We listen to an old laquer SCHELLACK recording of 1936. Through clicking and crackling we hear birdsongs and environmental sound, Is this just a nostalgic sound memory, an idyllic place?
No, the early document reveals a diversity of bird voices, an interplay along the habitat`s day and a wide listening space. This were signs for an intact territorium. In the annual reports to the status of the forest today the sound is not mentioned, but for Walter Tilgner it is a mirror and an audible fingerprint of its change.
Cultural noise, so his observation, masks and endangers the species and their rhythm:
'The bird concert has become less rich in the last years. And what I have recorded 10, 15 years ago, I can not replicate today.'
Walter Tilgner is a bio-acoustician, one of Middle Europe's best forest photographer and Tonmeister - well known for his binaural Kunstkopf-Recordings. He used digital recordings very early in the 80ies and published his first WALDKONZERT - a 'forest concerto' - together with music publisher WERGO in 1985. He was born in Mähren and came to Germany after the war. Tilgner studied Biology in Frankfurt and paralleled an internship at the 'Forstamt der Stadt Frankfurt'. Since then he has recorded natural worlds with camera and microphone and worked until his retirement in 1998 with the 'Bodensee Natur Museum' in Konstanz. Recently Walter Tilgner edited the tenth compact disc about the king of the forest, the sounds of red deer, again with WERGO in Mainz. Tilgner and the publishing house created the label NATURAL SOUND which features his recordings (and one more by Peter Pannke and Andres Bosshard with Indian birdsongs, recorded in the soundscape research with the Santal culture in North India).
'WALDKONZERT - is like a composition, because I edit an idealized state of the forest, which is not existing outside. Out of many scenes I select and compose a interesting process along the change of seasons.
With binaural Kunstkopf-Recording I get a strong feeling of space. You hear and feel how far a bird is away, whether it is singing above or below me. Selecting and editing, that is all I do, there is no additional manipulation and mixing. Through the recordings I bring the birds into my and other people`s home and when I close my eyes I believe to be in the forest.
That is my aim. I want to dream, to evoke memories, to believe I am there outside under the trees.'
Tilgner's productions aim beyond the classification of single sounds and animal voices, as he integrates them in the overall soundscape. His recordings simulate a holistic picture of the ecosystem of the forest as an ensemble. For a moment while recording he becomes a part of the acoustic environment through intensive listening and reflection in the early morning of a day.
A part and a-part:
Especially in the early morning situations he is a silent, stealth observer and listening artist, part of nature and sound. Many thoughts touch him in this nearly meditative phase of a day - in that moment he is part and a-part from nature through his ability to reflect on a structural and meta-level about what he hears. Sound artists like Walter Tilgner (or many of the other friendly competitors) frame the acoustic picture for a moment and in that moment of creation reveal their art. Beyond this moment there is handcraft and editing.
Like a film director Tilgner knows many different locations: places, forests, transitions, shores and beaches, mountain lawns and wetlands. His binaural recording appear to be documentations, but through selection of time and space they are an orchestration with and in the landscape, a tuning into the environmental space. The KUNSTKOPF integrates small granular movements of the listening situation. When birdsong reduces during a day-and-night-cycle, the soundfield than natural song touches the ears. The whispering of the trees gets into the foreground of perception. In a soundscape figure and ground relations are always in flux, especially to be heard in his CD 'Waldesrauschen' - more energy wave than bioacoustic theatre and drama. #1
In other recordings Tilgner emphasizes the songlines of special birds, like the calls of cranes on the island of Rügen in the Baltic sea. There he listened to one of the most impressive natural theatres in middle europe. The collective choir of the cranes melts with the drone of the sea and soloists voices of other sea birds. Since the analogue recorings times of the 70ies he builds up a woodpecker library and has distinguished different acoustic patterns within the families and groups. In the last years he often featured the nightingale and the blue bird, because of the variety of context, songs and variations in their voices. The nightingale is mythical bird, that accompanies European culture for centuries: in fairytales, paintings and poems, in Beethoven's Pastorale and Strawinsky's Song of the Nightingale.
