Experiencing nature through sound might boost mood, calm us, excite or uplift us. Nature’s impact on wellbeing usually focuses on the sights we see, or on exercising outdoors. But there’s a wealth of sounds to draw on as well. Biophony (as sounds of the natural world are known) has become a tool for monitoring biodiversity, and it also has power to improve mental wellbeing.
Hearing more birdsong was one of the positives which stood out from the first lockdown last spring. The novelty might have worn off, and the traffic may have returned, but again the birds sing now it is another spring. It’s a wet and windy day outside a sI write this, but as the gusts subside I still hear birdsong. It lifts the depressing scene, making the day feel alive with activity. Birdsong is known to boost mental wellbeing, and it isn’t alone. Many trees and plants add to the way we experience nature by creating distinctive sounds, rustling, fluttering or shivering in a wind. Hearing and absorbing sounds to calm and ground yourself is integral to the idea of forest bathing, immersing yourself in nature.
Familiar sounds have a part to play here, but so too do the new and the unknown. Over 50 years ago Roger Payne’s album Songs of the Humpback Whale, which recorded whale song, became a chart hit. To this day, whale song hints at the mystery of the deep oceans, and entrances many people.
Just as we have depended on technology this last year to open doors to the world, so it opens our ears to nature’s sounds, and not just during lockdown. Podcasts have developed which share sound recordings from all different settings and countries. Slow radio also draws on this idea. When the Timber Fest was forced to cancel because of Covid-19, the organizers instead built a global soundmap called Sounds of the Forest, collecting recordings to create an aural picture of life amidst the trees.
I wonder if biophony’s impact on wellbeing could mirror music’s specific role? Music has so deep and lasting an impact that maybe sounds in nature could prove just as powerful. As music is one of the last memories to be lost by people who have dementia, maybe other sound memories also survive. Cognition declines more quickly than emotional memory, so people might still respond to sounds they recall. Hearing sounds of the natural world is also all the more important for people with sight loss, who may be unable to experience nature visually – narrated audio walks could be one possibility.
Different people will respond to some sounds more than others, and at different times. Some people might find the sound of water calming, relaxing or reassuring, while for others it might help by energizing them. And the sounds themselves will differ, for nature is never still. One outdoor patch might sound very different on one day from another, or at different times of year: all boosting its impact, and allowing us to experiencee nature’s many moods. There’s huge scope here for so many of us.
It would be great if you would like to share how sounds in nature impact you in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!