Science - September 26, 2013

‘I’m happy to give up some romance for beauty’

Roelof Kleis

Henk Meeuwsen’s book, The Fart and other stories from The New Wilderness, is full of acute observations and dry humour

Nature soundman Henk Meeuwsen recorded the sounds for The New Wilderness, his first film. He wrote a book, The Fart and other stories from The New Wilderness, about his contribution to this major production. It is full of acute observations and dry humour, written with a sense of style. Resource gave Meeuwsen some statements to comment on.

You have actually always wanted to be a writer.

‘No, that’s not true. It actually started with me writing short accompanying texts to a CD of bird noises. I really enjoyed that. And then this project came my way. When I submitted my third piece for the film’s website, the producer said “Let’s turn this into a book”.’

A soundman is not just an odd bird, he has to be an early bird too.

‘Yes, but that’s getting less and less so. In the olden days, I would set up my equipment, then sit 20 metres away and wait. But after a while I figured I could also just go home. Of course that’s not as romantic but on the other hand the animals and their sounds come much closer because you’re not around. What drives me is the beauty of the sound and getting a perfect recording. I’m happy to give up some romance for that.’

You’ve recorded all the sounds there are at least once by now.

‘Oh no, I haven’t got them all by a     long way. Bird-watchers talk about ‘embarrassing species’: birds you ought   to have spotted long ago but have never seen. For example, I don’t yet have a decent recording of a goldfinch. It’s not a rare bird, but I just don’t have it. In a completely different category is the great northern diver. In Europe, this bird is only found in Iceland. It makes such a wonderful sound   you can feel it in your stomach, as if you are drowning in the eyes of a beautiful woman. Of course that’s one I want.’

If you had to choose between writing and sound recording, then ...

‘That’s a tricky one. If I could earn a tidy sum from my writing, I might be tempted to hang up my sound-recording hat. That’s a nice metaphor as it was hanging up my sound-recording equipment in the bushes that got me into writing in the first place!’