The nightingale's song and sound is a moving polystilistical improvisation, a never ending story of rhapsodic patterns. The bird is a virtuoso in expression, arranging song along social habits and habitat: advertizing for mate and encounter, territorial design and nesting, season and daily rhythm. So Tilgner's song of the nightingale is embedded in the bird dawn chorus. The acoustic life at the shore of Bodensee is audible; wind, water, distant bells and an early departing fisherman with a motorized boat.
Tilgner seeks holistic acoustic situations, which is a nice term that touches the romantic notion of the unity with nature. He emphasizes an documentation of nature as authentic as possible with a high resolution recording and binaural simulation. His technological background is dense and his work a sequence of slowly growing sound reliefs. His way of recording produces impressive audio pictures, with width and depth, even on a modest sound system. Such Sound that could be misunderstood in the dead end of 'Brave New Sonic World'. In this case sound ecology would the museal, naive idyllic niche of an acoustic picture book.
Tilgner's binaural recordings from German forests and European wetlands are sound images and sound compositions, that document, entertain and relax the same time. And they warn from the loss of the audible quality of environmental topography. The idyllic niche he layouts or even simulates recalls her counterworld. The sound of the forest is for Walter Tilgner an indicator of its biological atmosphere and situation, which today is influenced heavily and extincted through the enormous growth of social and cultural noise.
Through such implications, Tilgner's recordings are provocative ecological messages, and polyvalent enough, acoustic background, academic material and musical composition.
Tilgner's audio pictures reveal a vivid and expressive world, he is indeed a contemporary Papageno, the media bird catcher of today. While Papageno still made good business, the sound of the forest ist rarely a major breakthrough, as Walter Tilgner is not part of musical copyright and compositional reputation.
But the German music copyright has not yet acknowleded him as a musical creator, although industrially, the recordings of natural environments are an own industry, selling in millions: animal voices with synthesizer, Satie's piano patterns with loons, one hour realtime from Cape Cod, an African waterhole along a day, soundscapes from the antarctis, forest sounds with composed orchestral music around the natural rhythms. Solitudes, Natural Sound, Earth Sound, Living Music, Universal music. Soundscapes and acoustic images for relaxation, contemplation, acoustical wallpaper instead of MUZAK, sound for education and media, in new age, esoteric and techno contexts.
Meanwhile Walter Tilgner is part of the rave scene as well, although you can't find more different worlds and outfits than his ranger clothes and the rave outfit. But the magazine of the Süddeutsche Zeitung quotes Rene, who after daylong raves, chills out with bird songs from Walter Tilgner: 'Well, says Rene, I have not been in the forest for a long time and I am not really interested. But with CD through headphones, I can become addicted.'
This new sound culture is an ambivalent world: nature sound is served like rare food on a golden plate (platter), presented and in danger (endangered species) to deteriorate as decoration and audio lifestyle background. On the other side sound of the environment underlies a growing trend of commercial use of a former free good - sound and silence, which now as water and air, are on their way to the complete marketing and buyout.
Tilgner emphasizes more an experiental approach, that might lead people into their home forest with a different notion. He does not travel to exotic remote areas. His recordings relate to regions like the Bodensee Area - Lake Michigan of Germany -, where he lives or to the wetlands in Austria, where his family came from. Different from other soundscape composers who transform the sounds of forest into electronic language, Tilgners recordings of nature indicate through exclusion and pseudo-natural painting, the 'social genesis of nature'. Aircraft noise over a forest area is part of his truth of sound. And this relation of signal to noise ratio is beyond technical limits a hint towards a society and their inhabitants for whom nature is not only to buy but on sale.
