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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Silent Night

Air Date: Week of September 21, 2001

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Peter Acker about recording sounds in an airplane vacant environment. After the attacks on September 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration banned all commercial air traffic for a few days.

Transcript

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. After the events of September 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration took the unprecedented step of grounding all commercial air flights in the United States. The effect was dramatic on and off the planet. Crew members aboard the international space station noted how different the Earth looked without the usual contrails of jet vapor criss-crossing the atmosphere like a huge spider web. And it was quieter, too.

One man who noticed joins me now from his studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Peter Acker is a professional audio recordist who specializes in natural sound preservation. He was vacationing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts on September 11th and decided to take advantage of the relatively silent night.

ACKER: It felt strange. I remember sitting at Herring Cove Beach and looking out into the night sky. And, in my experience of the Cape is, every few seconds, if not at least once a minute, you see, if not hear, a plane. On one hand, it was very calming. On the other hand, it was kind of eerie.

CURWOOD: Relatively speaking, just how quiet is it without all those planes flying around?

ACKER: Well, it's noticeable. I mean a jet, you know, after it passes overhead, you can still hear a jet for twenty, thirty miles beyond.

CURWOOD: So, what exactly did you record?

ACKER: The first piece that I recorded was a cricket in the midst of a wind. And, for me, as I was listening to this, it sort of underscored this feeling of, I don't know, desolation, of remoteness, of barrenness.

[SOUND OF CRICKET, WIND]

ACKER: The next morning, I went to Pammet Road Beach and recorded the sound of surf and wind. And, in this particular instance, I placed the microphone, actually, off the tripod in the sand amidst some grasses, tall grasses.

[SOUND OF OCEAN, WAVES]

CURWOOD: It's a deep, powerful sound with those little, delicate scratchings there.

ACKER: Exactly. I just have to say how ironic it is that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to give us a taste of what we're missing. When you remove the over-flights, you get a taste of, really, the voice of the planet.

CURWOOD: Peter Acker is a professional sound recordist and he spoke with us from his studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Thank you.

ACKER: Thanks, Steve.

 

 

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