Wetenschap - 7 februari 2012

The sound man's top 5

There is no denying it, even for Alterra’s expert on the sounds of nature, Henk Meeuwsen. The blackbird is the best. But after that, his list deviates considerably from the Birds’ Top 40 compiled by Dutch radio show Vroege Vogels.

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Foto: .

Henk Meeuwsen was a guest on the Vara radio talk show (whose name means 'early birds') last Sunday, when the Natuurgeluiden Top 40 was announced. Some of the recordings on which Dutch listeners could vote over the past month were his work. Meeuwsen has become an established authority in this field. No one aiming to do something related to natural sounds can afford to ignore him.

Midwife toad

The blackbird also happens to be a personal favourite of Meeuwsen's. But the rest of his top 5 is rather different to that of the 'average Dutch person'. After the blackbird, Meewsen picks the common midwife toad,  the common crane, the barking deer and the migration call of the skylark. The Dutch public picked the blackbird, surf, the nightingale, field birds and a purring cat.

Migration call

The blackbird is an undisputed number one, on that Meeuwsen agrees. 'That sound is not just beautiful, but you feel as though you understand what a blackbird is saying.' Actually, Meeuwsen did not choose his sounds purely for their beauty, but above all because he was touched by them. 'Take the skylark - that sound gives my butterflies in my stomach. And I don't mean its ordinary call, but the migration call. That rolling sound, the warm tone. But it isn't even in the top 40.'

Idols
Sound is a personal thing. People vote for sounds that carry an emotional meaning for them. Sounds from their youth, for instance. Meeuwsen grew up in the countryside. 'But it doesn't work like that with me. None of the sounds in my top 5 are related to childhood memories. Most of the sounds from my list are ones I didn't even know back then.' And this brings out the scientist in Meeuwsen. 'It would be very interesting to separate beauty from memory and emotion. I think it is possible. By doing research among children, for example. Sounds are not yet so laden with memories for children. That could be a nice follow-up project for Vroege Vogels: a sort of Idols for natural sounds.'

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