Song thrush singing

Music – the missing sounds of wildlife

One of the most satisfying and pleasing results of making my own wildlife films has been the feedback I get about the soundtrack.

Admittedly, one or two have said they took a few minutes to get used to the fact that there is no orchestra playing along, making sure they feel happy when they are meant to and that they feel sad in the right places, but then they found themselves immersed much more deeply than they normally would be when watching a wildlife documentary.

[Video clip from Through the Garden Gate]

Music is now in almost everything we consume in the media, rather like sugar and salt is added to everything we eat. It’s become a commercial convention that often does more harm than good.

“People are not wondering where they can buy the CD of the music, but saying they love that there is no music at all.”

In nature documentaries generally, music is without doubt the most frequent complaint I hear from people, people who otherwise are loyal fans of the genre. Intrusive, overpowering, over dramatic are some of the words they often use. Big budget wildlife documentaries have long tried to emulate and associate themselves with feature films but sadly they seem to ignore the fact some of the very best feature films (eg. No Country for Old Men) use no music at all.

Here is a wonderful clip that demonstrates just how powerful the use of natural sound can be:

It’s odd that the problem is seldom referred to or discussed anywhere, so to encourage a bit more debate here is the beginnings of a collection of links to articles, podcasts and videos on the subject.

What do you think ? Please email me if you know of any other articles on the subject. I would love to know.

The sound of one ant walking interview with renowned wildlife sound recordist and radio presenter Chris Watson

Does orchestral music capture the sound of wildlife? Pascal Wyse in The Guardian

Round Robin RSPB Film Unit film from 1979

[Updated 22/2/2017]

2 thoughts on “Music – the missing sounds of wildlife

  1. In his essay, ‘Pleasure spots’, Orwell notes that it is a characteristic of modern life that one is seldom out of hearing of music, and goes on:

    Its function is to prevent thought and conversation, and to shut out any natural sound, such as the song of birds or the whistling of the wind, that might otherwise intrude. The radio is already consciously used for this purpose by innumerable people. In very many English homes the radio is literally never turned off, though it is manipulated from time to time so as to make sure that only light music will come out of it. I know people who will keep the radio playing all through a meal and at the same time continue talking just loudly enough for the voices and the music to cancel out. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent

    1. Thanks for finding this William.

      It’s made me realise that it’s not just music that is often used to cover or blot out reality – even the spoken word, for example when it streams from a radio, can do the same.

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