How a lifetime of recording the world’s wild places leaves a unique sonic legacy
Designed to “express the voice of the natural world and, through the power of sound, awaken a deep connection within all of us”, the project makes strong connections between the sounds of nature and the mental health and well-being of listeners. .
Via email from his home in Florida, Martyn Stewart gave National Geographic United Kingdom a glimpse of his hopes for his arch of sounds.
Tell us why you started recording the natural world.
My brother was a born naturalist who had aquariums in the bedroom and was interested in everything in fields and hedgerows – [things] such as hoverflies, newts and tadpoles. The first audio experience I had was catching hoverflies in an old Robertson’s jam jar. I made holes in the lid and listened to these insects – it fascinated me. And I borrowed a little portable reel-to-reel tape recorder from one of my brothers, and a microphone from my other brother, and put the two together. Exploring the highways and roads around the family home was an escape from boredom. The first sound I captured [aged 11] was a Eurasian blackbird, and I went on from there picking up all the little creatures I could find out there in the countryside.
What happens in a session? Put us in the field with you on a momentous occasion.
There’s a lot to do beyond the obvious challenges like travel, access, weather. Twenty-five years ago it would take three or four hours of recording to capture a blank hour, but now it would be more like 2,000 hours. In the United States only, you have [thousands of] planes in the sky at the same time, so they always break up the natural sound. I recorded a Rock Dove in Puget Sound and it took me two weeks to get 20 seconds of sound because I was competing with airplanes, ATVs, leaf blowers, motorcycles, buses, cars. But for me, capturing that sound is like winning the lottery of life.