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!

The sun rises higher, blessing the hillsides and open meadows at Sugarloaf State Park with golden light. Krause begins his hike back to his car, still frustrated by the continued onslaught of jet noise.

As he drives back to Glen Ellen, he pops in a cassette of his favorite band -- the Austin Lounge Lizards, a satirical country band with sharp, witty lyrics. As he rips around corners in his SUV, he laughs aloud at some of the songs, and sings along.

He pulls over at a roadside cafe in Glen Ellen and orders waffles and a cup of coffee while he waits for his wife Kat to arrive.

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.
Krause spends up to 18 hours a day in his studio, manipulating and editing his recordings.
Brandon Fernandez
Krause spends up to 18 hours a day in his studio, manipulating and editing his recordings.


To listen to Bernie Krause's recordings, visit

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A few minutes later, Kat comes hurrying in, wearing her standard uniform of jean overalls and a T-shirt. But on top of her overalls this morning, she wears a blazer that seems to betray her former life as a city slicker who worked in advertising. Kat says that just like Krause, she has been transformed by her exposure to natural sound recording. As time has passed, she has developed her own sensibility about sound, creating an organization dedicated specifically to preserving silence called Quiet Down America.

After Kat settles in and orders coffee, she and her husband begin philosophizing about the importance of listening instead of hearing, as they often have during their 10 years together.

"When I lead trips to Alaska, people always come away with something transforming," Krause says. "Whatever they hear transforms them, it never fails to be an epiphany. I have never seen anyone put on the headphones [to listen to natural sound] and [failed to] see their face light up."

"The idea is that sound seems to offer physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits," Kat adds.

"How has it impacted you?" Krause asks Kat, suddenly.

"It's changed the way I make choices in my daily life," she says, slowly choosing her words. "I have a stronger and more profound sense of what is divine about life. It has restored my sense of responsibility for others. I don't feel as separated from others. Exposure to a heightened perception of the living, breathing world has done that.

"What do you think, Bernie? You used to be a cigar-smoking, hip-suit-wearing producer. Now you're a mild-mannered musician."

"Natural sound is all I need to feel good, to feel alive, to feel connected," Krause responds. "It doesn't help me with human beings. It pisses me off to be part of a race that diminishes the world and makes it less vital. It doesn't make me proud of who we are. The noise of the human world diminishes me because I feel stressed within it. It drains me of life, and yet the natural world is full of great surprises. We have no reverence for it. I do."

Krause, the pope of biophony, takes the pulpit: "I can't imagine a religion that humans have put together in its infinite wisdom that comes close to the experience I feel when I'm in the natural world."

A pause.

"But the idea isn't that I want to hush everyone up," Kat says, thinking aloud. "I just want people to have choices and access quiet if they want to."

"Well, I want them to shut the fuck up," Krause interjects, as Kat laughs.

"Don't you think it should be more gentle?" she asks kindly.

"Cut to the chase," Krause responds, turning to look at her wryly. "Don't pussyfoot around those jerks. In four words, I have put it where it needs to be: Shut the fuck up."

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