Bernie Krause (p. 4)


What Will He Think Of Next?
After a long hiatus from doing advertising spots (he has done over 2,500), Krause recently did a Marine World commercial, although he now has reservations about the commercial market and is very selective.

The next albums he'll do for The Nature Company will be Tropical Jungle and Gorilla. The latter is a result of Krause's trek in Rwanda, as is his latest museum sound piece for the California Academy of Sciences, an ambient backdrop for Nick Nichols's photographic exhibit about the mountain gorillas. Based on the success of "Jungle Shoes," Rykodisc has picked up the option for a new album based entirely on biological sounds, to be released sometime in late summer 1989.

Other recent projects include eleven sound exhibits for the new education center at the St. Louis Zoo. One of these is an 8-channel, holophonic-type sound sculpture, done with octagonal rows of speakers. Whales appear to swim through the listener's head, and birds fly over.

Krause even uses spatial placement to accurately portray which birds perch high in the trees and which perch lower. But the sound that Krause gets a kick from is the fly sample he obtained in a trade with Leslie Schatz, a crew member on the film The Fly II. "We trade sounds like baseball cards. You want a gorilla, I'll trade you for a fly!" he laughs. The fly "moves" around a 70-foot room, "lands" on someone's shoulder, then flies through the rafters and all around the room.

Next, Krause plans to spend three months recording from Costa Rica all the way to Alaska, working on land controlled by the Nature Conservancy. He expects the resulting album, Meridians, to be distributed by The Nature Company, 750 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, CA 94710; tel. (415) 644-1337.

Sounding Out the Environment

By Robert Carlberg

Interviewing a "living legend" is intimidating; besides, Krause has a reputation for being outspoken, and to him, nothing is more important than his relationship with the environment. Fortunately, he is also a warm, genuinely humble person who puts you instantly at ease. He recently achieved a great deal of success with works that combine music and sampled natural sounds, so that seemed like a logical place to begin the interview.

EM: How did you get into using sampled natural sounds, and why?

BK: We've always done that, clear back to In a Wild Sanctuary (1969). Paul [Beaver] and I had reached a point in the '6Os where we were bored with synthesizer sounds. It was important for us to find a voice for ourselves that established us in our own right. One day, Van Dyke Parks happened to come up with the idea of incorporating material from the environment with synthesizers. The idea clicked right away; it also gave us a launching pad to make some statements about the state of our world. My background is folk music [Krause was a member of the folk group The Weavers] and this music is an outgrowth of folk music, of concerns about our environment. Ecology was a new word then.

EM: What kind of equipment could you use for sequencing animal sounds back in 1969? Was it all cut-and-splice work?

BK: I copied little slices of tape, over and over again, and took a ruler and tried to cut the material exactly to the same length. Then I would create this large loop that would be looped all around the room, and hoped that I could match it up with other pieces of tape that length. This took hours.

EM: How did you get The Nature Company involved with releasing your recent recordings?

BK: That came about as a result of a recording I'd done called Equator. It started with a radio benefit I was doing for Greenpeace. Mike Cotton and Prairie Prince from The Tubes came over and were listening to some of the whale recordings I did for my Ph.D., and they said, "Let's do some tape cutting and loop that stuff, and see if we can't do a piece for the benefit." So with Prairie Prince playing drums, we looped killer whale sounds and some humpback whale sounds and came up with a piece that was the forerunner of the material I'm doing today. I tried to sell it, but everyone thought it was just a novelty. Yet it wasn't. I felt there was something more important there.

In 1983, I went to Africa for the California Academy of Sciences on a commission to record a variety of animal sounds. This material was to be produced in a seventeen-minute, day-night cycle for their African Hall waterhole exhibit, a diorama at the Academy. As it turned out, this was one of the most popular things they've ever done. I took some of that material to score my own soundscape, as one would score a film, and was very happy with the results. I tried to sell it to record companies-185 of them all over the world. Only one, Windham Hill, even bothered to send a rejection.

Finally, out of desperation, I went to The Nature Company in Berkeley and proposed to develop a whole repertoire of materials based on sound and visuals about the environment. I'd done a lot of work with whales and environmental recordings and had a fairly good library of materials [he's modest: it is reported to be the largest library ever accumulated by an individual]. I was told they weren't particularly interested, but fortunately I had left the first side of Equator there as an example of the stuff I wanted to do. A few days later I got a call and this guy said, 'My name is Tom Wrubel, and I'm the president of The Nature Company. I just want you to know I was driving north up Highway 1 from Carmel, and I'm sitting on the side of the road right now, flying. I cannot believe that these sounds are on this tape! I'll give you anything for this tape!' So Equator ended up getting released, and they've sold well over a million dollars worth of product in two years. There are seven albums out now. I've just been commissioned for one more.

EM: Time is finally starting to catch up to 1968-69 when you came up with the concept.

BK: Yeah. What's interesting is we were the first to talk about this, and we've never gotten credit for it.



EM: Of course, there are other people working on the same concept now. What do you think of Paul Winter's efforts to do music to whale compositions and Incorporate natural sounds?

BK: Like so much music, Paul Winter's stuff is a result of a lot of work that was done before him. Judy Collins, in 1971, did "Farewell to Tarwathie" using humpback whales. It's part of an historical precedent that began a long, long time ago. I think his stuff is sometimes excellent. He doesn't just use animal samples to write pop songs. His stuff works because you know there's a spiritual connection there.

EM: I think you lose the spiritual component when you make animals sing your tune, as opposed to singing with the animals. A lot of people are using sampled natural sounds, but to me, Nature and Equator were the first to do this with any real sympathy for the sounds being used.

BK: In those records, the sounds from nature were actually used as scored elements, in a definite classical orchestral A-B-A form.

EM: Since you use sampling a lot, what do you think of the technology, per se?

UK: Some people consider digital sampling godlike in some way, but any kind of information storage-including recording on analog tape-is sampling. When Ussachevsky, Luening, Henri, and Stockhausen were sampling sounds of their urban environment in 1948 and cutting up pieces of tape and putting them together, they anticipated "samplers" by almost 40 years. It doesn't matter to me how a sample is made: it only matters how it is used. With some art, technology takes over and begins to rule the artist instead of the reverse. Of course, sampling possibilities are unbelievable today, and there's no way I could have done "Fish Wrap" or "Jungle Shoes" [1988] without an Emulator, Fairlight, or Synclavier. But the main question is, what's the artist expressing with the medium? This is a moral and ethical, not technological, issue.

EM: What ethical and moral obligations do you think an artist has?

BK: Oh boy. I guess they have an obligation first of all to learn their craft very well, to have their own voice, and to be true to a vision they have of their work. Those are the ethical obligations.

EM: A lot of people who purport to be artists are chasing after much less lofty goals. Interestingly, there don't seem to be many famous people doing wonderful work; on the other hand there aren't too many people doing wonderful work who become well-known. There seems to be a tradeoff at some point in the middle. Do you feel you are too virtuous to become popular?

BK: [Quickly] No. Pete Seeger, with The Weavers, was once asked, "Do you want to make money or do you want to make issues?" He said, "I think that we can do both." I really don't hold much value in the idea of what constitutes popularity in America. I've never pursued it, and I don't think that it has much value in my life. And I'm not being virtuous about that; I don't want to put my energy into it because I have a lot of work to do before I die. I may have twenty years left, or fifteen years left. I don't have a lot of time for People magazine. I do have time for Electronic Musician, though!

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