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Nature 'Sound Tracker' races against silence

He's made his livelihood by listening, but this sound man's livelihood is threatened because it's getting harder for him to hear. How teamwork is keeping his greatest project going.
Nature 'Sound Tracker' Gordon Hempton

I record sounds all over the world, said Gordon Hempton.

I first met the Sound Tracker, as he likes to call himself, two years ago. Hempton records the sounds of nature for a living. His recordings are used in everything from museum exhibits, movie soundtracks to video games. When I met him in the spring of 2011, he was on top of the world and on a mission to preserve the quiet in our national parks.

Most people are unaware how quickly quiet has been vanishing in the U.S., Hempton said. There are only 12 places left in the U.S. where it s possible to have 15 minutes during daylight hours un-intruded upon by noise pollution. Imagine that.

The Olympic National Park is one of those 12 places. But there s only one place in the world called One Square inch of Silence.

It has, in effect, become a monument, said Hempton.

That sacred place, 3.2 miles into the Olympic rain forest, is marked by a rock placed on a moss-covered log by Hempton.

This is the quietest place in the U.S., he proclaimed.

That word quiet has taken on new meaning for the 60-year-old acoustic ecologist.

It s pretty much like a jeweler going blind.

Gordon Hempton is going deaf.

The bad news is it s spreading, said Hempton.

His left ear and now his right. He can still hear, but he can t hear high frequency sounds like insects or birds singing. It s not clear yet the cause of his severe hearing loss. It is clear that, as he s going deaf, he will need help if he wants to finish his best work yet: 100 hours of nature recordings which he calls Quiet Planet.

His partner Cate is his extra pair of ears.

I can hear the higher pitches, said Cate, who is able to hear things that Hempton can t anymore.

One day she goes Is that bird supposed to be there? And I go no . And she goes, You can t hear that? I m worried, recalled Hempton.

And now in his race against silence, Gordon Hempton refuses to believe that he will end up in the quietest of ALL places. Hope is what keeps him going.

I think I will get my hearing back, he said.

It s happened before. In 2003, Hempton went partially deaf for 18 months and his hearing came back overnight.

In a flash my hearing recovered 100 percent, said Hempton, who hopes to finish his 19-volume set of nature recordings by the end of 2015.

For more information about Gordon Hempton s Quiet Planet and his story of preserving the quiet of the Olympic National Park, go to www.soundtracker.com or quietplanet.com

Also, a new phone app was just released with some of Hempton s nature sound recordings at www.thunderspace.me.

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