When I heard it, Bernie and I started talking about it. We were hooting and hollering at each other. I plan to write a paper about it someday."

The Kenya trip led to a remarkable realization for Krause, too. While on a 36-hour recording jag to capture the melancholy, echoing calls of hyenas in the forest, Krause set up his microphone outside his tent and lay on a cot with his headphones on. He was exhausted and somewhat delirious, listening to elephants nearby as they pulled up grass and ripped apart tree branches.

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