SOUNDS OF THE SONORAN DESERT
An Immersive 41-minute Listening Experience
Produced by Thomas Wiewandt/wildhorizons.com
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Being a visual species, we don’t often think about vanishing natural sounds, and people are forgetting how to listen. Creature voices have always been our window to the wild, and it’s our hope that this production will motivate others to protect what’s left of our dwindling Sonoran Desert soundscapes. It would be a great tragedy if this program were to be the last experience of its kind that most people will ever know. Read More
We created SOUNDS OF THE SONORAN DESERT (2021) to illuminate the beauty and importance of “quietude” in our desert lowlands. This project grew from more than 40 years of fieldwork and recording experience by Thomas Wiewandt, producer of the popular film DESERT DREAMS. Disc 1 of this 2-CD set is a 41-minute production without narration or music––the program we are premiering at the Fox.
Immersive audio can be best appreciated in a quiet dark space without distractions. We chose the Fox because the seating is comfortable and its acoustic environment superb, ideal for a relaxing, enjoyable experience. The theater is also equipped with an HD projection system. While we don’t want visuals to detract from our focus on listening, we believe that atmospheric video imagery will enhance the experience for many folks. Our video opener shows a late afternoon desert skyscape with moving clouds followed by sunset fading to darkness, moonrise, clouds hiding the moon, and nighttime lightning flashes as a storm approaches and then recedes. After the storm, clouds move away, revealing a star-studded sky, which gives way to dawn, sunrise, and morning light spreading across a peaceful desert landscape.
Starting in grad school at the UofA and then at Cornell in the 1970s, Tom’s research and media projects included sound recording. Drawing from his archive, Tom and his sound editor Jeffrey Cravath used 195 “layers” of recorded sound to make this 41-minute production. While editing, we had to preserve the spacious sound environment characteristic of deserts and keep the flow moving in a realistic way without uncomfortably long intervals of silence or too much repetition––much like designing a film. The producer’s experience in the Sonoran Desert combined with input from several species-specialists was essential. And thanks to the talented audio engineers we have worked with here in Tucson, the sound is beautifully clean––an enormous challenge in today’s overcrowded, mechanized world.
People have adapted to noise pollution that surrounds us, but not without a price. Environmental sounds affect our bodies and brains. Even if “unnoticed,” noise numbs our sense of hearing and deprives us of a vital connection with the natural world. For centuries, health experts have known that natural sounds offer healing, restorative effects, now confirmed by modern brain scans, heart-rate monitors, and behavioral studies. Not surprisingly, human-induced noise also has negative effects on wildlife. Chronic traffic noise, for example, increases stress in animal populations, reduces wildlife diversity and abundance, and interferes with key survival behaviors, like the ability to establish territories, find suitable mates, protect young, and avoid predators.