His thing, he says, is “hearsay.” Carlos de Hita has been collecting soundscapes for 38 years. He’s a “naturalist turned sound engineer,” he simplifies. The truth is that he has participated in nearly 200 films and documentaries, as well as numerous sound installations. The last one will be held at Naturcyl, from September 23 to 25. “We are just like spies or paparazzi, listening and recording messages from the forest that are not for us … but we give them value.”
When you go out into nature, what do you carry in your backpack?
The first thing: a lot of patience, a willingness to do nothing for hours on end. I like to say I get creatively bored. And then, well, my recording equipment, a tape recorder, a series of microphones… There’s field work behind that. The important thing is to find the right spot and stay long enough for your presence to disappear.
Before you go, do you want to collect a specific sound?
No, because I don’t record the animals, I record the landscapes where the animals sing. If it were photos, we would say that I don’t shoot close-ups, but landscapes. In them there are birds, crickets, bees, frogs… who sing on a stage of wind, water, echo, reverberation. The canvas is what interests me. The background. I could record a partridge a thousand times, but I will never record the same scene repeated; they will always sing in the company of other trees, of other species. That interests me. More than collecting votes, I collect concerts. That’s why one definition they gave me is “soundscape artist”… It’s pedantic [ríe]but it may be adequate.
If a tree falls and nobody can hear it, does it make a sound?
Of course it’s like that. Nature does not depend on a human being to hear it. This is a very anthropocentric attitude; suggests that what is not heard does not happen. It’s just the opposite. When you’re not there (when you don’t make noise and make yourself invisible) is when you hear it the most. One bird sings to another, not to man. Nature is not there to talk to us. It has existed long before us and will exist long after.
Is climate change a change in the sound of nature? Shall we sink into silence?
Undoubtedly. If anything gives you almost 38 years of listening to the sound of nature, it’s perspective. The changes are clear. The sound is the first signal of what is happening. The richness of nature’s soundscape is also a measure of biodiversity. The more voices, the more diverse they are. Well, in recent decades, too many voices, too many animals have disappeared. Scientists have measured it. In Europe, more than half of the voices that sang 40 years ago are missing. If there were ten birds, now there are five. If five cormorants were cooing, now there are two. There are fewer insects, fewer crickets… In many places the sound picture is impoverished, especially in the steppes, rivers and lagoons. On the other hand, there were new voices that stirred. In the Guadalquivir swamp, in winter, instead of waterfowl, cranes, I recorded voices of desert birds. Another element is noise: traffic, machines and planes reach more and more places. For everything, careful listening is also a story about the environmental crisis. We are heading for a quiet spring, and if not, increasingly monotonous.
Leaving the devastating summer fires behind us, how does a charred landscape sound?
I was able to photograph from the inside, surrounded by a team of forest firefighters. The fire is terrible. Sounds scary. The harmony of the soundscape turns into a roar, burning hurricane winds are heard, the trees literally scream, snap, blaze, and the resin flows directly into steam… It’s a chaotic sound. And then silence.
What is the sound of nature that cost you the most to achieve?
A grouse in the Pyrenees at dawn (because of the inherent difficulty), the meowing of the Iberian lynx (not because it was difficult, but because they were disappearing… this record is a call to hope that if you want to do it, you can) and a wolf howl in the wild nature, in the middle of the night. It shakes you to the core.