An emeritus professor and an acoustic ecologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have recreated a “soundscape” from observational notes made by Aldo Leopold 70 years ago.

Aldo Leopold at his Sauk County shack in about 1940. (Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Archives)

Leopold, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, who died in 1948, was a key figure in the development of the modern environmental movement. His book, Sand Country Almanac, a collection of essays describing the land around his Sauk County, Wisconsin home, is a signature achievement in American literature.

Rising before daylight at his shack in Depression-era Wisconsin, Leopold routinely took notes on the dawn chorus of birds. But that chorus no longer exists.

Changes in the landscape and the bird community around the shack, including a nearby interstate highway, airplanes, chainsaws and the other constant and varied noises of the modern world have completely change the aural ambience of the area.

The soundscape is a compressed version of the chorus described by Leopold, taking 30 minutes of notes and compressing them into five minutes of recording. Bird songs and calls were obtained from the audio collection housed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library.

The background sound on which the bird songs is superimposed is all Wisconsin, but the archivists struggled to find a place where human noise was as it would have been in Leopold’s time.

In the lower 48 states, there is no place more than 35 kilometers from the nearest road, making it nearly impossible to tune out the hum of human activity, even in places designated as wilderness.

Leopold wrote several well known essays about the importance of how people associate sound with a particular landscape.

Listen: Leopold soundscape

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison