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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.


Posted by | June 28, 2014 | Filed under: Opinion

Concerts for the Coast image of Laudholm campus with musical notes made of clouds. Adapted from photo © C.A. Smith Photography.


The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 6/29/2014.

Every hour, the Mississippi River Delta loses an area of marshland the size of a football field to the Gulf of Mexico. Every day, World Cup host Brazil still clearcuts six square miles of rainforest. Every month, the oil-producing nations of the world suck 2.3 billion irreplaceable barrels of oil out of the ground beneath our feet.

If we look around, we can watch the natural world disappearing right before our eyes. The good news is that those rates of loss have been worse in the past. The bad news is that what we see disappearing isn’t the only thing we’re losing.

It turns out, the sounds of the natural world are fading too.

This past spring, Dr. Bryan Pijanowski and researchers from Indiana’s Purdue University approached the Wells Reserve at Laudholm with a novel project: they wanted to capture our sounds.

The Purdue team has basically invented the study of “soundscape ecology.” Dr. Pijanowski’s founding paper in the journal Bioscience defines it as “a new scientific field that will use sound as a way to understand the ecological characteristics of a landscape and to reconnect people with the importance of natural sounds.”

For the past two months, Wells Reserve staff and volunteers have maintained an array of digital recorders installed by the Purdue team across our 2,250 acres. In forests, fields, and even underwater, microphones have been listening. “We're interested in all the voices of the landscape,” Pijanowski says. “Not just particular individual species, but really, the orchestration of those different sounds.” This recording is timely, because the music around us is getting more modern by the day.

Take a moment to listen: Is a jet flying overhead? Is a car within earshot? Was that a ringtone? Everywhere, manmade sound is creeping in. Land we know how to conserve, but how do we protect peace and quiet? Already, this din is affecting our neighbors. Lyrebirds and mockingbirds now imitate car alarms and chainsaws. City noise forces urban songbirds and frogs to raise their pitch or leave town. The U.S. Navy is deafening whales and dolphins with submarine sonar. What music will soothe our savage beasts?

On Thursday, July 17, Dr. Pijanowski will chair an academic conference in the Reserve’s Mather Auditorium to review the data from his soundscape sampling here in Wells and from places like Indiana, California, Costa Rica, and Borneo. The results should be ear-opening.

That same Thursday, the Reserve will host an evening concert in the Barn by what we are proud to announce is a rediscovered sound. Forty years ago, a promising young pianist named Jeanne Lappen abruptly ceased her song. Born with perfect pitch, Jeanne started on the piano at age four, appeared with the Boston Pops at age 10 and 16, studied at the New England Conservatory… and then bowed out of performance for four decades.

On July 17, we’ll welcome back the music of Jeanne Lappen (now Hodurski) at the Wells Reserve. But we’ll also learn, that day, what we’re always in danger of losing. This beautiful place is protected, but not so its beautiful noises. The music of nature will always be here, but what will be the nature of that music?

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, allegro and legato. More at

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