What’s in a song? More than just music to our ears, according to bio-acoustician Bernie Krause. Krause is a musician turned scientist who uses his musical talents to record, analyze, and synthesize the sounds  of the natural world.  Last week, at one of the UC Berkeley Integrative Biology department’s weekly seminars, I had the pleasure of not only listening to Krause talk about his work, but also of listening to his work itself.

Krause was involved in music from a young age, spending a year as a member of the band The Weavers, and is among the pioneers of New Age music and Electronica.  He experimented heavily with synthesizers during their burgeoning years, composed natural soundscapes for Hollywood movies, and in 1970, released Wild Sanctuary, the first album to use natural sound as an integral component of orchestration. Since then, Krause has made a career out of combining music, nature, and conservation and has defined the field of soundscape ecology.

Krause believes that our very concept of an orchestra is inspired by nature. In wild habitats, different creatures – like different instruments – vocalize using distinct pitches and rhythmic patterns so as not to compete with each other. Nature may sound chaotic to the untrained ear, but it is not an auditory free-for-all.