People of today benefit from that media nature, because it allows them to seperate their personal spaces from the cultural noise in a complicated world. The natural rhythms and cycles become interesting challenges for acoustic design in the city. And vice versa: natural recordings point to nature and rural spaces that are very strongly deformed by noise and social structures.
So in that sense natural sound has already subtle tracks of culture in it, and at the same time wants somehow to change our perception of that culture and its relation to nature. So Natural Sound is a contradiction in its self, hopefully a challenging one. The critical review of noisy landscape should not be the end of complaint of loss of silence, but the beginning from 'Awareness to action'.
'I dont document situations for a museum and say, this is not here anylonger. It is just the opposite for me: they should sensitize for the rest of what we still have. I think even the best recording can not substitute the event and life experience outside, it is just a digital copy. But the more you know and feel about the outside nature, the more intensive is our experience and relation there'.
Tilgners recordings are comparable to and distinctive from traditional scientific recording of the species and as well from the stylized library of sound for media. Even when presenting a single bird and song, he points towards the background, the context, the acoustic network of voices around the one preferred source of sound and listening. He narrates and describes a sometimes mundane, sometimes spectacular situation. He documents a flow, a stream of audio consciousness in time and space and at the same time a very precise, yet simulative, environmental picture, even valid for other purposes like landscape planning or noise abatement documentation, valid for more than contemplative listening and bio-acoustical discourse, in which his recordings by the way are not much included within the European scientific community. There - maybe - the focusing on the monadic signal, the single motiv and pattern is still closer to the 19th century idea of morphology and an analytical approach. The parabolic microphon, a useful tool, is an icon for the researcher's concentration on single content. Even animal sound in wildlife-TV, a very successful genre, is reflecting that in a popular way.
Walter Tilgner's sound in most given moments is a holistic and sometimes chaotic surround field - a 360-degree world with noise and sound, song and life, from primal sounds of the creator - 'Urtöne der Schöpfung' - to very complex neighbourhoods of the morning bird concerto.
'Natures song is a message, a signal from animal to animal and has deep meaning for the coexistence. For us humans the soundscape of an old German forest has a peaceful and calming effect - for the birds, the other animals and the trees it is very different. It has two sides:
the living together of many particular species, plants and animals, and humans, even not audible in the center of the sound picture itself, leads to a competition, a fight for space, light, water and nutrition. This battle is even more intensive, when the individual creatures touch each others space, when their conditions of live are similar and when the outer condition intensify the growth.
On the other side trees grant each other and many animals shadow, structure and a complimentary position. Only in its entity a collective forest can counterpart the storms and only within the complex network of trees a fruitful green, favourable climate is available.
Both competition and symbiosis are audible within the sound, which is as rich and diversified as the biological community.'
As said before, Tilgner's audio pictures reveal a vivid and expressive world. The silence of nature (of life in general) seems to be an illusion, silence and contemplation is more a romantic projection than anything else, very much man made. Tilgner's notion of silence are provoqued by sound, but end up to be internal experiences. Sonic meditation.
Intensive listening for a long time, recording without motion and acoustic awareness are only possible when the recordist stays still. Be it the forest man like Tilgner or the urban flaneur in big cities. Everything, everybody 'moves to the beat', only the listener holds a position of meditative luxury of non-action and pure perception.
When the recipient later listens to the recordings in his own world and context, he creates new associations and functions with it, maybe as acoustic wallpaper, or the sound retrieves deep memories and notions and time travel in the personal sound biography.
Between the documentation for science and the imitational gesture of programmatic music and musique concrete we might need a third ear for a virtual space of his recordings. In that sense it is important whether we hear the song of the blue bird on a laquer disc, on a CD or outside. This motivates maybe the archival director of a big broadcast archive, to integrate many of Walter Tilgners voices into his library: as background for all radiophonic application, as raw material for a planned concerto for ROTBAUCHUNKE AND TÜPFELRALLE, as material of special interest programmes in cultural radio and maybe - who knows? - as document for the world to come or as symbol of the lost acoustic horizon.